TAs Thriving: Tip #8 Get yourself out there and advocate collectively

I posted tip 7 on Sunday morning. While it was the night before tax day and seemingly a good day to talk about money, Easter Sunday may not have been the best day to open that discussion. Should I have waited until Monday morning?

As soon as my post went live, I went to my parents where I engaged in some rowdy debates. When you are a Ridgway, you enjoy good-natured clashes. It’s a fact. Everyone who knows a Ridgway knows this to be true. On the drive home, my life partner teased how my family once again talked over each other loudly. How do you ever hear each other? I don’t know. We do. He also noticed how we pivot to a new position to continue arguing with each other. He frequently wonders, Do you all like living in a state of agitation all the time? I don’t feel I live in agitation. He also regularly notes that there is so much love in my family. So much love! It’s a safe place to disagree with someone. In my childhood home, all are welcome to get comfortable with discomfort, probe our assumptions, and challenge each other’s thinking. It’s incredible to be loved that much! It’s where I develop my strength and hone my perspective to advocate for the field of teaching artistry.

Towards the end of our heated afternoon discussion, my mom reminded me of a book she and my brother had recently read together (and then argued about). She gave me her copy. I look forward to reading Angela Y. Davis’ “Women Race & Class” and learning from this brilliant philosopher, activist, and author. Davis inspires me to challenge even my own wondering that maybe my post on Easter Sunday wasn’t such a bad idea after all…

“You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

Angela y. davis

Two of my brothers work for a leading national union. The discussion of unionizing the field of teaching artistry often comes up with them and could be an entire blog of its own. I’m definitely behind workers organizing, but I also recognize that unions are systems of people who fail each other. Even the United States government, serving people, frequently undermines unions.

There are examples of this all over the place. Recently a school principal requested teachers to watch an instructional training webinar during their planning time. The union contract entitled teachers to this unassigned time. The principal breached the contract with their request. Yet teachers cooperated with the principal, ultimately weakening their collective power. Why? Because not a single one was brave enough to speak up and rock the boat. They were negligent in their role as self-advocates. Even when a legal document stated they had the right to disrupt, they remained silent. When our hearts tell us, “this is not right…. this is inequitable… this is unjust…” why do we go along with it?

I frequently listen to protest songs, listening for inspiration, seeking motivation. Joe Hill wrote the orginial to the version Billy Bragg song.

There is pow’r there is pow’r in a band of workingmen,
When they stand hand in hand,
That’s a pow’r, that’s a pow’r
That must rule in every land—

Joe Hill

How do we get Teaching Artists to stand hand in hand?

Listen to Billy as he sings:

Power in the hand of the worker
But it all amounts to nothing
If together we don’t stand.

Stephen William Bragg

I hear many folks speak about needing a union in the field of teaching artistry.

A union would help but like Billy sing, it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand.

Unions thrive from self-advocacy and togetherness.

Self-advocacy requires you to know what you want, need, and your legal rights and calls you to speak up when necessary.

By uniting, we can be a formidable force to ensure better working conditions for teaching artists.

I have organized myself to create an equitable and vibrant arts ecosystem. I’m committed to improving the working conditions of the profession and field. 

I speak for myself.

I speak for (and with) others.

Can you take my hand? 

8. Get yourself out there and advocate collectively.

Early on in my co-founding of the Teaching Artists of the Mid-Atlantic, I made this commitment:

As a Teaching Artist Leader,

it is my responsibility to advocate for the field.

Truth is I don’t always know what it means to be a leader, what my responsibility is or what needs my advocacy.

I want to revisit something I said when I introduced this series of tips:

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.

I am uncomfortable.

I am scared.

We will get through this together.

From time to time, colleagues privately share they aren’t ready to speak up yet. I understand. I know they’ll find their voice. They brilliantly advocate on so many other issues – the environment, human trafficking, poverty, and immigration. However, this issue is personal, and it can be challenging to advocate for self. It’s important to be there for each other. Last week, a colleague called for advice and support for a situation that required self-advocacy. Later in the week, I circled back to celebrate their efforts. It was a big step for us both. Ever since I read adrienne maree brown’s “Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds,” I’ve been exploring the concept of radical collaboration.

