By Judith Tannenbaum, WritersCorps Training Coordinator
Photo by Katharine Gin
This year we’ve added a class “The Work of a Teaching Artist” to the training WritersCorps offers our teachers. The class meets monthly, and today I shared information on the history of the field. I discussed six strands of this work that we do, and here is a very brief account.
The first is literary arts programs, including such models as Teachers & Writers Collaborative and Writers in the Schools.
A second strand is government programs. In Europe, and much of the world, cultural authorities are included in development agencies and are an integral part of a town’s planning. Animateurs are paid to help neighborhoods develop theater, murals, readings, etc. A most helpful source of information on cultural development is Arlene Goldbard’s “New Creative Community.”
In the United States, the New Deal gave work to the unemployed — including unemployed artists — during the Depression. The Public Works Project and the Works Progress Administration gave us murals in public buildings, and sent visual artists, musicians, theater people and writers to do a variety of work in a variety of community settings.
In the 1960s, Great Society mandates established the NEA and state art councils. Nancy Hanks, Director of the National Endowment for the Arts in late ’60s, established a national model that would provide money for local communities to create programs catering to their constituents’ needs. This funding enabled our very own San Francisco Arts Commission to develop the Neighborhood Arts Program, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
In the 1970s, high unemployment rates led to the Comprehensive Employment Training Act of 1973. CETA jobs gave many artists, in all disciplines, funding for real cultural development.
A third strand is that of nonprofits. The Settlement Houses of the late 19th century existed before the notion of nonprofits, but they offered services to immigrants in ways similar to many contemporary nonprofits. The most famous was Hull House in Chicago, started by Jane Addams in 1889.
One of the ancestor programs I most treasure is Highlander Center which Myles Horton founded in 1932 to serve as an adult education center for community workers involved in social and economic justice movements. The goal of Highlander was, and is, to provide education and support to poor and working people fighting economic injustice, poverty, prejudice, and environmental destruction. Since 1966, the Highlander Research and Education Center has administered the We Shall Overcome Fund, which is generated by royalties from the commercial use of the song “We Shall Overcome.” (The version we all sing came from Highlander.)
The 1960s, of course, were a time of political change, and claiming the arts as central to the lives of regular people was an important part of the Civil Rights Movement, the Liberating Education of Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal, El Teatro Campesino, the Black Arts Movement and San Francisco’s Mime Troupe.
Alternate Roots was founded in 1976 at Highlander by a group of southeastern performing artists creating original, community based work. High Performance magazine documented much of this work, and this documentation can now be viewed at the Community Arts Network — the single best source for information about community arts.
A fourth strand is that of educators and universities. In the early 20th Century, University Extension Programs were begun to share the educational and cultural resources of universities with larger community. Currently, a number of college and universities give degrees in community art and teaching art work.
Strand five is that of funders and funding initatives, including government, private foundations, commercial/corporate, private/individual. Between 1957 and 1990, the Ford Foundation had a broad vision of arts funding (including the establishment of new regional nonprofit arts institutions and art service organizations. During this era, the SF Bay Area alone, went from 20-30 nonprofit arts organizations in late the 1950s to 1,000 by the late 1980s.
In 1998, the Wallace Foundation seeded the field of community arts in higher education, which led to The Community Arts Partnership program. These have elements in common with service learning and civic engagement programs, and programs include:
* Reciprocal University for the Arts Project, CSU-Monterey Bay,
* Community Arts Partnerships, Cooper Union
* Native American Youth Outreach Program, Institute for American Indian Arts, Santa Fe
* Community Arts Partnerships, Maryland Institute College of Art
* Community Arts Partnerships Program, Xavier University, New Orleans
* Center for Community Arts Partnerships, Columbia College Chicago
The sixth strand is that of research, advocacy and arts policy. and includes: The Arts Education Partnership, Americans for the Arts, Center for Arts Policy, Project Zero at Harvard.
Two other central sources of information for the field are: the Association of Teaching Artists and Teaching Artist Journal.