It’s been two weeks since I walked out of Carnegie Hall, after three jam-packed days at the 4th International Teaching Artist Conference (ITAC). I walked out a bit dazed, very tired, invigorated, and incredibly—amazingly—full. I ambled towards the subway with a colleague I’d met, but couldn’t quite bring myself to get on the train and just “go home.” It seemed crazy to follow my typical pattern after an experience like ITAC.
Instead, I walked passed the 59th Street subway and into Central Park. I needed to digest. Two weeks later, after more time contemplating, sorting through notes, listening to recordings, and many conversations with colleagues both at the conference and not, it is still hard to put this experience into words. I keep coming back to that fullness I felt as I walked into the park.
Over the 3 day conference I attended 9 break-out sessions representing 7 countries on 5 continents (Australia, Cambodia, Columbia, Guatemala, UK, USA), 3 keynote addresses (by a dancer, photographer, and theatre artist), 1 site-visit, 1 live performance, and 1 live podcast recording. And I met a lot of teaching artists. Sure, the name of the conference might suggest this, but my past conference experiences have taught me to expect to be one of few TAs in a sea of administrators. There was something very special about walking into a room of 300 people who do what you do. These were my people. I immediately felt seen and understood at ITAC. The conference’s final report quoted nearly 300 attendees (whom they call delegates) representing 28 countries.
— Steven McIntosh (@stevenjmcintosh) September 13, 2018
I spoke with many others who expressed the same feeling of belonging, and the power that can come from that. One visual artist teaching artist (TA) from Vermont, Alexandra Turner, told me it had been empowering for her to claim the title of Teaching Artist, “I’ve been putting together part-time jobs for so many years and I didn’t know there was a name for it, or a community of people doing it. When I owned this title of Teaching Artist it changed my whole perception of myself and my work to someone who belongs to a community of amazing and impactful people.” Others wondered if they were missing out on finding a larger community in their field at home because different titles were used across the field. Is a teaching artist the same as a community artist or a participatory artist? Many were impressed with New York for having a very clear community around the single title of TA.
It isn’t surprising to me that the feeling of belonging was so desired and celebrated. Much of what we do as TAs can be solitary and we can often lose sight of the fact that we do belong to a community of artists who—do what we do. One conference organizer Eric Booth (who jovially refers to himself as the oldest living TA) kept referring to the delegates as leaves on a tree. This analogy was referenced frequently throughout the conference. We leaves sometimes forget (or lose sight) that we are rooted on a branch with other leaves, which is rooted on the trunk of a tree with many other branches. To that end, one of the collaborative projects launched at the conference was the Global History Timeline an online record of the history of teaching artistry. There is power in naming your history as well as your title. This is a living document. You can submit entries here.
#ITAC4NYC @ITAC_Collab has launched a Global History Timeline Project to document breakthroughs in the #teachingartist global community. Do you have a moment to add? Research, resource, large event in the field? Add it here! https://t.co/Gr9pGYL64P
— NYC AIE Roundtable (@nycaier) September 15, 2018
I wondered before the conference if my experience as a TA in New York City was comparable to others in the US or around the world; or did we live in our own microcosm here? I almost feel silly for questioning this now. Of course there were similarities, particularly in the approaches to, and the challenges of, the work. The specifics of the settings or social, cultural, and institutional challenges in the 28 countries represented may be different, but our strategies were not. Active listening. How to enter a community as an outsider? How to leave a community? Recognition of the links of systemic oppression and working towards dismantling them through our art. How to fund the work? How to sustain the work? How to tell another’s story? Should you tell another’s story? How to communicate what we do?
In his keynote address photojournalist Aaron Huey spoke of his many years working in the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota, “When you leave a community like Pine Ridge they are left wondering not IF, but HOW you will misrepresent them.” Dancer and choreographer Liz Lerman posed, “I’m curious how we listen. I’m wondering how we listen with our whole artist self,” in her keynote. James Miles, Executive Director of ArtsCorps in Seattle, WA seemed to answer during the live-recorded podcast of Teaching Artistry with Courtney J. Boddie when he said, “Artists must listen to other people’s stories with love.”
In my last session, facilitated by Santiago Gonzalez from Corporacion Otra Escuela in Colombia, we were handed a handful of coffee beans. After each exercise exploring conflict Santiago had us take out the coffee beans, smell them, and bring ourselves back into the room and into our own bodies through the smell. He ended the session by saying, “You don’t HAVE a body, you ARE a body.”
I am a body. I am an artist. And we are a body of teaching artists in NYC, in the Northeast, in the US, and around the world. Although, I was left wondering if the question was not that we forget we are leaves that make up a tree, but that many of us don’t know we are part of a tree to begin with. While we seem to have the nomenclature of teaching artist settled in NYC (if you disagree, let me know), we still struggle to see, and actively engage, the entire tree of our teaching artist community.
While at the conference a NYC TA colleague mentioned she’d just come from a training for an arts education organization and was surprised when very few TAs in the room were aware of the Roundtable or the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee. TAs were discussing the complications of signing up for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act as a freelancer and my colleague mentioned our bi-annual workshop on this very topic. No one knew what she was talking about. (Open enrollment starts Nov. 1st you can watch the video of our tutorial with The Actor’s Fund from last year here, or go to an in person workshop here).
I had a similar conversation on this struggle with the staff from the National Arts Council Singapore. They are looking at creating a Teaching Artist Handbook for their artists with opportunities for professional development, healthcare and legal aid, resources for artists, and work and funding opportunities. I thought that was an interesting idea, so I brought it back to TA Affairs.
If you come to our “Sip & Create” TA Meet-Up on November 2nd 5pm-7pm we’ll have a plethora of TA resources. Our committee is compiling them now. Do you have an idea of something that should be on the list? Do you have an idea of how to reach more NYC TAs? Hit us up.
I also had questions about how to sustain global connectivity after this conference and between the next one in 2020. ITAC answered this for me on the first day when they launched the ITAC Collaborative. I’ve already submitted the Roundtable’s TA Affairs Committee as an ITAC Collaborative Catalyst to help disseminate global information to our NYC TA community. ITAC Collaborative will also have small funding opportunities for projects between nations. Do you have an idea for a project? Hit me up.
So, what was ITAC like? It felt like home. It felt like recognition. It felt like being full. The theme of the conference was “Artist as Instigator.” I’m instigated to create this feeling for the NYC TA community. Wanna help me?
Heleya de Barros is an actor and teaching artist in New York City. She is a Board Member of the Roundtable and Co-Chair of the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee. @Heleya_deBarros *(Top) Photo credit DreamYard Media Interns.