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New CalArts residency transforms artists into teachers

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A new program at the California Institute of the Arts is taking some of the school's arts students and preparing them for careers in the classroom. 

The well-known university in Valencia has long been a hub for top arts students from around the country — and for decades, officials there have sought to formalize a process for helping arts students make their way in the world of teaching. In January, a $55,000 donation from two CalArts board of trustee members made it possible. The program, known as the CalArts Residency for Teaching Artists, launched in May and officials hope it will continue again next summer.

"We always knew that students needed a little more training in teaching," said Glenna Avila, who designed the program. "But we never had the resources per se to deepen that."

Teaching artists are frequently used in public schools as a way to infuse students' arts education with instruction from actual artists — the model is sometimes seen as a cost-saving tool for districts as well. Typically, a teaching artist is paired with a traditional classroom teacher who may not have a background in the arts, which in some cases cuts out the need for credentialed arts teachers. 

In 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts was created and teaching artists began formally working in schools. In recent years, public schools in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles have increasingly incorporated teaching artists into arts education efforts. 

"It's a way to deepen teaching in everything," said Shannon Wilkins, a consultant to the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

There's also a need for teachers with experience in the arts, according to Avila. She said many of today's teachers who grew up in California's public school system in the past three decades are becoming professionals with little background in the arts.

"Many of them did not have the arts in their elementary and middle and high schools as they were growing up and so that's a huge deficit on the part of our, our teachers," she said. 

The key to successful programs, according to David Dik — national executive director of Young Audiences Arts for Learning — is strong classroom teachers who work in partnership with motivated teaching artists and credentialed arts instructors to enrich student learning. 

"There's only so much that a teaching artist is going to bring the equation," said Dik, whose nonprofit oversees 4,400 teaching artists across the country. Dik added that traditional arts educators tend to have more of an alliance with school districts compared to teaching artists who are committed to their craft.

"A teaching artist first and foremost is an artist," he said. 

For the aspiring teaching artists at CalArts, the new program offers a chance at a career in teaching without sacrificing their commitment to their art forms.

Emerson Whitney just earned an MFA from the Critical Studies Creative Writing Program and was one of a dozen participants in the program. He said he always wanted to be a teacher.

"I know I could have gone to a more traditional program," he said. "But I feel like as a teaching artist it's a totally different and a unique thing."

Learn more about teaching artists

 

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