My dearest colleague, you might feel like you are out there on your own.

You’re not.

I’ve got your hand, and an equitable and vibrant arts ecosystem is within reach.

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.

It’s daybreak where I am!

What time is it for you?

I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.

Maya Angelou

TAs Thriving: Tip #7 Establish a business bank account and pay yourself a weekly or monthly salary

Ah – tax day!

As an independent contractor, it gets complicated but…

Let’s talk money!

I don’t want to be a millionaire
I just want my proper share
We need money! (We need money!)
Talkin’ about money, money, money! (Talkin’ about money, money, money!)
I don’t need that wealth or fame
I just want enough to play the game
We need money! (We need some money!)
Talkin’ about money, money, money! (Talkin’ about money, money, money!)

Chuck brown
tax documents on the table
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

Take a look at your 2021 tax filing. What was your annual income? Divide that by 52.

If you had a full-time salaried job this is what your employer would owe you (along with benefits) on a weekly basis. Usually, employers pay employees every other week.

Imagine the business of YOU paying you as an employee that amount every week. It may be difficult for you to think like this. Teaching artists often juggle weeks and even months of dry spells while other weeks are abundantly flowing. This challenges personal budgeting, leaving teaching artists to live gig to gig.

Paying yourself a weekly, bimonthly, or monthly paycheck helps stabilize your personal finances. It’s something I’ve been doing for quite a while. While it may be daunting to set this up, I know you can do it.

If you need help, reach out. Better yet, find yourself a financial advisor!

You deserve it.

7. Establish a business bank account and pay yourself a weekly or monthly salary.

The first step is to open up a business bank account to keep your business income and expenses separate from your personal costs and savings. Truthfully I learned this lesson during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic, I used a second savings account as my business account. It worked for me. But then the pandemic hit, and I missed out on a ton of free money because I lacked a business bank account.

It is essential as a business owner, which you are, to establish a relationship with a bank and a line of credit. Also, a business bank account protects your personal assets if you are sued or encounter other legal challenges.

Next, set up bill payments or transfers to pay yourself. Like I said, I have done this for a while using a second personal savings account. It stabilized my finances, especially when dry spells occurred. A dry bit always hits me in September through to November, when schools restart. I had a regular paycheck coming to me by paying myself a biweekly paycheck and never experienced those months as financial hardship.

Getting to that point does take time.

It is necessary and appropriate to start small. Pay yourself a fraction of the weekly salary you calculated using your annual income figure. A payment of even $20 or $50 goes a long way to improve your self-worth and increase your bottomline. As you pay yourself, put an equal amount into a business savings account so that you can work towards delivering yourself that full paycheck in the future.

Of course, your bank account should never define your worth. Paying yourself is about defining the boundaries of our work and how that work is valued. We live in a world that doesn’t fully appreciate our contributions as teaching artists, which informs us and subtly tells us we are unworthy.

You are.

If you hired someone for your business to be an administrative aid, would you pay them for the menial tasks they do to keep your business running smoothly and efficiently? Of course, you would. Why do you allow yourself to go unpaid?

This action of paying yourself is a positive cue about your contributions. Tell yourself you are worthy. Financially compensate yourself for all the things you do for your business. All tasks, regardless of if contracts mention them, must be done to complete projects, keep clients happy, and keep your business open. Tasks that I’ve heard colleagues mention are:

  • Emailing teachers and participants
  • Signing contracts and submitting invoices
  • Filling up your gas tank two or three times a week because you drive a lot
  • Sitting in traffic
  • 8PM run to the Dollar Store to get something for tomorrow’s residency session
  • Washing and storing materials/tools that participants in a residency used, for the next time
  • Researching a new topic or participant group
  • Getting a background check for a school or county that is new to your business
  • Strategizing about your next marketing promotion
  • Putting something up on social media to promote your business
  • Pay your quarterly taxes

Annually Reassess and Give Yourself A Raise

When you file your taxes, take a look at your annual income and give yourself a raise every year. You deserve it! A 3% pay increase is pretty standard. Here are two examples of how you calculate a raise for someone who made $18,000 in 2021 and someone who made $55,000 that same year.

