Supporting Hidden Talent

Investing in Teaching Artists

Beth Feldman Brandt

At the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, we are grateful every day for teaching artists.

Why Teaching Artists?

Our mission is to get the best arts education to as many people in Philadelphia as possible — in schools, senior centers, prisons, shelters — we want art everywhere. The only way we have found that this can be accomplished is through teaching artists: those who work for cultural organizations and those who are making their own opportunities to share their talents as artists, teachers, activists, and neighbors. Teaching artists engage with people and make art in every form imaginable, every day.

However, this path is not as clear a way forward for everyone. Research has shown that the vast majority of Americans value the arts, but only a sliver value artists themselves, and the same holds true for those who believe that arts education is essential while failing to recognize the central role of teaching artists in the arts education ecosystem.

For the past decade, the Bartol Foundation has been working to change this.

The Top Five Things We Know about Teaching Artists

Eric Booth defines a teaching artist as “a practicing artist who expands their artistry to include the complementary skills, practices and habits of mind of an educator to activate the artistry of others to achieve a wide variety of learning ends in, through, and about the artist, with a wide variety of learners.” Each year, we survey Philadelphia’s teaching artists to find out who they are, where they work, and what they need from us to do their work better. The 2017 survey included responses from more than 150 regional teaching artists and paints a picture of their life and work.

  1. They teach people of all ages. While the vast majority (75 percent) of teaching artists are teaching K–12 students, a smaller group is teaching everyone from preschoolers (27 percent) to seniors (23 percent).
  2. They teach in all kinds of places. While 65 percent of our respondents are doing multiple-visit programs at schools, 40 percent are doing multiple-visit programs at cultural organizations, and another 40 percent are doing multiple-visit programs at other nonprofits that are not cultural organizations.
  3. They want to keep learning. Three-quarters of teaching artists who responded participated in professional development opportunities in the past year, about half through an organization they work for, and 40 percent through Bartol’s workshops for teaching artists. A quarter, however, received no professional development in the past year.
  4. Teaching artists are entrepreneurs. More than half of the respondents are securing work on their own. They also work for cultural organizations as an employee (36 percent) and as a contractor (51 percent). We know from conversation that most teaching artists do a combination of these things.
  5. Teaching artists connect. The approximately fifty survey respondents who painstakingly documented their employment over the past year worked for almost a hundred organizations and in more than eighty schools. Extrapolating those data to our list of nearly two thousand teaching artists, we see that their impact is extraordinary!

The Back Story

With one full-time employee and one half-time, and an annual grant budget of under $150,000, we were challenged to find a way to increase the impact of our work beyond our annual grant cycle. We knew we wanted to maintain our focus on community-based arts education. We did not have a lot of money, but we had knowledge and networks from years of close relationships with our grantees and more broadly in our community. Recognizing the nature of our particular assets and a combination of opportunities, we decided the best approach was to explicitly invest in the professional development of teaching artists as the most direct route to improving the quality and scope of arts education in Philadelphia.

From 2007 to 2010, the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, along with the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, co-managed the Philadelphia cohort of Leveraging Investment in Creativity (LINC), an initiative of the Ford Foundation. As part of our efforts to support sustainable, creative lives for artists, we began to design and present free professional development workshops for teaching artists. In January 2007, we invited teaching artists to attend an all-day convening to jump-start a conversation about needs and goals. We explored how teaching artists could be better supported and created connections to both resources and each other. Over a hundred people attended, and we knew we were on to something fruitful.

Since then, the Bartol Foundation has presented nearly 250 professional development programs, fee free, to almost 3,500 participants. Today, we count close to two thousand emails on our teaching artist list and provide more than twenty programs to well over four hundred teaching artists, annually.

It is important to note that while we encourage our grantees — many of which are too small to present their own professional development opportunities — to use our programs for their teaching artists, these programs are not tied to our grants and are open to teaching artists beyond those who work for our grantees. The fact that our offerings are open to all and are seen as a resource rather than as a funder “command performance” adds to the significance of the role these programs play in our community.

Our Approach

The Bartol Foundation came to the table with a set of skills that uniquely positioned us to create a suite of offerings that serve the needs of teaching artists, including the following:

  • Obtaining deep knowledge of the field: We have current, in-depth knowledge of the arts education community gained through sixty site visits a year conducted by staff and a board of arts education practitioners as part of our grant process for arts organizations.
  • Identifying our strengths: We saw the best teaching artists firsthand. We did not have a lot of money, but we had staff time from September to April, accessible space, and a community of teaching artists willing to share their knowledge with others.
  • Finding the right partners: We identified partners — including teaching artists, grantee arts organizations, and other funders — which had a spillover effect, expanding our networks even further.
  • Conducting research: We designed programs based on annual surveys of teaching artists so we knew we were responding to their needs.

