Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 Takeaways from the NYU Forum on the Teaching Artist

by Brandi Burgess

If the life of a Teaching Artist was to be imagined as a circus act, I think it would have to be the vaudevillian juggler who starts many plates spinning, and races between each one, trying to keep each of the plates from crashing. I am not yet a master of this art form. I often find myself metaphorically stepping over broken plate shards when I walk into a bustling classroom, trying to keep the attention of a group of students, while getting them excited about the arts. So, when I saw the offer for a few New Vic TAs to participate in the NYU Forum on the Teaching Artist, I jumped on the opportunity... without realizing it would begin the very day I returned to America after touring a show through Prague.

I arrived to the Forum just a few hours after arriving on U.S. soil-- hair a mess, and eyes tired. With jetlag settling in, I was worried I was going to be a useless attendant. However, I was quickly enlivened as the weekend was filled with inspiration, affirmation, and sharing within a vibrant community. And perhaps being exhausted allowed me to sit back to listen more fully and experience more deeply. I am honored to have been in the company of such noble-minded artists.

The 2014 Forum, hosted at NYU, focused on navigation, innovation and sustainability in our field. There were a series of panels (panelists included our own Courtney J. Boddie and Lindsey Buller Maliekel!), workshops and performances around these themes. As with any great conference, I'm left turning over the topics in my head and am definitely reinvigorated in my practice. Here are 10 takeaways I wanted to share from the experience:

1. The journey of becoming a Teaching Artist is extremely unique. We are high-caliber artists with a passion for sharing the healing and educative natures of art. This fluidity allows the field to be extraordinarily expansive and filled with endless possibilities. Navigation is key.

2. Innovation. Sometimes you have to fly by the seat of your pants. Challenge the status quo. Take risks. Take joy in the fact that nothing is truly new, but is merely re-interpreted into new contexts. What’s your take on the world? Jump in.

3. To be sustainable, we must learn how to adapt. TAs are artists, scholars and teachers, and must work to feed all of these facets. Advocate for yourself. Organize your time (and your money). Be accountable. You are your own organization.

4. Break down the "Culture of No." So often in an academic setting, young people assume that there is only one right answer to every question. Teaching Artists have the opportunity to move the desks away, put the test questions down and say YES to every idea a student offers. Never compromise this.

5. Don't be afraid of a little chaos if it comes about in the pursuit of ideas. Live in the question.

6. We are a community of excavators. Never hesitate to tap into the vast number of Teaching Artist organizations in this great city. Reach out to one another. Share. Question. Seek. Help each other keep art at the heart of our work.

7. Everyone has a voice. Even you. Sometimes the most powerful way to connect with students is to share yourself. Reveal your story. Don’t impose on the culture, immerse yourself in it. Vulnerability is a source of strength. Lead by example.

8. Arts Education is not at war with the Common Core. They go hand-in-hand. Yes, the arts have to be justified to funding organizations. Teaching Artists can deliver evidence that the Arts are filled with academic merit. Music, dance, visual arts, theater, creative writing and digital media all possess extensive crossover with curriculum. Let’s celebrate the chance to advocate.

9. Remember that as Teaching Artists, we are invested in the process, not the product.

10. "Nobody’s funding joy." This was a huge talking point of the weekend and I would disagree. Teaching Artists are funding joy--with their time, effort and art-making. Yes, we are living under the mercy of grant proposals and non-profit budgets. Yet, I believe the joy will become infectious. Soon our culture will realize the serious need of play in society. Teaching Artists get to be pioneers for this great cause.


Brandi Burgess is an actor, director, and Teaching Artist, who has been working with a diversity of youth cultures for the past 8 years. After acting and teaching professionally in Philadelphia, she moved to New York to join the Teaching Artist Ensemble at The New Victory Theater. Among various areas of Teacher Training, Brandi has completed certification for teaching arts to individuals on the autistic spectrum, as well as psychodrama processes. Favorite youth productions she has directed include: Oklahoma, The Wizard of Oz, How to Eat Like a child and Killadelp ​h​ia, a​ ​play devised ​by 7th graders for the "Philly Reality" performance series​. ​Next up: She will spend the summer as the Resident Artist in Kankakee County, IL. In the Fall, she will be moving to the Czech Republic to work as the Assistant Artistic Director for Prague Youth Theatre. ​Visit her on ​

1 comment:

  1. Prague is a great city with many opportunities, but most of all very fascinating. I think you will spent great time here.