Annual Income from 20212021 Weekly Paycheck3% Pay Increase2022 Weekly Paycheck

Annual raises may not seem that much, but your salary will grow over time. Looking at our income like this signals your self-worth. This cue empowers you to recognize your growing experience, expertise, and skillsets. It will raise the standards for how teaching artists conduct business, shift how we set our prices, the boundaries we put in place about client expectations, and so much more!

I’ll be dropping a post titled “Budgets Are Moral Documents” in about a week. The arts sector needs to ask better questions, especially those executive arts leaders. In April/May 2020, I was planning a workshop with Teaching Artists of the Mid-Atlantic on the ethics of teaching artistry. We postponed programming when the pandemic hit, but I want to return to it now. 

In the meantime, ask yourself questions to challenge current trends and standards for the business of teaching artistry, such as:

  • Is there a moral question about how much (or how little) I set my fees for my practice?
  • Is it okay and fair to depend on my partner to enable my teaching artistry?
  • Are the field standards (locally and beyond) set at living wages?
  • Is it okay for me to make this much money?

It is okay to make a living wage.

It is okay to thrive.

You deserve it.

You are worthy.

Have you looked at the 990s of arts organizations in your local area to know how much top executives are making? What ethical questions should they ask themselves?

Deal with yourself as a individual, worthy of respect and make everyone else deal with you the same way.

Nikki Giovanni

TAs Thriving: Tip #6 Annually explore the 990s of arts organizations in your region

To change the system, and receive what we are valued, is hard work.

Don’t give up.

This is an act of self-love.

6. Annually explore the 990s of arts organizations in your region.

A 990 isn’t a complete picture of an organization’s financial records, but it is a starting place in your assessment of what they value and prioritize.

  • Where are they receiving income?
  • What are the sources of that income?
  • How do expenses between programming, management, and costs break down?
  • Who are the top paid employees?
  • What are their salaries and other compensation benefits?
  • Have employees received consistent raises? Have you? (look at all three years)
  • How does your compensation/raise compare with top paid employees’ salaries/raises?

I don’t question the top paid employee’s salary (Okay. When it’s astronomical, I do, but that’s another blog post). I recognize management and the entire administrative team work hard. Teaching Artists work hard too. We need their support to make a living wage, especially since we are often front-line employees for their organization.

Get informed about all the nonprofits in your local region! Things trickle down. Larger organizations have set standards in the field, creating an environment where few small businesses thrive, and most independent artists suffer. It doesn’t have to be this way. We have to get creative.

First, we have to get informed. Get your free account on Candid/Guidestar today and explore these critical tax documents!

It may be helpful for you to recognize that applying these tips, my creative colleagues, is an act of self-love.

You deserve to thrive.

Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscious, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.

Martin Luther King Jr.

TAs Thriving: Tip #5 Account for all work hours at one pay rate

In her acclaimed version of Otis Redding’s original, Aretha Franklin famously sang:

Take care, TCB

What is taking care of business as a business leader, and as a Teaching Artist?

From 30,000 feet, creating looks like art.

From ground level, it’s a to-do list.

Ben Arment
5. Account for all work hours at one pay rate.

I often receive requests to review pay rate schedules. What Teaching Artists share with me often mirrors the schedules organizations provide me—complicated itemized tables with differing rates for various project tasks. Something like: planning ($10), meeting ($15), teaching ($35).

Teaching artists must stop fluctuating rates for tasks and end to wasting time itemizing invoices, overlooking the totality of tasks to do the work. Let’s think this through:

  • Why is our planning or meeting rate set at half of the direct contact teaching rate?
  • Have you ever kept a running list of all the things needed to do a project?
  • Does an administrator get a fluctuating salary and benefits depending on their task?
  • Do they clock out when they walk away from their computer to grab more paper from the supplies closet to refill the printer?
  • How about that conversation with their colleague about your contract that happened in the hallway on the way to get the paper? Are they paid for that?
  • Does their salary take a dip when they get in the car to come and observe your lesson?

