Learning from Teaching Artists

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In bringing performing arts to students, or vice versa, schools often need a helping hand. They aren’t always able to set funding aside or are not able to effectively augment a performance to fit a certain targeted group. 

Enter Teaching Artists ROC, which places teaching artists in local schools, after-school programs, cultural venues and local events. A group of independent teaching artists, they aim to create and provide meaningful arts learning experiences for students across age groups. 

Gretchen Anthony, the group’s arts administrator and program director, works with a wide range of multiple artistic disciplines: from painting, juggling, drawing, and songwriting to science experiments, storytelling and even balloon sculpture. 

Gretchen Anthony

Through teaching, TAROC seeks art in all its manifestations and excitations and brings them together. But to Anthony, it’s not just one thing, there’s not just one kind of artist.

“TAROC is all about sharing the knowledge and experiences of teaching artists in the classroom,” Anthony says. “It includes artists and educators who have experience in the arts, have skills in the arts, but who also appreciate being in the classroom and enjoy being in the classroom. 

“And they’re not just using these skills to teach specific art forms but to continue to grade curriculum-focused material as a teaching tool, often in tandem with a specific school district or school.”

TAROC has a roster of nearly 30 teaching artists spanning multiple disciplines.

“I’m always a little leery when using the word ‘artist,’” Anthony says. “Some people picture an artist as someone with a smock on, splattered in paint, creating oil paintings, and that’s just one type of artist.” 

The artists at TAROC are skilled in fields including music, songwriting, theatre, dance, visual arts and storytelling. For instance, the storytelling theatre of Daystar offers a broad interpretive reflection on respect for Native American belief systems and worldview. Daystar, a multiethnic, multigenerational dance company, performs and teaches contemporary intertribal dance, historical and modern dance, singing and character transformation. Rosalie Jones, who was born on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, honors her Pembina (Little Shell) Chippewa ancestry through her mother’s lineage.

Teaching artist Eva Sarachan-DuBay is a fight choreographer, personal trainer and owner of Roc Fitness and Sword Fighting, who educates students on stage combat. Then there’s Doug Rougeux, who specializes in circus and theater performance.

“The thing TAROC encompasses,” says Anthony, “is a title that’s been given to people who go into schools, throughout the region, public spaces, libraries, after-school programs, senior citizen centers, and either do a performance or hold workshops that introduce the audience or students to art and have it related to some sort of curriculum … already in place. If it pertains to youngsters, there may be an educational component lending itself or skill to one kind of art.”

TAROC launched in 2017 after the Young Audiences of Rochester program went belly up, which among other things created a huge deficit in arts education in the region.

Larry Moss

Executive Director Larry Moss says the organization is working to establish itself as a nonprofit. Good Causes, an affiliate of the New York Council of Nonprofits, currently acts as its fiscal sponsor, allowing tax-deductible donations to TAROC.

“We picked an inopportune time in history to start this program and get into public buildings.” Moss says, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived here in early 2020. “So, a lot of our contacts over the last year have been virtual. We’ve fortunately been able to get together on a regular basis to discuss and critique.”

The team looks forward to getting back to four walls and a roof soon. 

“We started with just the teaching artists who wanted to get back in the classroom, which others had through other organizations,” Anthony says, “Thankfully, we had some programs that worked right away like museum shows, library shows.”

Adds Moss: “Things are opening up now. And we’re seeing more artists as well as participants coming in.”

Like his character, Vincent, children’s singer/songwriter and TAROC member Paul Nunes feels strongly that the emphasis on testing in schools, and focus on math, science and technology is too limited. He believes in a more artistic slant to programs that wind up in front of students.

Nunes writes and performs original music for children ages 2 to 7. His work aims to stimulate creative thought, build a sense of community, and develop fundamental physical skills.

Artists in the program set their own rates. Funds come from school budgets for programming, school fundraisers, parent organizations, and grants. With collaborations, the group works together to find funding, usually through grant writing or business support to cover artist fees. Sometimes Anthony just has to pick up the phone.

“In our first few years, we’ve received grants from Monroe County, as well as private donations to help us get started,” she says. “Rochester Area Community Foundation has been a huge help in identifying grants that are appropriate for us. We don’t have a lot of history yet. Much of it has just been during a pandemic. As a result, we’ve seen a huge variation in our funding sources.”

As TAROC builds its foundation, it is being creative in finding dollars. The organization is looking forward to a time when funding sources are more consistent and predictable, Anthony says. TAROC, like other nonprofits, is currently busy with its annual appeal.

For artists, TAROC is a powerful motivator that has kept them afloat as they keep audiences afloat. It begins with an individual’s story to hook the community with a curriculum. According to Moss, artists can help rebuild and heal communities.

“It’s the desire to weave a story,” he says. “It’s a part of human nature. I’d like to see our roster of artists double and triple in size, putting artists in classrooms every day—maybe not every day at this point, but in the next three years. I think it’s all a form of storytelling used to build the community up, fiscally and artistically.”

Anthony poses the question: “How many teachers or people do you know who are good at everything?”

Frank De Blase is Rochester Beacon music writer.

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