Philadelphia is blessed with a wealth of teaching artists who are willing to open their practices to others and add their practical experiences to our offerings. In responsibly carrying this work forward, our programs have shifted to meet the changing interests and needs of our community and have taken many forms:

  • Discipline-specific programs that focus on teaching practice are a staple of our workshops. However, while we originally presented Teaching Artist Groups (Dance TAG, Theatre TAG) to great success, artists increasingly told us they wanted more interdisciplinary programs. Now we present Teaching Artist Play Dates where master teaching artists lead ninety minutes of their best activities for artists in all disciplines. As one participant shared, “I translated the construct that the teaching artist showed for creating their own choreography to music composition. Love learning from other art forms!”
  • Teaching Artist as Entrepreneur includes a three-part marketing series that focuses on creating content and materials plus sharing templates and strategies for budgeting and contracts. Another artist wrote: “I must say the work you and Bartol do is a godsend! I am negotiating this contract and while I bit at the initial happiness of what I thought was a great offer, I would end up losing money on this project. It literally is a classic textbook example of one of your case studies from the financial workshops.”
  • Artists Plus brings together teaching artists with practitioners from other fields to learn how artists can support work in other fields. Working with partners, we have been able to present interactive sessions in a range of areas. For example, for Artists Plus Literacy, we partnered with Temple University’s Writing Center and the Philadelphia Writing Project. For Artists Plus Community Development, we partnered with Philadelphia LISC, our local leader in Community Development Corporation (CDC) work. In each case, we took the participants through a process that investigated a Venn diagram of where their skills and goals overlapped and brought unique strengths as well as showcasing shared models for successful partnerships.
  • Issues of the day affect the work of teaching artists, and we have responded with programs on trauma-informed practice, racism in the classroom, and the effect of the political climate on participants. Again, we rely on partners with specific expertise to work with us to present information that is relevant and actionable.

These programs are a snapshot of what we are doing currently. To be responsive, we are considering the possibility of scaling back or even eliminating programs that are no longer attracting as many participants. For us, ending a program series successful in the past, yet presently not meeting the same demand, is not seen as a failure but rather as being responsive to the next great need of teaching artists.

What’s Next?

In the past year, the Bartol Foundation underwent a vision process with staff and the board to develop a strategy to expand impact. We identified our work with teaching artists as an essential part of what makes our foundation unique in our community and in philanthropy. Our strategy going forward focuses specifically on how to leverage our success into more depth and greater reach beyond our existing financial and people resources.

To do this, we have developed a roster of consultants who will collaborate with us to increase our internal capacity to deliver on potential partnerships with others who want to harness the power of teaching artists and support the field. Here are some examples of these collaborations:

  • a partnership with the William Penn Foundation, which has made a grant to Bartol to develop in-depth, multisession training in trauma-informed practice for teaching artists;
  • a partnership with Small But Mighty Arts (SBMA), a local organization that supports creatives in Philadelphia, to make microgrants to teaching artists, our first efforts at grantmaking to individuals;
  • engaging an Artist Engagement Fellow shared with SBMA to cross-promote our programs and actively engage more teaching artists from underrepresented communities in both of our programs;
  • creating video spotlights to highlight the work of teaching artists in communities as a critical and valued artistic practice; and
  • pursuing partnerships with other potential partners for research, marketing support, and cross-disciplinary initiatives.

Try This at Home

We encourage other funders to explicitly recognize teaching artists as the hidden talent behind all great arts education. This could be as simple as asking for the names and pay rates of teaching artists in grant proposals or providing grant dollars for organizations to pay teaching artists to attend professional development opportunities, such as conferences or workshops. Or it could be as complex as developing a program component comparable to what we do at the Bartol Foundation.

Keep in mind that our focus on teaching artists directly aligned with our existing mission to support in-depth, community-based arts education. Our decision to add programs to our philanthropic work built on the existing skills of our staff and board as connectors, advocates, and facilitators. We entered this work as individuals and an organization that already had credibility within the community. As a grantmaker, we took care to be responsive rather than directive. Attendance at our workshops was never a grant requirement, and our focus has always been on the needs of individual teaching artists regardless of how or where they are employed.

We have grown this credibility over the years, building the Bartol identity as the leader in professional development for teaching artists in our region. While our direct financial expenses are modest — under $10,000 annually for our core programs — our time commitment is extensive and year-round. Finally, we live in a city where teaching artists share with open hearts and generosity of spirit. It is remarkable to be able to showcase and support such talented and giving individuals.

At the Bartol Foundation, our vision continues to focus on the intersection of arts, education, community, and philanthropy. We will continue to develop deeper training for teaching artists and use these trainings to build learning communities around specific areas of practice, such as trauma-informed teaching, literacy, and community development. As these trainings are developed, we hope to share them more broadly with the field through partnerships with others both within the arts community and in community settings that could benefit from working with teaching artists.

In his 2015 article in the GIA Reader, Eric Booth says, “the time has come for a national field of teaching artistry.” GIA can provide one medium to generate the conversations to support this work through philanthropy.

When we need affirmation that we are on the right path, we remember feedback we have received from participants, like the following: “Every Bartol workshop I attend leaves me feeling inspired and energized. It makes me feel like I am not alone in the work I do.”