By Mika Lemoine, Bay Area of California Regional Network Leader
When I learned there was an opportunity for California teaching artists to take a leadership position in gathering TA’s in our region, I was thrilled to apply. As teaching artists, we do so much work in our communities because we love to and because we care, and the thought of being compensated to continue this work, have more resources to do so, all while continuing to build relationships was incredibly exciting. I was happy to know that the California Arts Council (CAC) was supporting such an effort, and I have collaborated with the Teaching Artists Guild (TAG) in the past, so I was grateful to get an opportunity to do so more deeply.
On Ohlone Land in Oakland, CA—where I am based—I’ve hosted a teaching artist gathering in collaboration with TAG and the Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area (AEABA) since 2020. Rachel-Anne, my co-facilitator and a brilliant and seasoned teaching artist in Oakland, and I were contracted in early 2020 to co-curate a few teaching artist convenings. When the pandemic hit, we pivoted to offer virtual conversations and professional development opportunities, starting once a week, moving to once a month, and then quarterly. We were engaged in an ongoing, iterative process of figuring out and doing our best to offer what our community of artists needed. Did they need practical support with pandemic funding? Support continuing their craft while serving their community? Tips on how to engage with their community virtually? Did they want to hear from experts in the field, share practices with each other, or simply connect? How could we make our events accessible to BIPOC artists and artists with additional historically excluded identity markers?
When I learned of the TAG/CAC opportunity, we were ramping up to our final in-person networking gathering of the 22/23 school year, and I thought it would be extra special to enhance our event through this collaboration in service to offering something needed for TAs in our region.
I got to meet with 4 other teaching artists on a regular basis, including our coordinator, to discuss our events, connect with each other, and give/receive support. I also got to know TAG staff throughout the process. We were invited to get creative about what kind of event we wanted to offer, and with the team I was already working with on the ground through AEABA, we had a lot more resources and options of how to curate our event, as we were provided with a generous budget to realize our dream events.
We knew we wanted to do a social gathering, something people have been craving, and something that even before the pandemic was very rare for teaching artists. We hosted 3 social events already this school year, where people naturally connected with one another, built relationships, and shared about their practices and important elements of their lives as teaching artists. Because of the CAC/TAG grant, we were able to do so much more with our event.
We held it at NIDO’s Back Yard in Oakland and were able to host a taco bar and drinks. People arrived at the event and thought the food was for a different event; they were so happy and surprised to be fed. We signed everyone in and encouraged them to sign up for TAG’s Asset Map, a social media-like resource for teaching artists to be connected with one another and with opportunities across the country.
People mingled, ate, drank, and enjoyed each other’s company. Maxing out at 25 attendees, this was our best attended event so far. People reflected a lot of gratitude for the opportunity to meet and connect with one another. They answered questions about what kinds of events they’re interested in for the future, won raffle prizes, and we had a short toast to thank everyone and inform them about TAG opportunities and the events that are on the horizon with AEABA in the near future. Children and families attended, old friends reunited and new friends were made.
We were excited to receive some feedback through the big sticky notes we planted at different tables throughout the event. People desired more social and mixer-like activities for the coming year, and more professional development and skill-sharing events too. They shared what kind of craft they practiced, from dancing to music production to video engineering. Some offered to share on specific practices they have, such as trauma-informed and harm-reduction techniques, while others named what they’d love some support with, such as classroom tips on working with young people.
We are so grateful we got to throw such a fun and robust event, which set the tone for the connecting, learning, and imagining we will do together in the upcoming school year as we embark on throwing 2 more social events and 2 professional development/practice-sharing events.