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Strategies for Recruiting and Retaining Teaching Artists

Notes from the "Becoming the Arts City We Say We Are" event held on December 7, 2017 at the San Francisco Arts Commission.

Facilitated by Aimee Espiritu

Let’s look at these REAL ISSUES that are most relevant for the group… PART 1:

  1. How do we collectively recruit quality teaching artists?

  2. How do we collectively retain quality teaching artists?

Note: As the facilitator, I have also included my own thoughts to further elaborate and capture what participants were expressing via their post-it note contributions below.

Responses to Q1: RECRUITMENT * = indicates 1 person that also expressed the same sentiments


  • Immersive experience, scaffolding TA role - then opportunity to join the team or any org based on a meaningful experience

  • Create clarity of pipelines to become a TA → where do we connect with potential NEW (emerging or veteran) TAs moving to the Bay Area?

  • Hire alumni from org’s programs → what training must they receive if they are on an emerging TA pathway? Can this training be streamlined across disciplines and orgs?

  • Offer teaching assistant residencies for emerging TAs to work with veteran artists (as a part of apprenticeships)

  • Create paid mentorships for TAY (transitional age youth) or alumni to facilitate younger students/participants → in partnership with veteran TAs

Responses to Q2: RETENTION * = indicates 1 person that also expressed the same sentiments 1. PLACE AT THE TABLE

  • As Arts Admin consider strategic plans, annual budgets for upcoming years - consistently ASK TAs what do you need? Create regular opportunities for dialogue btw TAs and Admin staff. Listening to TAs. **

  • Don’t overschedule people, sit down with TAs and understand what their work plan/plate is at your org and other orgs

  • Tiered system for TAs to matriculate or experience clear growth opportunities at an organization (TAs in Training, Emerging TAs, 1-2 year Fellowships, Senior TAs, etc.)

  • Based on skills and experience, TAs hold additional roles/jobs to create full-time (or more regular) employment at an org. (i.e. Social media/marketing, community engagement coordinator, etc.)

  • Involve TAs in decision making at an org, especially when it impacts their workloads and work plans. Building intentional community of mentorship for TAs with TAs informing design. *

  • Maintaining a realistic balance of Admin staff and TAs based on the work the org wants to do/needs to do in the field; know what is on each staff person’s plate and move with flexibility for Admin and TA staff

  • Centralized TA scheduling between orgs and school districts (for those of us who work for both), at the very least a direct communication line btw school admin and arts org admin staff who are scheduling TAs

  • Inspire TAs, while they are tasked to inspire those around them everyday


  • Tax Support (preparing/filing multiple W-2 or 1099) for TAs

  • Clearly articulated steps (years of experience + training + performance) that connect to pay increases according to experience with organization

  • After a certain # of years with organization, an offer of artistic sabbaticals is an option (during summer or school-year); Time off for artistic projects

  • All TAs are paid for planning time, staff mtgs and attending mandatory internal PDs or optional external PDs

  • Create a shared health benefits model; this could be for TAs working at least 20 hrs or more; could this still be possible if it’s 20 hrs or more across multiple orgs? **

  • Pay for TA travel time or mileage reimbursement to program sites

  • Housing assistance or cross-org listing of shared resources for affordable housing in the Bay, etc.

  • Retirement benefits, 401K for TAs and arts employees, Artists Union or Arts Workers Union **

  • Hire TAs as part-time/full-time employees vs. Independent contractors *

  • Standardized pay rates across organizations (i.e. based on orgs various annual budget levels, $0-$100K, $100-$250K, $250K-$500K, $500K-$1M, etc.) *

  • Educator discounts to city arts performances and institutions


→ between ORGS → between TAs → between COMMUNITY

  • Hold collective auditions. Convening for TAs to host demonstrations based on discipline, Orgs hold demo days together by art form *

  • Transparency in pay scales, provide scale based on years of experience on the job description

  • Communicate between orgs to identify talented TAs that can be shared → increase weekly work hours for those who desire/need it (i.e. multi-contracts that will not conflict in schedules)

  • TAs job fair hosted by multiple arts orgs; open call for TAs in the Spring/Summer (parallel with Classroom teacher hires by school districts beginning in the Spring semester) *

  • Organized field trips/visits to dance, theater, visual art studios where TAs are working on their craft, incorporate Q&As, presentations and/or demonstrations

  • Advertise perks that should be standard (i.e. paid travel time, prep time)

  • Recruit outside of the box

  • Online forum (password protected and access for staff) for uploading curriculum and demo videos → AEABA, EAP, or TAG could host and maintain this


