TA Leader breaks molds, crosses borders – Sue Trainor

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White woman with gray hair and dark framed glasses raises her eyebrows with an invitation for music. She holds a blue ukelele, which coordinates with her blue shirt and black vest.
Sue Trainor invites music with a uke! Photo credit Philip Muriel

These days we are thinking about TA Leaders in TAMA. Do you find you don’t always fit the mold? Are you willing to cross borders? Have you ever considered yourself a TA Leader? If not before, would you now? We need folks to self-identify. It’s critical in this field, now more than ever!

For these reasons and more I’m proud to toss today’s celebration and Follow Friday to Master Teaching Artist, Arts Integration Specialist, Co-Founder of the Teaching Artists of the Mid-Atlantic, and our current TAMA President – Sue Trainor! She has been my rock since – Well, I’m just going to let her tell the story. Her questions are:

  • When did you first begin to publicly identify as a Teaching Artist?
  • Tell us about when you discovered your voice in the field as a TA Leader.
  • Why TAMA?  What networks, tools, resources, or services are important to you?
  • What’s next for you that we should be keeping an eye out for?

When did you first begin to publicly identify as a Teaching Artist?

In the mid-1990s I was gigging solo as a performing songwriter, and I was also in the early stages of forming the vocal trio Hot Soup with Christina Muir and Sue Ribaudo. People kept telling me that, with my “energy,” I should be working in schools. Sue Ribaudo already was offering school programs, so I followed her around a bit to see how things worked. With that information, I got brave and accepted a couple of invitations to try my own hand in the classroom. (Teaching was not something I ever imagined I would do. Silly me!)

My first experiences went well. I was accepted onto the state arts council roster (which both provided schools with the confidence that my work was vetted by experts and gave grants to schools to book me) and I was on my way. 

The most important things about my start-up story are:
  • I discovered my preference for small groups. At the time, most TAs seemed to be doing assemblies. I got the most satisfaction in the classroom, so I began offering songwriting residencies in general curriculum classrooms. It wasn’t an option many people understood – I had to do a lot of explaining – but it caught on. It turns out I’ve been promoting arts integration all along!
  • I discovered the profound satisfaction I get from working with children who have special needs. As it happened, most of my earliest TA programs were in special needs classrooms. Those experiences taught me to put the children first and meet them wherever they are. In order to do that, I figured out how to break my art form down to its micro-fundamentals. I asked, “How will we both have the experience of musicality (not just me performing)? How can I pass the opportunity to create to each particular individual?” Later on, Young Audiences of Maryland made a powerful video about my work. 

Tell us about when you discovered your voice in the field as a TA Leader.

When I was getting started, we were in the olden, pre-internet days. Teaching artists promoted their work at in-person showcases, mostly sponsored by arts agencies. That’s where we would meet other TAs, see what people were doing, visit behind the scenes a bit, and of course, meet the school cultural arts decision-makers. I found the situation (and many TAs) to be highly competitive. My instincts were the opposite: We have not saturated the market; there’s plenty of work to go around if we promote ourselves well. We can do better by working together than we can in isolation. 

Sue kneels and extends a djembe drum in front of a young participant who has her hand ready to strike it.
Sue passes a drum to a young participant.

Plus, I wanted to learn. Other TAs had information that would be useful to me, and I believed I had knowledge and skills useful to others, so, using a book-club model, I began a networking group that I called TA Tool Talk. We met as often as folks wanted to, sometimes we had as many as 10 participating, sometimes just a few. We talked a lot about business issues, marketing and booking strategies. I remember John “Kinderman” Taylor giving us a lot of insights into his thinking about merchandising. 

I grew in my work, joining the Wolf Trap roster and becoming a Master Teaching Artist there. I was invited to join the staff of the Maryland Artist/Teacher Institute for a few years and the Maryland Teaching Artist Institute for a decade. Those positions gave me a lot of credibility and access to policy-level decision-makers.  Ta-dah! I had a voice. 

Why TAMA?  What networks, tools, resources, or services are important to you?

TAMA is like my TA Tool Talk on steroids. Jennifer Ridgway and I, along with a large group of other interested TAs, launched the organization in hopes of encouraging networking throughout the region (because we all cross borders and can help each other be better at that). 

The more we share with each other, the better we all do, in terms of our continued business learning, arts, and education learning, and in terms of advocacy. In isolation, each of us is only one voice in the system. Together, we can craft a message and address issues as a large group. In Maryland, we have proven this point twice recently, in opposition to TA-unfriendly policy changes sought by the state arts council staff. 

I’m excited about the local networks developing with TAMA, as well as the cross-border networks like Genesis. I’m excited about our website and the opportunities it offers to network asynchronously. However, to be clear, we aren’t a “somebody ought to” organization – the solver of problems or the implementer of great ideas. We’re the place to find like-minded TAs to work together with you to solve the problem and implement the ideas. We’re creating the platform on which we each can better take care of our profession and ourselves professionally.

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

I just turned 70! It’s my turn to slow down a bit. I’ll keep teaching, mentoring, and offering professional development as long as I can, but less. My partner and I just bought a camper, and we plan to travel more. I do have another project goal, though: a workbook series for early childhood educators that captures the gist of my approach to musical arts integration with young children. So, here I am, back at the beginning, trying to figure out how to make my idea work when my idea doesn’t seem to fit the mold of what other people are doing, exactly…. Keep an eye on these TAMA pages and my website to see if I ever figure it out!  😉

Celebrate Sue Trainor and the TA Leader Thread

Are you a like-minded TA? Ready to stay connected like Sue suggests? Are YOU a TA who resides in DE, DC, MD, NJ, NY, PA, VA, or WV? Join the forum conversation for this blog here. TAMA forums are private discussion boards for TAs based in the mid-Atlantic and listed in TAMA’s Directory. It’s a great place for us to connect, share, support, challenge, and empower each other!

But, if you are not a TA in the mid-Atlantic but want to connect with Sue, do not fear! Check out Sue’s TAMA TA Directory profile and visit her website! Follow Sue on FB.

How else to get involved in TAMA?

If you are a TA in the mid-Atlantic, check out our events calendar. Join us at our bi-monthly TA Cafe – First Mondays at 9:30 AM, and Third Fridays at 2:30 PM!

Wait a second, is today the third Friday?


Is it 2:30?

Check your watch, and our events page to mark your calendar, and see you soon!

Who will we spotlight next week?

Stay tuned!

#FollowFriday #TeachingArtist #ArtsEducation

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