Your high-quality projects and services demand your full attention to a varied task list. You juggle a lot. At every step, you shine, and that shining deserves compensation. A project may include, but is not limited to, direct instruction or implementation, planning, researching, set-up, load out, driving/commuting, putting gas in the car/money on the transit card (remember you have multiple gigs, more than the average full-time employee), gathering materials, debriefing, marketing, administrating (contracts and invoices take time), corresponding via email and by phone or zoom, and so much more. While you may teach a one-hour class, you may spend 2 hours or more doing all other tasks supporting one teaching hour. As a creative, you may sit and stare at something (research, your artistic tools, or even mere air) until you have an idea on how to begin or midway when a problem arises. Who pays for that time? None of these tasks are meaningless, and all are required to complete a project.

Also, don’t forget to consider that when projects involve youth participants, it is a professional requirement to complete a background check, which has a cost. Sometimes the partner pays for the clearance, but you schedule it and take time off to drive to and complete it. You may spend 1-2 hours submitting your fingerprints. I know I’ve had to complete two already this year! I even watched an online webinar about child protection and completed a test to be granted final permission to enter the school building. These tasks are part of the TA workday. They are requirements to meet a client’s project. Include these business employees and material costs in your business budget.

Independent contractors are expected to provide materials to complete a client’s project. Our clients benefit from this expectation, especially in current norms where they set our rates, undervaluing our work and business. We must actively shift this dynamic and set our rates as business leaders. While clients may not be obliged to pay for our business’s materials and equipment, the CEO and Finance Director of YOU, allocate a percentage of each fee to a fund designated for material acquisition and maintenance. You are a business, and this is standard practice for running a business, strategizing about costs for the current project and capital costs for next year, five years, and twenty years from now.

As an independent artist, it should be a professional expectation to have liability insurance. Note the costs of liability insurance in your business’s budget.

Don’t forget to make your quarterly taxes/FICA payments. When you do, consider how you are building an emergency fund for sick days! Speaking of sick days, do you have healthcare. If not, get some. Finally, if there is anything leftover, and there better be, get a retirement plan going, and pay into it, regularly.

Now, when arts organizations and even teaching artists question the rates listed on the pay rate calculator as unreasonable, we can respond confidently. A high-quality professional teaching artist costs and the pay rate calculator recognizes our value.

Is it realistic and necessary for us to itemize all of this on an invoice? Absolutely not.

Let’s take a new approach. Let’s go elegant with our invoices. Two examples could be:

DescriptionProjected HoursHour RateAmount
5 Session Residency15 $80$1200
Note the figures reflected in this table are for demonstration and are not related to any specific project.
DescriptionUnit CostQtyAmount
5 Session Residency$12002$2400
Note the figures reflected in this table are for demonstration and are not related to any specific project.

But wait, what does an invoice look like with a professional discount?

DescriptionUnit CostQtyAmount
5 Session Residency$12002$2400
Professional Discount (75%)$1800
Amount Owed$600
Note the figures reflected in this table are for demonstration and are not related to any specific project.

Urge clients for full professional pay with the understanding you are operating as a business. Calculate hours based on the totality of the tasks to complete projects—multiple that number by an appropriate pay rate.

Whether self-employed or the owner of an LLC, you should not regularly incur losses to complete work for clients.

Teaching artists shouldn’t have to choose:

  • be a teaching artist or have a family,
  • be a teaching artist or buy a house,
  • be a teaching artist or have medical care,
  • be a teaching artist or sleep at night.

Lead your business.

Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.

Coco chanel

TAs Thriving: Tip #4 Communicate your rates and offer a professional discount

We all are struggling. And yes, even organizations struggle. But committing to resolving pay equity as a social justice issue is a challenge we can win. As we tackle it, despite the challenges, we are saying, I’ll take care of you.

My dear, sweet, working Teaching Artists,

Let them talk about us.

People sometimes do.

This is not going to be easy. But you are my hero.


