The role of a teaching artist is often different in every organization. Here at the Guggenheim teaching artists are at the core of the Learning Through Art (LTA) program. As a non-artist who has now spent 20 years in the arts, working with teaching artists, is without question the best part of my job and I hold them in the highest esteem. LTA teaching artists are a dedicated bunch and their commitment to the program goes well beyond the one day a week they technically “work” at their assigned school. Jenny Bevill, who has been with LTA for 10 years, says the following:
“I feel my main role is that of translator, using all the resources I have to teach students to speak visually. First I try to connect my students with artwork that they will be interested in and curious about. Then I give them materials and teach them techniques that they can master and use in service of their own ideas. In collaboration with their classroom teachers and museum staff, I try to ask good essential questions so that students will be inspired to respond creatively rather than correctly. Lastly, I act as their guide through the art making process, reflecting their thinking back to them and offering suggestions to deepen their learning.”
One of the unique aspects of LTA is that we don’t ever do anything twice – no residency ever “looks” the same from one year to the next. That is because the our teaching artists spend at least two full days working side-by-side with their partner teachers to develop an arts integrated curriculum that meets the needs of their students and school community.
Teaching artists in LTA are also part of a community. We have the opportunity to bring our 12-14 teaching artists together at least once a month throughout the school year. These sessions serve two purposes. First they provide us with professional development opportunities where we can bring in experts in the field to share knowledge. Second, and equally importantly, they give us time to simply be together. Sometimes we take field trips to other museums or institutions; sometimes we sit in the Guggenheim’s galleries and discuss the exhibitions on view – both thinking about how might we engage students with individual works, but also just sharing ideas about the art as artists, educators, art historians, and individuals.
In this way we validate the work of the teaching artist as not only an artist we send into the school to teach students, but also someone who brings personal and professional knowledge, expertise, and passion to the program. Our teaching artists love to learn from each other – peer exchange in informal settings has always proven to be one of the most successful professional development models. I am constantly impressed when I sit with a few teaching artists, listen to them share what they are doing, and hear their colleagues suggest ideas and techniques to change or improve what they are doing. They appreciate this sharing…they don’t feel threatened. Being a teaching artist can be a lonely profession – they are on an island – surrounded by lots of people, but many times the only “one of your kind” in a school. Bringing our teaching artists together to develop the curriculum, to learn, to exchange ideas, and to be a part of a community has made, in my opinion, LTA teaching artists the best around!