What is a “Teaching Artist”?

When I first moved to New York in 2000, I had never heard of the term “Teaching Artist”.  To be frank, when I heard it the first time it sounded a bit silly to me…like some made up profession.Denver Casado, teaching artist, doing some musical theatre workshop with children in a New York City public school. I’ve learned since then that teaching artists are very much the back-bone of arts education in New York City.  I’m proud to say I’ve been one for the past seven years. So what is it?  A teaching artist is exactly what it sounds like: a professional in the arts who has a knack for teaching their craft, typically to students from 1st to 12th grade. Or, to put it more eloquently, Eric Booth describes it as: “A teaching artist is a practicing professional artist with the complementary skills, curiosities and sensibilities of an educator, who can effectively engage a wide range of people in learning experiences in, through, and about the arts.” In New York City, many public schools unfortunately don’t have built-in music and arts classes for their students.  So the schools fill this gap by essentially “outsourcing” this instruction to arts organizations throughout the city.  Typically this is done through in-school residencies in which a teaching artist will visit several classes in a school once a week for an 8 to 12 week period, culminating in a “sharing” event in which the students will informally perform what they’ve learned.  Sometimes the residencies are after-school as well. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved; working artists are able to earn extra financial support by sharing their craft with children, while children reap the benefits of learning a craft from working artists.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned about writing musical theatre by trying to teach kids how to write musical theatre. Almost every major arts institution in New York has some sort of educational out-reach department with Teaching Artists on staff.  From the Guggenheim, to Alvin Ailey, to City Center. My area of focus has been in “writing for musical theatre” and “songwriting”.  I’ve worked with students form Kindergarten to High School, in every borough of New York.  By my last calculation I concluded I’d worked with over 2,000 students. Below are the organizations I’ve worked for. Check them out, they’re doing fantastic work and can always use extra support: –  Making Books Sing (teaching children how to adapt a picture-book into a short musical) –  Young Audiences New York (songwriting workshops and master classes) –  NY City Center (songwriting and musical theatre instruction in conjunction with their Encores! series) In future posts I’ll discuss in more detail my specific experiences with these organizations (trust me, there’s no lack of interesting stories…) as well as what I think are the qualities of a good teaching artist. — If you enjoyed this post, join our mailing list to the right to receive updates from Beat by Beat Press.

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