Guest Blog: The Merit of the Teaching Artist

The Merit of the Teaching Artist in Today's Economic Climate

sandy seufert

The first in a series of guest blogs by Sandy Seufert, Manager of Curriculum and Teaching Artist Development at the Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County.

Let's face it.  When the economy goes south, so do some of our choices. While we've all been swept up by the "trimming our sails" mantra, the arts have ended up on the proverbial editing room floor.  In good times, everyone understands the efficacy of the arts, but when pressures come to bear, well....you've all read the papers.  Now, tough times often mean tough decisions, to be sure. But I hope to make a claim that there is indeed merit and value, on every level, to having a teaching artist work with our children in today's 21st Century classrooms.

The teaching artist, with good training and support, is well-poised to serve a unique and powerful function in the educational stew.  Let's think about, for a moment, what makes a visual or performing artist unique.  When I reflect on the history of humans, I am interested to notice that many aspects of past culture are actually recorded, interpreted, and evidenced by... you got it, artists.  Artists have historically served an important function in our society, and telescoping from then to right now, it is evident that we are in a rapidly changing environment that requires the sensitivity, perception, and unique problem solving skills of artists.  As we made the transition from an agricultural to an industrial and then to an information society, we are now entering into yet a different age, one that requires an ability to solve problems and design solutions in entirely new ways.

Teaching artists, through this marriage of high level artistic and pedagogical skill, are on same page as classroom teachers as they support educational standards, student outcomes, and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Through working the connective tissue between their art form and other subjects quite adeptly, teaching artists often focus on universal themes.  And through those themes and that creative process, students can truly learn, develop, and organically think in unique ways.  And this learning sticks.  Teaching artists inspire, question, enchant, create and grow critical thinkers.  And this is only the short list of amazing verbs that teaching artists bring to the classroom.

I conclude with a question to readers.  I grapple with this in my work and I'm curious to know what you think. Should the role of the teaching artist be more that of a teacher or that of an artist?  Is there an ideal ratio?

To see a Music Center teaching artist in action, visit the Music Center website at musiccenter.org/education/artisttraining.html.

Sandy Seufert is the Manager of Curriculum and Teaching Artist Development at the Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and also doubles as a professional cellist and folk fiddler. Prior to the Music Center, Sandy managed education programs for both LA Opera and The Da Camera Society. Sandy's experience in working in schools is partly based on working in special education for eleven years in Los Angeles Unified School District but was later honed as a teaching artist in middle school, teaching violin, viola, and cello.  At the Music Center, Sandy works directly with the training and development of roster artists and their curriculum and helps to manage several world-class teaching artist training programs and seminars that serve the arts community.

A take

Should the role of the teaching artist be more that of a teacher or that of an artist? Is there an ideal ratio? I believe that artists are teachers by nature.

This may sound horribly generalized, but the idea behind the work works on as many levels as say your ideal history teacher, economics professor, principal or academic adviser for that matter. Works of art open the mind to interpretation, a skill true teachers should encourage.

Areas such as poetry and music are open voids that are filled by ideas with direct connectivity to areas of mathematics, science and English - and that's for beginners!

The more researched and dedication, the more the inclusion of the important aspects held true within the educational institution.

teaching artists - ratio of teacher vs. artist

Thank you for your ideas! I agree that true works of art, in whatever art form, do indeed create amazing opportunities for connections. Some have posited, however, that sometimes the "magic" of art can get lost in the highly intellectual world of pedagogy and assessment. I don't necessarily agree or disagree, as I have seen it go both ways. I believe that more education and theory can help teaching artists be more conscious of their process. My hope, however, is that they don't lose touch with the specialness that only an artist can bring.

Advocates among us

Thank you so much, Norma. It is really just a reflection on the brilliant work done by those teaching artists working in the field. It is my hope that others will surface to share their stories, as I believe that there are people out there that have the ability to help us create, fund,and sustain a brighter world for our students and our communities. Let yours be one of those voices, Norma!

The Balance of being a Teacher and an Artist

Bravo Sandy! Great to read your blog. For me, the uniqueness of being an artist that teaches highlights my achievements as a performer and wanting to pass on the knowledge and insight I have gained over the years. Getting students motivated to not only gain proficency in the content standards and spur their creativity, but having students excel in their art discipline and possibly some of them becoming professional artists as adults is the most rewarding aspect of being a teaching artist. The success of teaching is retention of skills and knowledge that last a lifetime.

Artistic Model at the highest level

Dear Michael, Thank you for your insights and your tag as "an artist who teaches". That high level of artistic model is so important, not only to teach the skills and knowledge of the art form, but to also share the magic of art well done. Keep sharing your talents!

We need more advocates like

We need more advocates like you in our communities. Thank you for your accurate statements which mean the world to me!

Advocates are among us!

Thank you so much, Norma. It is really just a reflection on the brilliant work done by those teaching artists working in the field. It is my hope that others will surface to share their stories, as I believe that there are people out there that have the ability to help us create, fund,and sustain a brighter world for our students and our communities. Let yours be one of those voices, Norma!