Saturday, December 12, 2009

A letter from a founder

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I read a lot of this to a group at Art in General this morning

Letter from a Founder:

Dear Comrades,

I write from Union Hall, the new space I have named on behalf of the Union, which was inaugurated on November 15, 2009. I sit at a big table under a chandalier. Every week there is a meeting at this table where 3-15 people sit and debate what this Union is and how we should move forward. These are my thoughts based on what has happened so far.

First I will defend the use of the word ‘Union,’ explain my working definition of teaching artist and list the potential functions of the Union. Through these definitions and descriptions an essence for the group will become apparent. Then you, the potential member, can agree or disagree, argue, step down, or join. And no matter what, a conversation will begin.

Why use the word ‘UNION’?
The use of the word is an intentional provocation. This Union is made of artists and we must define for ourselves WHICH definition of union suits us and our actions. I want to be a part of a tribe of critics who question the vocabulary that we use, and who adapt words to actions out of practicality and play-- but not out of fear of aligning with problematic histories.
As a generation of freelance idealists, we can take this word out of the context of the last century. We are not angry laborers. We do not work in a factory and we, at our best, use teaching art as a way to expand our own life practice. We do not belong to a common institution, but what we do have in common is much more substantial: we know how to facilitate creativity for other people. TAU is united by geography, and it is important to me that this union is made of people who know eachothers’ faces. We are also united by the common obstacles that we face.

What is special about teaching artists:
We are THE contemporary public artists. We are often funded by government to ‘teach’ a large sector of the ‘public’ and we are at liberty to define the content and the way that we deliver. How many other artists are fully supported by any government to complete a project that has funding and an implicit audience? We have a lot of power to agitate and motivate populations of people who are unreachable from within the art world.

An employed teaching artist is radical because they have crafted a system that honors them and their ideas by compensating them with money and the gratification of working with a group. TA’s have found a way to participate directly in a public system that values and pays for their process and product without monitoring what they do. We found a way to work with people that gives our art a solid function, a format for discussion, a laboratory for experimentation, and a chance to solve problems with a group. United, Teaching Artists are a large organism-- a powerful idea delivery force in every major city.

Artists who are active in their communities, who create their own situationist platform, share our practices and obstacles and so they are also in need of our supportive network. They too seek a way to make art through direct relationships with people, independent of organizations and institutions that inevitably complicate. They are the entrepreneurs here who offer their energy and expertise to field questions to the public without support. It is a TAU priority to support these processes and people too.

The potential functions of the Union, based on our Mission Statement:

The TAU is composed of NYC artists who teach as part of their creative practice.
-The members of the Union are not boring for admitting that their curriculum development, teaching, or civil engineering is a vital part of their art practice.
-The work created in a classroom or out of a social practice belongs to the artist who develops it out of their own research and life experience. We will support the creative process for people working to provoke critical thoughts in institutions and we will speak out to defend the ownership of teaching artist work.

With this union, we aim to define the role of the teaching artist through developing a supportive community, celebrating and exhibiting the work produced in teaching situations and advocating for the rights and needs of the teaching artist.
-The union formalizes the relationship between local teaching artists, creating an intentional community. At weekly working meetings, events, and monthly open meetings we can support eachother by sharing skills, relating experience, and pooling resources.
-We will organize exhibition opportunities for our members to exhibit their products and/or process. Our first large scale project is the development of the School of the Future, which will open in the spring.
-We will also offer regular opportunities to present the work we make in, outside, or for a classroom to the group for discussion and critique. It is a priority of the Union to find a satisfying relationship between the art world and the art education world through inventing exhibitions and situations that display the work made in the field.
-TA Advocacy must be a creative pursuit. Issues such as healthcare, ownership of curriculum and ideas, political actions, compensation, and more will be approached from a positive perspective rather than the historical concept of a ‘gripe’. I hope we can use the energy of our group to idealize and create the situations that make us flourish.

We work in many different kinds of environments for non profit arts organizations, schools, museums, and other agencies. Because we believe that art can invigorate, agitate, and reorient stale institutional habits, we want to develop a lasting structure to support the heappiness and health of every manifestation of teaching artist. 

By creating a relationship and a conversation between teaching artists, institutions, and the art world, we will contribute to a better understanding of art’s function in learning and accentuate the learning that is implicit in art.
We are too smart to go to battle. We can position ourselves as a field of experts who, by doing professional work that we love, can expect and plan for long term health and happiness. We will state clearly our objectives, political and personal, and by doing so we will attract the appreciation and opportunities we deserve.

The future of the Union will be designed by the members.

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