Independent Teaching Artists, do you have questions about your contracts? You are not alone. #teachingartist #teachingartistlife #dramaticplayllc #contracts

♬ original sound – iamdramaticplay

I’ve enjoyed this video from fellow Maryland Teaching Artist Khaleshia Thorpe-Price, owner of Dramatic Play, and her son. They illustrate perfectly the power dynamic that I have experienced in contractual negotiations. There is little time to review the contract and ask our partners and clients questions.

Labor law classifications (independent contractor v. employee) impact budgets. Whether you started working for a new organization last week or worked there for 25 years, your contract and classification may change every year and even with every project.

We may love our freedom as independent contractors, but there is freedom in financial compensation. Overtime pay, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, employer payment of half of the social security and medicare taxes are on the table, and so much more! Stand together and ask for wages, benefits, and the most appropriate classification for each situation, in every community.

Let’s have each other’s back.

Stand together and stay committed to the goal of pay equity.

“Darling, I’ll take care of you.”

4. Communicate your rates and offer a professional discount.

This step is complex and may not be necessary for your collective. It is fitting to skip this step and take the position held during the Montgomery bus boycott.

We can no longer lend our cooperation to an evil system.

Martin Luther King in Stride Toward Freedom, page 51

What a great example of transformative collective organizing! Imagine us no longer lending our cooperation to the arts ecosystem. Do you accept your responsibility in the system? Are you complicit in social evils?

TAs must examine every situation and entity in every local community. It will be difficult to arrive at a collective agreement. It will take time.

If arts organizations, schools, or community centers do not have immediate funds to meet your rate, and you must lend your cooperation, offer a professional discount. 

They must know you expect them to reach the rates listed on the TA Pay Calculator on future projects. Your invoice detailing your rate with a professional discount becomes evidence and data they can share with leaders, funders, and boards when they’ve not included you at the decision-making table. Hopefully, you’ll receive an invitation soon!

Quality costs now and in the future. If they aren’t paying, you are donating. A donor acknowledgment letter doesn’t pay living costs, and living costs increase yearly, as does your rate!

In time, if their budgets can’t see your worth, stop working for them. Drastic, I know. But heck, they don’t deserve us if they can’t effectively include us and advocate for our worth when they are projecting budgets with their board, asking for money from their funders, and requesting support from their arts councils.

Let’s break out of our shells!

Come on out!

Once we can see our givens as contingencies, then we may have an opportunity to posit alternative ways of living and valuing and to make choices.

MAXINE GREENE, Releasing the imagination, page 23

TAs Thriving: Tip #3 Use the Teaching Artists Guild’s TA Pay Calculator to set your rates

This tip would be on a Jeopardy Championship Game for Teaching Artists!

The category is The Business of Teaching Artistry:

This platform is widely used to set pay rates, ensuring pay equity and sustainability.


What is the Teaching Artists Guild’s TA Pay Calculator?

3. Use the Teaching Artists Guild’s TA Pay Calculator to set your rates.

It’s not widely used yet. I’m confident it will be.

First, we must agree to stop creating our individual makeshift pay rate tables in excel. We must look at the hourly rates and salary fees listed on the Teaching Artists Guild’s TA Pay Calculator. Discuss them in our accountability circles and other local networks. Make collective agreements on how those rates should be applied in our local community.

We need to get better practiced as a collective and stop acting as if we are independent. Every decision you make and every contract you willingly sign has implications on the entire field for decades to come! We need some collective agreements.

Excerpt from Tip 2

I will forewarn you that you’ll get pushback when using the calculator. Organizations, funders, other TAs, and even yourself will work against you and your network. For some reason, they and we (and me) don’t think Teaching Artists deserve the fees listed.

Recently a TAMA TA Cafe attendee stated the figures were unrealistic. Admittedly, I agreed with the comment.

The fees are unreasonably high.

By traditional standards.

