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22 Ways to Get or Make a Teaching Artist Gig

It cannot be overstated how important it is to do careful research before approaching organizations and program staff about a gig.  Before you call or email anyone do your homework.  Know what an organization does, what its emphasis is, how it works and why it works in the field.  Such research will help you to connect with the right people, will make it clear that you are serious and will also help you avoid pursuing gigs that are not right for you.  Showing a potential employer that you have taken the time to inform yourself about an organization’s work is particularly important if you do not have much or any teaching experience.

1. Research a bunch of arts education organizations that hire teaching artists in your town. 

--Before you contact them make sure you know what they do, and how they do it. 

--When you have a clear idea of this contact the Education Director. Tell her you want to get a better sense of how they work and also give them a sense of how you work.   

--Meet with their program people or teaching artists to chat.  Always bring a resume—such meetings often double as informal job interviews.

--See if any of the organizations feel like places you’d like to work for.  You might want to meet with them without any ideas for teaching in mind, or you might want to show up with an idea for a project or program that you’d like to create. 

--If you are a student it may be appropriate to intern or volunteer as an assistant teaching artist for a period of time.  Don’t let yourself be exploited but don’t be afraid to get your foot in the door and learn more about the work by volunteering where appropriate.

2. Research and then contact some arts organizations in your medium in your town.  See if they have education programs that hire teaching artists. Meet with their education people and see what happens.

3. Research and then contact some arts organizations in your medium that don’t have education programs.  Propose such a program.  Even a very small, one-person pilot might be of interest if it relates to how they do their work, or perhaps can help them develop audiences for their work and become more a part of the local community.

4. Research and then contact local arts museums, or even science and technology museums that may have arts related collections. Find out if they have educational programs that hire teaching artists.  If they don’t, consider proposing such a program.

5. Research and then contact your local school board. Find out if they have programs that hire teaching artists directly or through arts organizations.  If they don’t have such programs consider proposing one. Make sure to check with your local teachers union to make sure teaching artists are not being used as low cost replacements for full-time arts specialists—you don’t want to be undercutting existing arts programming or decent wages for teachers.

6. Research and then contact a school directly through a teacher or staff person you know, or by cold calling.  Find out if they have any interest in a teaching artist residency or collaboration.  Ask if they have worked with teaching artists before.  Propose something. Consider writing a grant yourself to support your work. Before proceeding further check with the local teachers union to make sure teaching artists are not being used as low cost replacements for full-time arts specialists—you don’t want to be undercutting existing arts programming or decent wages for teachers.  If you are going to work in a school that already has someone working in arts programming in your discipline make contact with him or her to find out what work is already being done and whether your work will overlap with or undercut it.  A conversation like that may lead to interesting and fruitful collaboration.

7. Research and then contact a community center and propose something.  Write your own grant or propose that the community center collaborate with you on writing a grant.

8. Research and then contact a local after-school arts program.

9. Research and then contact a church with youth or adult education programming. Propose something.

10. Take your gear out to a park or street corner.  Research the legalities and any safety issues.  Try to obtain necessary permits first or just keep a super-low profile.  Attract passers-by and get them working in your medium.

11. Research and then contact your local park district. Find out if they have summer or after-school programs for youth, or continuing education programs for adults. Propose a course in your medium.

12. Research and then contact local colleges, universities and community colleges that have continuing education programs or just arts programs.  See if they will hire you for existing programs or propose something new.

13. Research and then contact senior centers, adult daycare centers and creative aging programs. Find out if they hire teaching artists. Propose something.

14. Research and then contact local hospitals. Find out if they have in-hospital arts programming for child and adult patients. Propose something.

15. Consider working in prisons or youth correctional facilities.  Our colleague, teaching artist Tish Jones, has some suggestions for how to go about this:

Most prisons or correctional facilities facilitate an organization/volunteer workshop/orientation. This is followed by a request for a proposal and there are applications involved to ensure that you are not connected to or related to an inmate. Thus, the first step would be contacting their program coordinator to submit a proposal for a workshop, which is a very rigorous and sometimes difficult process. Connecting with the city or state is another approach. A lot of states have what is often called a JDAI program:  Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative program. Through this program teaching artists can propose a post (or pre) workshop or session for young people that are in danger of reoffending.  Having a PO (parole officer) as an advocate also helps; they can often recommend programming.  You can also simply partner with other organizations or apply for a grant and design a prison-based program.

16. Research and then contact mental health advocacy groups.  Find out about arts programming for the mentally ill, or find out about contexts for which you might be able to propose such programming.

17. Research and then contact disability advocacy groups.  Find out about arts programming for the disabled, or find out about contexts for which you might be able to propose such programming.

18. Research and then contact urban or rural social service organizations.  Find out about existing arts programming associated with such organizations, or find out about contexts for which you might be able to propose such programming.

19. Contact cultural organizations that serve immigrant, ethnic or neighborhood communities.  Find out about existing arts programming associated with such organizations, or find out about contexts for which you might be able to propose such programming.

20. Contact local industry, especially industries that have factories that employ large numbers of people in one place. Propose after-work or lunch hour arts programming (yes, it’s been done successfully!).

21. Contact local unions.  Find out if they have educational programming for adults or young people.  Propose something.

22. Some way we haven’t thought of here but that you will think of.