Setting the Table: The State of Teaching Artistry in Southern Arizona – By Michael B. Schwartz

The joy of being a Teaching Artist is that we get to work with so many amazing people. In Southern Arizona, perhaps out of necessity, students, parents, neighborhood leaders, businesses, schools, elders and long time residents collaborate with teaching artists and organizations to make arts education a reality. We are a tight knit community, helping one another find resources, promoting one anthers benefits and programs and developing new forms of collaboration.

This school year started with a chill in the hot desert air. Teachers and books have been banned launching federal investigations ( ) On December 31, HB 2281 will become law, and all ethnic studies programs will be pushed “out of compliance”. Despite the great success ethnic studies have in closing the achievement gap, school districts that don’t comply will face harsh fines. A group of teachers have formed and pledge to resist HB 2281.

It’s within this environment that teaching artists are bringing music, dance, theater, painting, murals, writing and photography into schools, community centers and neighborhoods. The Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) is our primary organizing hub. There are about 85 artists on their Teaching Artist Roster.

We serve Pima County, with an estimated population (as of 7/1/09) of 1,018,012 people and numerous species of flora and fauna. Many artists travel throughout Southern Arizona providing much needed community arts education services. These projects include rural arts education initiatives such as the Southeastern Arizona Arts in Education programs, and groups developing border and immigration related themes such as Borderlands Theater .

Teaching artists here, as throughout the world, work individually and in collaboration with organizations. Community based arts education is the goal of the Tucson Arts Brigade , providing out of school time programs in more than 7 neighborhoods, and community wide arts engagement projects such as the Water Project. The Drawing Studio, Arts for All, WomanKraft and New ARTiculations provide high quality arts education in a variety of media for people of all ages. Opening Minds through the Arts, OMA, is one our largest initiatives in arts education, providing services to 15 Tucson schools. TPAC, despite massive cut backs continues to bring the River of Words project into schools in collaboration with the Pima County Natural Resources.

Budget cutbacks have forced teaching artists and organizations to innovative and collaborate. While serious deep gaps remain we are joining together as a community to find solutions. What we do know is that thousands of youth are going without any form of arts education, being deprived of the emotional, intellectual and academic skills that will prepare them for success in the new globalized workforce of the 21st Century.

Teaching artists are expanding their work to include community based cultural development projects that address complex social problems ranging from isolation, urban blight, literacy and crime to global climate change and sustainable job training and creation.

Over the coming months I will be highlighting the work of dedicated local Teaching Artists and organizations including those mentioned.

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