Make stuff you care about – Eric Booth, teaching artist

Learn about Eric Booth and his role as a teaching artist

A teaching artist’s main objectives are to:

  • assist us to make good judgements about qualitative relationships – judgement rather than rules prevails
  • promote that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer
  • teach that small differences can have large effects
  • help us learn to say what can't be said.

Spending your working hours performing on the Broadway stage is a dream that many harbour but few achieve. For Eric Booth it was the opposite – he was living that dream only to discover it wasn't his true passion.

“I was a very successful Broadway actor who hated doing eight shows a week,” he recalls. “I found that the apex of success wasn't interesting and I didn’t like the professional actor’s life very much.”

So he took a small side gig as a teaching artist – a term that had then only recently been developed at Lincoln Center in New York – and instantly found it much more rewarding than his on-stage work. Soon enough, one gig led to another, and 40 years later, it’s not only the profession that Booth still finds himself in, but it’s also his passion.

When asked to define ‘teaching artistry’ Booth admits that while it’s a widely practised concept, many people aren’t familiar with it.

“I would say it is the practising artist who develops the skills, curiosities and habits of mind of an educator in order to accomplish a wide variety of learning purposes with a wide variety of learners.”

Booth was in Brisbane for the second International Teaching Artist Conference, which took place from 1 to 3 July, 2014.

“Australia has this deeply established and proud tradition of community artists – artists who make communities better through the arts, who work with young people not just to boost their learning but to also awaken their participation in life and enrich the quality of it, he explains. “The people who do that work are teaching artists.”

The conference brought teaching artists in all their forms from across the globe, ranging from those who work with primary school kids, to those in the ‘creative ageing’ field who use artistic and creative engagement to stimulate the quality of life of senior citizens. Booth says that the end goal of teaching artists can vary greatly, depending on the situation and the people they are working with.

“The real genius of teaching artists is the adaptability of their intent. There are a lot of different goals that you can be pointed towards. You can really achieve social benefits such as reducing recidivism in jail, or high-school dropout rates, or improve tests scores in literacy, or empowering young girls in Africa. They can help arts learning manifest in its many different purposes.”

He adds that the role of teaching artists is also to redefine art, making it less elitist and more accessible to the wider population. When pressed for his own definition of art, Booth has a simple answer.

“Make stuff you care about,” he says. “The distinction between art and entertainment is that entertainment happens within what we already know. Whatever our response is – laughing, getting excited – underneath it all, entertainment says that the world is the way you think it is. Art, on the other hand, happens outside what we already know, so that inherent in the artistic experience is this amazing human capacity to expand our sense of the way the world is or might be. Teaching artists open up artistic capacity to engage with all kinds of things in life – to have arts experiences in any medium you care about.”

As part of the three-day conference, 12 of the teaching artists did workshops with the public at Out of the Box festival. Booth hopes that the conference will help create an activated network of teaching artistry in Australia, connecting those who are equipped with the knowledge, tools and resources but are yet to engage them in the most effective ways.

“I’m really impressed that QPAC went this extra mile and saying that it wants the world to come here and that it wants to invest in this capacity. That's unusual courage and forward thinking for a significant arts organisation.”

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