BY THE TENS OF THOUSANDS, teaching artists
in every country have poured their hearts and best
creative energies into activating artistry throughout this world that is both beautiful and such a mess.
My life and this book are dedicated to them.
– Eric Booth
All proceeds from sales of this book will be donated to ITAC—the International Teaching Artist Collaborative. About ITAC.
"Making Change is absolutely riveting!"
– Sangeeta Isvarin, Founder, Wind Dancers Trust; Co-Founder, Katradi Method: Arts for Conflict Resolution, India
"Eric Booth expands our sense of what’s possible for a beacon for a brighter, creatively rich future."
– Stu Warshawer, CEO, ArtistYear
"Artists can be healers, educators, and advocate new solutions to making the world a better place."
– Carla Dirlikov Canales, 2022-23 Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership Social Innovation + Change Initiative
"An incredibly useful resource for organizations around the world."
– Elizabeth Njoroge, Founder of The Art of Music Foundation, Kenya
Activating Artistry 11
What’s the Purpose of Teaching Artistry? 14
What Can Teaching Artistry Actually Do? 19
What Does the Work of Teaching Artistry Actually Look Like? 24
A Short History of the Field of Teaching Artistry 28
Who Becomes a Teaching Artist? And Why? 31
What’s the Difference between a Teaching Artist and an Arts Teacher? 35
Some Examples of Teaching Artistry in Action 40
The Fundamentals of Teaching Artistry 45
Why Doesn’t Everyone Everywhere Know about Teaching Artistry? 48
Imagining What’s Possible 50
What We Could Do with a Big Investment 55
Teaching Artist Tools and Purposes 61
The Tools of Teaching Artistry 63
Routines and Rituals that Support Teaching Artist Practice 77
At the Intersection of Teaching Artistry and Performance 81
The Purpose Threads 85
Beyond a Specific Purpose 101
IN THE ROHINGYA REFUGEE CAMP in Bangladesh, tensions were running high between Bangladeshis and Rohingya refugees. The Artolution1 program brought in teaching artists who led a project in the joint creation, by refugees and Bangladeshis working together, of a series of giant, colorful murals throughout the community that vividly depicted health concerns shared by all participants. Tensions lessened markedly, and the local government changed policies in response to the health concerns.
THE SING SING CORRECTIONAL FACILITY is a maximum security prison in New York State that houses 1,400 convicted men, most serving long-term sentences. Every week, a few dozen of them—currently thirty-five, few of whom had played a musical instrument before—gather in a room and make music for hours, led by teaching artists from Carnegie Hall. The program has a long waiting list. Within months of beginning, they were playing and singing together; within a year, they were performing original compositions in front of a packed house of other men at the facility. Curriculum varies; teaching artists sometimes dedicate an entire year to the study of one composer, guiding composition in that style (one year was dedicated to Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music, another to women in music, another to Afro futurism). One member of the group performed an evening of his music at Carnegie Hall on the day of his release. None of those in the program have “re-offended” after their incarceration.
GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN, an old and robust port city on the North Sea, has become a major endpoint in the journeys of refugees from a host of countries in turmoil—Afghanistan, Syria, Albania, Somalia and many more. Some of these refugees are children and 8 teenagers who arrived alone, without their families, after terrifying journeys of uncertainty and danger. Seven years ago, teaching artists at a community music for social change program began giving these young people instruments and group lessons (and, often, food and shelter); today, they are accomplished members of The Dream Orchestra,2 a performing and touring ensemble that participates fully in Gothenburg life. The orchestra became their family, and the music became their lifeline.
LIKE SO MANY coastal cities, São José, Santa Catarina, Brazil, is increasingly battered by climate change. Many citizens feel hopeless, even disconnected, because of the rising crisis. The School of the (Im)Possible (devised by local teaching artists at Platô Cultural) worked with classes of nine-year-olds for ten weeks in school, making them secret agents in touch with a climate scientist living in 2072, who invited them to join an (im)possible mission: “to re-write the future with sustainable solutions.” In the all-absorbing mystery improvisation, the teaching artist guide helped them gather clues, study the local environment, take careful notes and solve challenges, eventually to write their own books about what’s going on and what they want to do about it. In a culminating event at the school, they confronted their parents (who don’t usually attend school events) and local leaders with hard questions about what the grown-ups were going to do about these challenges. The kids became the environmental educators and activists of São José. The mayor ordered The School of the (Im)Possible to spread to schools across the city; it has also been adopted in two schools in Scotland.
FOUR STORIES among thousands in which engaging in the arts provided solutions to the world’s most intractable challenges. This book introduces the workforce of artists, called teaching artists, who do this work. With joy.
“There is an entire profession dedicated to activating people’s artistry for a range of purposes. These professionals know how to awaken artistry. They know how to develop it. They know how to guide it toward positive results, results that matter.”
“Teaching Artists can even sharpen the diagnostic accuracy of medical doctors: in the U.S., there are over twenty partnerships between medical schools and art museums, wherein teaching artists work with medical students to open up new ways of perceiving works of art—ways that transfer to perceiving and diagnosing maladies more accurately. Yes, teaching artists save lives, literally.”
“Government agencies are discovering that teaching artists can make them more effective. In fact, over a dozen cities in the U.S. (including the two largest) place teaching artists in different departments because their creative engagement skills disrupt assumptions, energize staff and often generate new outcomes.”
“Teaching Artistry is the sleeping giant of social change.”
“Teaching artists know how to draw others into environments of change and possibility. They can stir and activate the artistic impulse in others and then guide it, using both what artists know and what teachers know.”
“Teaching artistry is not a kitbag of handy educational tricks that an artist carries around to apply when circumstances invite. Teaching artistry is a worldview, an expansion of the artist’s view.”
“Teaching artists have a relentless urge to reach beyond the literal, beyond ‘good enough,’ beyond right answers, standard solutions and existing opinions and judgments to see the world as if it could be otherwise. We live to bring that new world into being.”