I worry about the health and sustainability of the field of teaching artistry and its capacity to allow all of us to thrive. We love our work. It’s important work. But while some of us are doing fairly well in the field, having both recognition and financial security, many struggle. During the pandemic, many colleagues (and so many good ones) left the profession. I heard their stories. Even today, as folks return to having more work, I hear from others (including myself) contemplating leaving the field for greater security and stability.
I marvel at our collection of work, colleagues. You inspire me. People I’ve known for decades, those I’ve met during the pandemic, and strangers I experience through social media. But who doesn’t feel exhausted by the work and the expectations asked of us these days? How is it that so many of us can’t carry health insurance? Why is it that most don’t have retirement plans?
I am done with the notion that artists need to be educated about budgeting. I’m a fan of lifelong learning but managing money is not our collective problem. I am sick of seeing overworked folks being pushed to have side hustles. As if, this is the answer. More work is not the answer to financial health and well-being.
I wonder how the field is defined, and by whom. Is it we who defines the profession of teaching artistry?
I struggle with how we’ve come to accept the significant gap of financial health and well-being between what so many administrators in all sectors have and that of you, brilliant and phenomenal artists. Early on in my career, I heard, “Everyone gets a piece of the pie.” A piece? I always struggled with that statement. Administrators who hire, train, and support TAs need to take a hard look at that pie.
It’s hard to admit (and agree) that the field might need to change. You might not feel safe headed into this conversation. You might steer far from it. I get it. You may love the freedom that the identity of an independent contractor avails you. You may like your direct administrators and not want to put them on the defensive or in a hot seat. I feel you. It can be uncomfortable. Overwhelming. Sad. Scary. That doesn’t mean change isn’t necessary or possible.
Let’s get creative, artists. Let’s dream together.
I don’t have any answers. I have lots of questions and concerns.
How are your finances? Have you ever imagined the finances of another TA? Someone in a different decade of their life? Someone with a different set of privileges, based on race, gender, and ability? What do you (and they) accept as norms that you (they) shouldn’t? Where are our missteps as leaders in our businesses? Whether we like it or not, we are business owners. How do you lead your business? How do we collectively advocate for the TA profession?
Again, I don’t have answers, but I have gathered some tips.
- Join an accountability network.
- Ask questions of your partners and clients.
- Use the Teaching Artists Guild’s TA Pay Calculator to set your rates.
- Communicate your rates (based on the calculator) and offer a professional discount.
- Account for all work hours at one pay rate.
- Annually review the 990s of arts organizations in your region.
- Establish a business bank account and pay yourself a weekly or monthly salary.
- Get yourself out there and advocate collectively.
These tips are opportunities to enhance teaching artist business leadership and an invitation to stand up for social justice and equity in our field!
I’ll be sharing one tip’s explanation each day of the coming week. To prep you for what is to come, listen to Precious Blake interviewed on Teaching Artistry with Courtney J. Boddie (34 minutes in gets pretty phenomenal).
Also, if you haven’t, please register now for the first-ever Teaching Artist National Conference.
And continue to dream.
Change is coming.
The clock on the wall read almost midnight, but the clock in our souls revealed that it was daybreak.Martin Luther King, Jr., “Stride Toward Freedom,” page 48.
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