There have been remarkable advances in arts education, both in and out of schools, over the last fifteen years, despite a difficult policy environment. Teaching artists, the hybrid professionals that link the arts to education and community life, are the creative resource behind much of this innovation. Their best efforts are redefining the roles the arts play in public education. Their work is central to arts organizations' strategies for civic engagement and diverse audiences. Excellent research has shown that arts education is instrumental to the social, emotional, and cognitive development of thousands of young people. But little is known about teaching artists. The Teaching Artists Research Project (TARP) deepens our understanding of world of teaching artists through studies in twelve communities, and it will inform policy designed to make their work sustainable, more effective, and more meaningful.
A dozen study sites were selected where funding was available to support exploration of the local conditions and dynamics in arts education: Boston, Seattle, Providence, and eight California communities (San Francisco/Alameda County, Los Angeles, San Diego, Bakersfield, San Bernardino, Santa Cruz, Salinas, and Humboldt County). A thorough literature review was conducted, and NORC conducted stakeholder meetings and focus groups, identified key issues and began designing a multi-methods study that would include surveys for both artists and program managers as well as in-depth interviews of stakeholders -- teaching artists, program managers, school officials, classroom teachers and arts specialists, principals, funders, and arts educators in a wide variety of venues.
There are no professional associations and no accreditation for teaching artists, so a great deal of time was spent building a sample of teaching artists and program managers in every study site. The survey instrument was developed and tested, and then fielded on-line in the study sites sequentially, beginning in Chicago, and ending with the southern California sites. To assure a reliable response rate, online surveys were supplemented by a telephone survey. Lists of potential key informants were accumulated for each site, and interviewers were recruited, hired, and trained in each site. Most of the interviewers were teaching artists themselves, and many had significant field knowledge and familiarity with the landscape of arts education in their community. The surveys collected data on some fundamental questions:
- Who are teaching artists?
- Where do they work? Under what terms and conditions?
- What sort of education have they had?
- How are they hired and what qualifications do employers look for?
- How much do they make?
- How much experience do they have?
- What drew them to the field? What pushes them out?
- What are their goals?
Qualitative interviews with a subsample of survey respondents and key informants delved deeply into the dynamics and policies that drive arts education, the curricula and pedagogy teaching artists bring to the work, and personal histories of some artists. The interviews gathered more detailed information on the local character of teaching artist communities, in-depth descriptions and narratives of teaching artists' experiences, and followed up on items or issues that arose in preliminary analysis of the quantitative survey data. These conversations illuminated the work teaching artists believe is their best and identified the kinds of structural and organizational supports that enable work at the highest level. The interview process explored key areas with the artists, such as how to best develop their capacities, understand the dynamics between their artistic and educational practice, and how to keep them engaged in the field. Another critical topic explored during these conversations was how higher education can make a more meaningful and strategic contribution toward preparing young artists to work in the field.
The TARP report includes serious reflection on the conditions and policies that have affected arts education in schools, particularly over the last thirty years, a period of intense school reform efforts and consistent erosion of arts education for students. The report includes new and important qualitative data about teaching artists, documenting their educational background, economic status, the conditions in which they work, and their goals as artists and educators. It also includes new insights about how learning in the arts is associated with learning in general, illuminating findings from other studies that have suggested a powerful connection between arts education and positive outcomes for students in a wide range of domains.