Here we go!
It's January 5th, 2011, and I’m continuing my irregularly scheduled interview with Teaching Artist Anthem Salgado, here in San Francisco.
Q: Anthem, the question of the day is “Can you make a living as a Teaching Artist?" Most people, according to Nick Rabkin's Teaching Artist Research Project, are making $17,000 a year on average as a TA, which, of course, is not sustainable. But we’re still doing it! So, do you think people can actually make a living doing this work?
Anthem: (laughs) I would have to say you can make a living probably as a new or emerging Teaching Artist, because it would be satisfactory for you to be earning that much early in your career, but there’s no real upward mobility in the field, so, in that respect, you cannot make a living as a Teaching Artist in the long term. A lot of Teaching Artists I know are multiple freelancers. So Teaching Artist is just one among many titles that they carry throughout the course of the week just to be able to put together some decent money.
Q: We call ourselves professionals. Is that something we should just accept? How are we professional if there’s no way to make an actual living in the field? Are we then not professionals?
A: I guess most people define professional as getting paid. So if you’re getting paid you’re a professional. If you’re going to define professional by some sort of expertise...I guess in that respect you can be a professional. You can be specialized as a Teaching Artist. But if you compare it to other career choices where other individuals call themselves professional, probably it wouldn’t carry the same kind of weight. And I would go so far as to say that artists and Teaching Artists alike have this misnomer that we call career, because there isn’t a straight ahead career path for artists and Teaching Artists the same way there might be in other fields…in business or medicine or law. So, in that respect, there’s not really a full on career. We’re basically like eternal freelancers. I’d love to see that change, but, right now, that’s just the case.
Q: For people who are in education programs getting their MAs or MFAs , or just working as artists trying to cobble together this kind of career, what is your advice? Should they really be pursuing it?
A: I would say…if I was going to be blunt? I would say no. (laughs) But that’s not advice, that’s just an opinion. The advice I would really give is interview as many mentors and leaders in the field as possible to find out what you’re really getting into. Because so many people have an image of themselves within the work, but they don’t have an image of themselves within the field. So a lot of us are up for rude awakenings, because we haven’t mentally prepared ourselves for the actual reality of working in the field...because we haven’t asked those kind of career questions of our mentors.