Last Thursday, we did a little experiment. We announced a last minute Happy Hour in celebration of May Day. We decided to meet at a bar in San Francisco since our last Happy Hour (in March, in honor of Art IS Education Month) was in Oakland. At 6pm, Jean and I arrived, wore our TAG buttons, and waited to see if anyone would show up.
Our experiment failed. Y’all didn’t show up. Or maybe you did. When I got the bar we had originally chosen, I was turned away because the whole place had been rented out for a private party (curse those San Francisco fat cats!). They pointed me in the direction of another bar right across the street…same owner…great place, it turned out. I implored the host at the original bar, “Please…if anyone comes looking for Teaching Artists Guild, please, please, please send them to me.” He said he would. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe there was no one to send. Either way, it wound up being Jean and I at the bar…alone.
Although we missed you, I am not sad about what ended up happening. Jean and I took the opportunity to have a (relatively boozy) TAG staff meeting. She and I have only been working together for a few months and, since we don’t have a regular office space (yet), we don’t often get the opportunity to come together, face-to-face. This was a wonderful night for us where we wound up learning 2 very crucial things on our journey to moving TAG forward:
1. Teaching Artists Guild is about way more than Teaching Artists.
You care about your work as an artist. You care about your work as teacher. You want to be paid well for both. You are sick to death of being a “starving artist.” And, my guess is, because you care so much about making a broader contribution to society – using your art to empower and activate the most vulnerable among us – you probably don’t have plans to be a billionaire superstar anytime soon (if you do, great!). You probably just want to make a decent, middle class living. One where you know where your next paycheck is coming from. Where you can afford a home and have some money saved for retirement. I mean, crap, if doctors and lawyers and programmers can have these things, why can’t you?
I know. This is what I want to. This is what TAG is all about. Like our mission says, we are working to strengthen this weird, hybrid, profession so that all of us can channel our unique and powerful blend of education, experience and skills into a career that feeds both society and ourselves. But, here’s the thing. In order for us to make this happen, we have to look at the picture. We are living in a time in American history when the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer…and the middle class are getting, well…poorer. And this is true for everybody…not just artists…well, maybe not doctors, lawyers and programmers…these people tend to be doing quite well in our economy since the healthcare and tech fields are making big bucks and their titans of industry constantly need legal assistance to continue to find all the possible loop holes necessary to keep them as rich as possible…
Anyway, watch this…
At the end of Robert Reich’s feature length documentary Inequality for All where he digs much deeper into the above points and shares his deep concern for the future of our democracy, he says “You gotta mobilize. You gotta organize. You gotta energize other people.” Over our whiskey cocktails, Jean and I talked at length about how the work ahead of us is all about mobilizing, organizing and energizing teaching artists to take our place in this grander social movement to take our democracy back from big money. We will only succeed in having the careers we want as teaching artists, when our public schools, social services, and other the public institutions that we partner with are strong and valued. Jean and I realized that TAG must play a big part in this effort.
2. We must keep hosting happy hours.
Just because you didn’t show up on Thursday, does not mean you aren’t going to. And now that you know the level of deep discussion that can transpire between just 2 of us who care deeply about the future of our profession, imagine what will happen when 4 or 6 or 12 (etc.) of us come together for drinks and conversation. We often work alone as teaching artists. We need these places and times to come together. To talk and to listen. Sometimes a meeting or “networking event” don’t quite get to that same level of connection as simply sharing a drink together. And you don’t have to be a drinker. It’s not about the alcohol. It’s about being in a place of rest. Letting your proverbial hair down. Getting out of the regular work spaces to just unwind and connect with each other as people.
Sounds good, right? We’re hosting a happy hour in June in Berkeley to celebrate the last days of school and our July happy hour will take us down to San Jose where we’ll celebrate independence. Who knows what new things we will learn about ourselves and our work. So, hopefully, we’ll see you next time. Once again, Jean and I will be wearing our TAG buttons so you can find us.
And hopefully, we won’t be sitting by ourselves.