  • Professionalize - such that increased experience and completed training actually shows up as increased pay rates &/or opportunities

  • Create TA led Curriculum Slams so TAs can share knowledge and best practices with each other

  • On-going paid professional development within your org, or interdisciplinary *

  • PDs offered in collab with several orgs who share the same artistic disciplines (shared bucket of funds, admin support to hire trainers - not just TAs - so everyone can participate) *

  • Certification for TAs and/or cross-organization acknowledgement/value of PD programs once completed

  • Food/snacks should be provided at PDs

  • Maintain and model high standards of professionalism (i.e. no double standards for veteran TAs, or no excuses such as “because they are artists, they don’t check or respond to their email”)

  • Differentiated PDs based on level of TA experience


  • Universities connected to arts orgs for TA internships or for credit → Look at graduate level students (Fellowships) and undergraduate (TA in training)

  • Work with University arts programs (BFA/MFA) to recruit emerging artists

  • Connect visiting artists (local, national, international) at Universities with TAs in local community

  • Make a TA Draft (like the NFL or NBA Draft, sports model) from the University/art program graduates


  • Promote the art of your teaching artists

  • Orgs work in partnership with school districts to invite TAs to district VAPA PDs, focusing on TAs who are placed in schools

  • Arts Organization & staff, TA communication tree, online and updated (i.e. in pre-digital world this used to be an annual publication printed in SF and for other cities)

  • Streamlined school district communication with Arts Orgs - even if the org isn’t serving that school (i.e. What role does AEABA, EAP, TAG have in being the central conduit btw school district and Bay Area arts orgs?)

  • City-wide resource meetings for TAs

  • More opportunities for orgs to collaborate

  • More work for TAs if orgs are hiring more “Guest” or “Featured” TAs from other orgs


  • Studio space in exchange for teaching

  • Art orgs support TAs to create independent shows, low budget shows, performance opportunities

  • Create an online resource to advertise art, work, live spaces or exchanges for TAs

  • Regular meetups, social sharing opportunities → honoring the ARTIST in Teaching Artist


  • Promote the art of your teaching artists

  • More opportunities to showcase artistic work of TAs at the org or across the Bay Area Arts ecosystem (i.e. Group shows, Group submissions to arts grants, TAs participation in org fundraisers, etc.)

  • Orgs valuing the need for TAs to continue their own individual artistic development and art making

  • Highlight TA excellence without pitting TAs against each other, formal referral program vs. poaching btw orgs

  • Is what an org wants to provide the community/schools districts, fun enough, relevant enough to teach to those who we intend to serve?

  • Call your cohorts of Teaching Artists “Faculty” or “Dance Faculty”, “Theater Faculty”, etc.) vs. treating TAs as just individuals

  • Offer multi-year contracts to TAs → if based on multi-year partnerships at school sites (if you can’t hire them as part-time or full-time employees). Focus on longer residencies (i.e. year-round) *

  • More opportunities for TAs to collaborate with each other.

NEXT STEPS… we ran out of time and didn’t get to unpack this activity further Let’s look at these REAL ISSUES that are most relevant for the group… PART 2:

  1. What are the common points from our answers from Q1 (recruitment)& Q2 (retention)?

  2. How do we combine our efforts between / across organizations?

Aimee Espiritu, M. Ed is thrilled to have launched Espiritu Consulting in October 2017 with 10 years of experience working with organizations and school districts by providing Strategic Planning, Arts Management and Arts Education support. Prior to this, she was an Arts Educator and Administrator for 14 years with a primary focus of engaging young people in classrooms, museums and arts programs through creative youth development, curriculum design, exhibit development, and peer-to-peer training. It has been her calling to utilize and combine the creative methodologies she gained from her design training with her vision to use the arts as a tool for societal impact. It is the field of arts education in analog (museums, non-profit organizations, school districts, and maker spaces) and online realms that make it possible for her to authentically practice both passions. A Seattle native, Aimee earned a BFA in Industrial Design from the University of Washington and is a credentialed Secondary teacher with a Masters in Urban Education from Holy Names University. After completing her graduate degree, Aimee was the Youth Programs and Community Engagement Manager at San Francisco's Children's Creativity Museum for from 2009-2014. As the former Co-Director of Programs, Youth Speaks was her professional home from 2014-17. As an educator and artist, Aimee’s passion for relevant arts education for youth is both professional and deeply personal. Being a queer Filipin@ visual and performance artist, she has been creating art installations, writing, performing, and directing theater for the past 16 years. Email Aimee or visit her on LinkedIn.

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