The teaching artist definition is a work of art for Jennifer Ridgway

Share this content:

It’s #FollowFriday, and wouldn’t you know it – it’s my turn – Jennifer Ridgway. I’m super excited to have a go at writing the definition of a teaching artist. But first, How do you introduce yourself?

Jennifer Ridgway

This is Jennifer Ridgway coming to you. I’m the co-founder and vice president of TAMA. Whatever that means.

The three colleagues who came before me in this interview series submitted videos to respond to their questions. I’m proud of them for sharing themselves in that way. It is a big risk to submit a video! Dave Fry, Khaleshia Thorpe-Price, and Wincey Terry-Bryant, you are inspiring and such great leaders!

I have a lot on my plate and had a tough go at it in recent months. The best I can do today is compose my thoughts in writing. Maybe it’s the beginnings of a script for a future video…?

Enough with introductions. Let’s go…

Define Teaching Artist.

It is challenging to write an all-inclusive definition of a teaching artist.

While the term has been around for several decades now, I see the field as a piece of art continually in process.  How do you define a piece of art in process? Can we actually do that? Even my definitions of the terms “artist,” “creative,” and “professional” are in a constant state of evolution.

There is absolutely no way I can give you a definition and feel good about it. I mean, can you?

There are several definitions out there.

Eric Booth wrote a definition for the field that crystalized things for me and many use.

The Teaching Artist Guild has a TA manifesto that informed my perspective and shapes the field.

I so appreciated the authors of the definitions before me in this challenge, and honestly, look forward to definitions submitted by future writers on this blog. With each, I see anew.

This task is causing angst.

At the present time, I turn to the one definition embedded in the advocacy letter written in 2020. It feels right for now…

Teaching artists work with many different members of society, embedding their creative practices into our communities.  These dynamic and varied artists lift up the voice, develop empathy and understanding, provide healing, create connections, and generate effective solutions to challenges in the communities they serve. 

However, as I read it I want to change “dynamic and varied artists” to “dynamic and varied creatives.”  I don’t know.  What do you think?  I’m also not altogether comfortable with “lift up.” I’m not sure that’s exactly possible. Do you lift up? What does lifting up mean? And do we actually do that? I would love to hear from you. Email me!  I seek conversations that bring us to a greater understanding of how we all fit together in this wonderfully mysterious field.  

Seriously!  We all benefit when YOU speak YOUR truth and share YOUR experience. I encourage you to compose your definition. Privately or publicly – do it!  And do it from outside of the arts and educational institutions and agencies where you work.

Indeed I deeply love the arts organizations that are my partners and the educational institutions that grant me time and space to learn and train and develop my craft and process and style.

Too often, capitalism and the policies and regulations that keep capitalism running inform and shape them, which has informed and shaped our field. Their missions and strategic priorities are woven into our definition. Do they adequately account for our part-time or independent contractor status? Does not our status in the work shape the work and drive the field? Is our status not directly related to the power and impact of our work? Am I off course here? Tell me I am.

I am confident that the most precise and most potent definition will rise to the surface through conversation. With it, we will find better ways to collectively advocate for the field and address the lack of healthcare contributions, pensions, sick leave, and the security of tenure, among other things, that too often show up, challenge, and shape our work.

This is a process – writing this shared definition.

This process is advocacy in action.

It will take time to get through every TA’s ideas.

It will require analysis and reflection.

I will write something today that I will want to revise tomorrow. You may find this true for you too.

So cozy up to being vulnerable, artist. 

Get comfortable with giving and receiving feedback, fellow creative.  

Be patient in the process, teaching artists.  

Good collaborative artmaking requires all that.  

Good art has the power to change things.  

Let’s make good art!  

I’m so excited for what lies ahead of us as a field.

True transformation!

Tell me: What’s your definition of a teaching artist?

What three nouns are associated with your work?  

A definition for teaching artist in action – Jennifer Ridgway’s Yard Dramas.

During the pandemic, I launched a program called Yard Dramas.  It’s gone through several iterations and will continue to do so as I land on my next step. Currently, I’m focused on its nouns being the outdoors, our imaginations, and GORGEOUS Prince Georgians!  Prince George’s County is where my company lives.  It’s where I reside. Prince George’s County residents are proud, and we are a GOR-GEOUS!  

What is next for you that we should be keeping an eye out for? 

It’s all about Yard Dramas for me. I’m working on creating a customer journey for my clients.  For the first time in my life, I’m thinking about the business of my work. It has been the best thing to come out of this pandemic for me. There is an art in it, and I like working it all out when I think of it like that.

Why TAMA? 

Collegial relationships.

Personal relationships with others. 

I’ve gone from being alone and siloed to having a gigantic community of resources and expertise available to me.  At my fingertips, I have answers, solutions, and strategies to address my questions, needs, and challenges. And from time to time, I’ve experienced being an answer holder, a solution finder, and a challenge navigator for colleagues.  Which feels darn good I must say.  

I am so grateful to the TAMA colleagues who I call friends.  I couldn’t have survived this pandemic without them.

I often re-read “The Teaching Artist Sutras” by Michael Wiggins. I often quote him:

The wise teaching artist cultivates strong collegial relationships and deep friendships to find the best jobs.

Since the moment I read these words, I’ve embraced them. I have gotten the best jobs from cultivating my collegial relationships. But it’s so much more. My whole life and existence are better, especially during this pandemic. I am complete with you, TAMA friends! I dearly love each and every one of you.

And that’s that

My answers to the four questions posed to me. I’d love to get a word from you in the next seven days. Tell me you read what I wrote. Tell me you disagree. Tell me you’ve got a solid definition for teaching artist. Tell me you want to be the next person interviewed in this series. Come and sit in my chair with all of you.

Love, me

If you are a TA who resides in DE, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA, VA, or WV? Then, join the forum conversation for this blog here. Forums are private discussion boards for TAs based in the mid-Atlantic and listed in TAMA’s Directory.

Are you not a TA in the mid-Atlantic? Send me an email. And don’t forget to follow me. Learn more about my work by visiting my site or TAMA’s TA Directory.

How else to get involved in TAMA?

If you are a TA in the mid-Atlantic, check out our events calendar. Next Tuesday, February 8 at 9AM we are holding a Quarterly Member Meeting! We’ve got such a great meeting planned and so much to come this year across the region. You want to be a part of this! Learn more here.

And don’t forget to join us at our bi-monthly TA Cafe – First Mondays at 9:30 AM, and Third Fridays at 2:30 PM! Check out our events page here to mark your calendar. Bring your beverage of choice, and let’s network!

Who will we spotlight next week?

Stay tuned!

#FollowFriday #TeachingArtist #ArtsEducation

Share this content:

Support the future of TAMA with a $20 donation. Your contribution will help TAMA empower Teaching Artists to soar to new heights!

Know about an event organized by one of TAMA's regional networks?