For decades, we have accepted wages that undervalue our contributions. We must work collectively to change this cultural norm in our field. Perhaps you can live sustainably at the rates we are currently receiving. Most cannot. A few of you are paid well. Most are not. Pay inequity has been a barrier to building TA networks and organizing. Talking about contracts is a no-no and discussing our pay is a faux-pas. Without networking, we cannot grow loyalty, trust, and commitment to each other. We cannot build credibility and morale as collaborators and paid professionals without coalitions. Without organizing, we don’t stand with each other and demand higher wages for all.

This is a paradox in our field, as much of our collective work aims to further social justice and equity. Yet, we must resolve the social inequities in our own house first – the home of the field. Without doing so, we are complicit in social evils. A sad, hard truth to face.

Imagine a doctor or lawyer. Would they ever suggest their fees were too high? I doubt it. Even the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts had expectations and costs for their session last week with the Teaching Artists of the Mid-Atlantic. They understand their value. They recognize their worth.

My dear colleagues, what the heck is wrong with us?

Our collectives are growing places that will advance our profession. I should refer to these tips as steps. I should also note this isn’t always a linear, forward marching process. More on that later this week.

For now, start with step one. Build loyalty, trust, and commitment to each other. Collaborate on art. Discuss the business of teaching artistry and what is needed in your local community. At some point, move to step two. Meet with local organizations, councils and other entities who hire, train, and support teaching artists and ask questions. Build your credibility and morale as a team working towards professionalism that promotes social justice and equity. The collective’s gut will almost seamlessly move you into using the TA Pay Calculator. It’s like a growing garden. Sometimes you have to wait for the fruits of your labors.

You must do the prep and the work.

But don’t give up hope.

While our self-esteem may wax and wane as we move along in our professional journey, our financial health should continually grow. All should thrive in this field; we must advocate collectively for our field and profession to expect living wages.

Use the calculator.

You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.

Brené Brown

TAs Thriving: Tip #2 Ask questions of your partners and clients

Asking questions of your partners and clients changes the dynamic and gives TAs individual and collective power that they can use to stabilize their lives further! So let’s start with a few questions:

  • What questions do you ask clients and partners?
  • If you haven’t asked a question, why not?
  • How do you refer to the organizations that pay you as a 1099 contractor?
  • How about the organizations that pay you as a W-2 employee?
  • Is there a difference?
  • How do you imagine this relationship?

During the pandemic, I’ve bought into a client management system. Shout out to Nadïne LaFond, a TAMA member, who suggested Honeybook to me. (If you don’t know her, follow her. Learn from her!) Honeybook has been a game-changer for me.

But what I want to talk about is the word “client.” Before having Honeybook in my life, I referred to all of the organizations I intersected with phrases such as:

“I work for (organization).”

“I’m an (organization’s) Teaching Artist.”

Curiously, I never referred to them as my clients.

They are.

Jennifer Ridgway is a business as much as their organization.

Jennifer Ridgway has liability insurance and pays taxes/FICA.

Jennifer Ridgway obtains fingerprints, completes ongoing professional development, and keeps certificates up-to-date.

Jennifer Ridgway has a human resources department, marketing, development, communications, and education/community engagement team, and an entire artistic production team that only she occupies.

Side note: This is hilarious how I’m talking about myself in the third person. How uncomfortable!

The point is – that recognizing and fully embracing this concept of being a business is critical for the individual Teaching Artist.

It forces us to examine the power dynamic in our client-to-client partnerships, enabling us to assess our business needs to ensure they are met. It changes the conversation we can and should have with our clients about the projects we endeavor to collaborate on together.

That said – tip 2!

2. Ask questions of your partners and clients.

I’ve heard from teaching artists who struggled to discuss their contracts with colleagues and negotiate with partners. I attended the TAMA session last week with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. We need to get better practiced as a collective and stop acting as if we are independent. Every decision you make and every contract you willingly sign has implications on the entire field for decades to come! We need some collective agreements.

