VACNJ: Teaching Artist Institute

While I was the Director of the Studio School for the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, one of the accountabilities I was given was to increase communication and camaraderie with the faculty. I needed to help them onboard into the school, find their ways as instructors, and finally feel welcome to learn more and more about being instructors. The end goal was to help my faculty learn to self-promote, to structure classes through tools such as syllabi, and to find the use in assessment. I needed to make sure these wonderful artists were teaching the students at the best of their abilities while meeting a baseline the school had set.

I started with free workshops on self-promotion and impromptu discussions with whoever I encountered. In essence, I tried to listen and respond quickly.

Videos

About seven months into my tenure, I began to put out weekly videos in order to keep the faculty in touch with all things Studio School. This solved a few issues: my faculty was never all in the same place at the same time. There are instructors I actually never got to meet in person. Also, many could not wade through the very long emails I had to send as I established new practices, dealt with issues, and generally steered the school in a new direction.

These proved to be so successful: I had about 50% open rate from my teachers. I had people requesting that I continue them during the breaks, and many told me they liked to listen to them as they drove to work. I am continuing this effort under the name Becoming Art Centered, where I can really distill all I have learned about being an art and design educator.

Forms & Tools

As I worked, I developed cleaner and more intuitive forms for proposals and other key efforts. This was hard as the old word docs had been in place for years. Although they had been needing a redesign for a long time, having a process that was known by such an attenuated crowd was a hard sell.

Proposal Form
Form for Existing Courses

 

I also developed tools for my teachers. Some of them needed help with promoting themselves, with structuring classes. They all needed a welcoming context to discuss issues like high-quality instruction. I developed a promo kit with tips and templates. I developed a syllabus template and tutorial to help as well.

Flyer Template

Promo Kit

Teaching artists do not need to know how to do everything, but they do need to know what can help them maximize their efforts quickly and well. I tried to find ways to give them well-designed but approachable tools to this end.

Syllabi

The faculty were not thrilled when I first broached this topic. Some felt I was going to impose a bureaucratic rigor that was ill-suited to an art center. I had to really learn how to listen on this point, and in the end, we found a simple way to encapsulate the idea together.

All in all, it was a tremendous honor to collaborate with the 80+ teaching artists with whom I worked. Artists are so great at thinking things through, so when they offered me feedback, I always tried to listen and learn deeply.