Regional Networks: The Backbone of the Teaching Artists Guild

By Katie Rainey, Co-Executive Director of the Teaching Artists Guild

Right now, TAG staff and National Advisory Committee (NAC) members are gearing up for the Annual TAG Awards on May 18th, 2023. This also just so happens to be the Teaching Artists Guild’s 25th Anniversary. There will be so many things to celebrate in the coming months, but as I’m reflecting on all the great work so many teaching artists have contributed to this organization, I want to highlight one integral structure that makes this community what it is: Our Regional Networks.

TAG is a national organization, but we rely on our regional networks for the grassroots, local knowledge to help support teaching artists across the country. In fact, both TAG and ATA (the Association of Teaching Artists) actually started as regional networks! TAG began as Teaching Artists Organized in the Bay Area and ATA in Poughkeepsie at a gathering of arts education professionals. Quite literally, this is our founding.

My fellow Co-Executive Director, Kerry Warren, and I recently started the strategic planning process for the next three years and are entering into a collaborative phase with the NAC, our Board, and Co-Chairs. We started by looking at TAG’s values:

  • ADVOCATING: We work with partners at the regional, state, national, and international levels to advocate for the work of teaching artists and to forge pathways that will strengthen, develop, and evolve our field both within and outside of the sector.
  • HONORING: We honor the skill, passion, and experience of teaching artists by celebrating and amplifying their impact.
  • SUPPORTING: We provide teaching artists with the tools to grow and thrive.
  • CONNECTING: We bring teaching artists together to connect, collaborate, create, and learn from one another.
  • IMAGINING: We imagine new pathways to create work, new connections to strengthen the field, and new opportunities to create a stronger ecosystem in support of teaching artistry.

Thinking about these values, we realized a large focus of TAG’s coming strategic plan centers around our regional networks. Kerry and I are two part-time EDs and working teaching artists from New York and Arkansas, respectively. We can only do so much for teaching artists in each corner of the country, so we turn to our regional partners—teaching artists who are on the ground, doing the work to advocate for their peers. 

Take NAC member B.J. Buckley. B.J. joined the NAC last summer and is a teaching artist working in more than one state, including Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. B.J.’s voice has been a welcome and eye-opening perspective on teaching artistry in these vast rural areas.

I thought, perhaps naively, that I had a good grasp on teaching artistry in more rural areas, but B.J. has shared invaluable information that has shown me just how different teaching artistry is in Montana vs. Arkansas. She has informed us of issues in the area that we would not otherwise be privy to and she’s helped us adjust aspects of our Asset Map and website to better serve teaching artists in the midwest. 

We’ve seen this over and over again, and are truly grateful for the countless teaching artists from various states who work with TAG to serve teaching artists in their area. So one of our goals in this coming strategic plan is to focus on supporting, uplifting, and growing our regional networks. We aim to do this through seeking funds for those networks, representation in leadership at TAG, and training to help grow career opportunities for teaching artists in varying areas. 

One great example of that work is our project with TAG of California, funded by the California Arts Council. While California typically sees a lot more representation in the field than say the Dakotas, we have been working to expand the network in previously underserved areas in the state. Here is a little bit about that project:

With support from the California Arts Council, TAG of California will offer free access to training, curriculum, and online tools helping teaching artists statewide connect to fellow professionals and hiring organizations. Our spring programming partially funded by CAC is titled The CAC Project. This program will hold four events for TA’s by TA’s in rural areas of California. They are led by a Regional Network leader that curates an event specific to the needs that they see in their community. These paid teaching artists are called “Regional Network Leaders” with at least 3+ years of experience. These leaders will have substantial knowledge of teaching artistry in their area and will be comfortable with grassroots community organizing. Look out soon for the four events leading up to the TAG awards.

Through this project, we’ve been able to offer paid leadership opportunities to teaching artists like Shayla James, our new Coordinator for TAG of California. Here is a little bit about Shayla:

Shayla James (she/her) resides in San Diego on Kumeyaay Land. She balances her time as a teaching artist, arts administrator, and researcher in the arts and culture sector. Her work is rooted in community and collaboration with others across disciplines. She enjoys being a facilitator in youth and adult creative spaces. 

She is the creator and co-lead of Teaching Artist Circle, a community space that centers Teaching Artist voices of San Diego County. She is also a multi-instrumentalist with over 15 years of experience in the performing arts as a performer and educator. She is the owner of Sempre Music Studio, a creativity focused studio that offers a flexible, responsive and trauma informed music curriculum. Additionally, she has been a teaching artist with local San Diego organizations/schools: Villa Musica, Blindspot Collective, Arts Education Connection San Diego (formerly Arts for Learning San Diego), Nightingale Music, and the San Diego Opera. 

She is currently the San Diego Creative Youth Development Network Director, and is also a Research Associate at RISE Research & Evaluation. Her research focuses on arts assessment and evaluation, racial and cultural equity in the arts, cultural policy, and social emotional learning. Ms. James is currently the Secretary for the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition (SDRACC) board. She is Chair Emeritus of Rising Arts Leaders San Diego. She is also a committee member of the Arts, Culture, and Design Committee for the Port of San Diego and the Arts Empower Advisory Committee. 

As the California Regional Network Coordinator, she is excited to support and connect to Teaching Artists statewide. She is looking forward to hearing about the varying experiences Teaching Artists have and hearing about what they need three years after the onset of the pandemic crisis. She is here to listen, observe, and offer space for those in the Teaching Artist field.

With Shayla’s expertise spearheading this project, we’re finding regional network leaders and offering them paid opportunities to develop those skills and build upon the teaching artist communities in their area. 

We’re so thrilled with the work happening at TAG of California and we’re looking to expand that work in other areas, providing paid opportunities for teaching artists to connect and support one another. On May 18th, we will celebrate the Annual TAG Awards and TAG’s 25th Anniversary. As a part of this event, we want to support regional networks interested in hosting events for teaching artists in their area. If you are interested in hosting/facilitating an event, please reach out to us at

Lastly, in the coming months, we’re going to search for more teaching artists to join our National Advisory Committee. Our goal in the next three years—as a part of the new strategic plan—is to have at least one teaching artist representative from each U.S. State and Territory. If you are interested in finding out more about these opportunities, please reach out to us at

And if you are already a teaching artist on our NAC or in our regional networks, we want to say thank you for all your work and support. This work would be impossible without each and every one of you. Together, we will raise the visibility of teaching artistry and advocate and grow the field. 



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