Things to think about as you ask questions of partners and clients are:

  1. Don’t sign contracts before reading them and examining them with your accountability circle, especially if something in it bothers you. This may seem like a given, but I’ve heard from TAs who have done both – signed before reading and signed even when something bothered them. I get it. We have fear. Lack of time. Lack of need. Lack of pressure. Lack of interest. And truthfully, I can’t say that I’ve not done this. It’s got to stop! We are all leaving power and money on the table for others to have. Others are those in power, often with money. Let’s step up as business leaders! Talk to the client about your concerns in the contract and talk to your accountability circle. Let your accountability circle look at the contract. They will expand your thinking to things that may not concern you but bother them. Their concerns should be your concern so that we can have an equitable and just field. Our profession and the contracts we all see and sign should hold all of us. That should be the expectation.
  2. Always have a pre-written version of your contract available and ready to go for the client to sign. It is the cultural norm of our field for arts organizations and others to write contracts. Let’s keep in mind that their lawyers are writing those contracts prioritizing their interests, not ours. While organizations have taken the lead in writing the arrangements in the past, let’s try to shift the power dynamic here!
  3. Take Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts’ suggestion and ask your partners, “How did you decide that TAs are (Independent Contractors/Employees) in your (organization)?” Our partners need to be transparent about who made the decision and how and why. Remember, they are your business partner. They are a client. There should be mutual respect. Conflicts are inevitable in business. But also, difficult conversations can and should lead us to better and more sustainable outcomes for all of us.
  4. When a partner cannot meet your pay rates, ask about other benefits that they could offer you. Do they have a studio or rehearsal hall that you could access for free? Could they make their medical or retirement plans available to you (you will have to pay out-of-pocket, but you will have member access)? Want a lunch date and one-on-one time with their artistic director? Do they have access to a library or other resources? Think creatively about benefits. What does your business need that they have and could make available to you? Our business partnerships must share the same values as our business, and one of those values should include your value and worth! Remember that pie I mentioned Sunday.
white cloth on the table with crumbs
Photo by Meruyert Gonullu on Pexels.com

You deserve more than crumbs!

Too often, we accept initial offers without any interrogation.

Let’s stop doing that.

Without dreams, there is no courage.

Without courage, there can be no action.

Wim wenders

TAs Thriving: Tip #1 Join an accountability network

Before I dive into explaining tip 1, listen to Nina!

Nina’s version of Here Comes the Sun seemed fitting to this morning’s posting. Daybreak!

It’s the first Monday of April (TAMA’s TA Cafe day!) during the week of the first-ever national Teaching Artist Conference! My soul is happy! Knowing you are part of a community is essential.

Another community that is important to me is my family!

Their love holds me, and it’s continually expanding. It’s a dynamic place to enter for me. It’s my growing place, a nurturing environment where we co-exist as teachers and learners.

With the pandemic, so much has happened both personally and professionally – and then, in November, my family experienced an emergency, forcing us to stop everything and re-evaluate our relationship with each other. I’ve been overwhelmed, tired, discouraged, scared, angry, and lost. Now more than ever, we’ve needed each other. It’s not been easy. Through it all, we’ve been teaching and learning. We’ve adapted. Grown. We are resilient together. They amaze me.

Another community that amazes me is TAMA! Today is the first Monday of the month when the TA Cafe meets at 9:30 AM. I imagine we will recap last Tuesday’s Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts session. If you can, drop by!

Here comes the sun, little darling!

As I explain tip one, I’m listening to Nina sing. I sing along. I hope her words resonate with you. I hope we sing together, “it’s alright, little darling.”

1. Join an accountability network.

Gather with a professional circle of colleagues and discuss all the things. A nurturing environment where members co-exist as teachers and learners. We’ve got a lot of growing to do as a field. We are still so young as a profession!

So, find your people. Have a standing appointment with them. Network, propose ideas and brainstorm solutions.

Live in the mid-Atlantic states? You know where I think you belong. Join and list yourself in the TAMA TA Directory, and get access to the zoom link! It’s free and takes 15 seconds to join. You have 14 days to complete your profile and make yourself look super slick and flashy. There is no reason why you wouldn’t join today!

TAMA’s Logo

Need more inspiration to join a network? Check out my previous post: Come home to TAMA. If you’re not ready to take the plunge, at the very least, put yourself on the Teaching Artist Asset Map! Are you hesitant to even do that? Seriously, I get it. Don’t believe me? I wasn’t always behind TAMA! I was a naysayer. Check this out! Lastly, as I mentioned yesterday, the first-ever National Teaching Artist conference is happening this week. Attend. Part or all of it. There is no cost to you. Embrace this phenomenal opportunity and register today!

There is a hesitancy to come together in our field. There are so many reasons. Lack of time. Lack of pressure. Lack of interest. Lack of trust. Fear.

I can’t convince you. I know there’s lots to gain and nothing to lose.

Here comes the sun, little darling.

Here comes the sun, little darlin’, I say
It’s alright
Little darlin’
Here comes the sun, yeah
Here comes the sun, I say
Little darlin’
It seems like years since you’ve been here
Little darlin’
Here comes the sun
It’s alright now
You can come on out now
It’s alright now
You can come on out
‘Cause it’s alright
Here comes the sun, yes

Nina Simone’s Outro

Come back tomorrow for tip #2, where I’ll give you suggestions on what to do in your network. Till then, ponder this quote from of my favorite books for Teaching Artists!

Teaching artists should join together

to fight for better working conditions.

Michael Wiggins in Teaching Artist Sutras

Tips to Reset So We Can Thrive

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.

sliced apple pie on brown surface
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

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?

My Tips

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.

Come home, teaching artist!

There have always been times where I, as a teaching artist, have felt disconnected from colleagues and separated from policies. I accepted it as the quirks of the business of teaching artistry.

I remained hopeful and employed my imagination – true to the nature of an artist. And so, I sought out teaching artist networks and eventually cofounded TAMA, the Teaching Artists of the Mid-Atlantic.

And then 2020’s two historic crises: public health and racial justice hit and my thinking shifted, and continues to shift.

The quirks of the business aren’t things I can privately or in small groups imagine change around. I must actively seek out and instigate change.

Earlier in the year, I asked you to put yourself on the Teaching Artists Guild’s Asset Map. (Did you do that? If not, do that now. Then continue reading!)

Then last month you may have seen the “Break Up letter” that Miko Lee of the Teaching Artists Guild and I wrote. Published in the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s GuildNotes, this letter was a collage of the stories teaching artists had shared with us about their experience during this challenging year. The Guild gave Miko and I an opportunity to present a checklist that offered suggestions to arts organizations to improve their connection with teaching artists.


A step in the right direction.

But only a step.

Hidden in the article was a sentence that moves me to sing:

TAs need these private spaces to build unity and cohesion in a growing worldwide field, reaching across all artistic mediums and its many and varied sectors.

That sentence I think is overlooked and I want to share what inspired it for me. Since the top of the pandemic, TAMA has regularly hosted Monday morning zoom meetings. The TA Cafe is a place for teaching artists to support each other and work through the challenges we faced individually and collectively.

In one of those initial weeks, I began developing a pitch or story about the importance of teaching artist networks. That summer, the talented entrepreneur Kayla Harley hosted me for a FB live session to raise awareness about TAMA’s meetings. I pulled out props so that I could visually tell the story. I told my TA colleagues who have become friends during this year that I was going to record it and share it on social media.

For a year, I procrastinated on recording this video.

The time was never right.

The video always needed revisions.

Well, guess what, perfection isn’t real. Besides this blog is supposed to be about process. I sincerely want to process all that has happened, is happening and can happen with you, colleagues.

So here it is…. Consider my invitation to “Find Your TA Home.”

I do believe there is value in networks that are by, for and about Teaching Artists.

But what about you, dearest colleague? I want to hear from you.

Do you have a teaching artist home? Why or why not? If you do, where?

Can we take a moment to shine a spotlight on all the teaching artist collectives across the nation? By doing so we increase our connectivity and continue to make ourselves visible!

Share a story about your colleagueship, and how it has given you strength, power and wisdom.

Let me hear from Teaching Artists from all of the States and the District!

Send me stories from the most curious, wondrous, delightful gatherings out there. Hearing from you will inspire and ignite us all.

Do what you feel in your heart to be right,

for you’ll be criticized anyway.

Eleanor roosevelt