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Creativity Matters: The Arts and Aging Toolkit
photo of man playing a guitar (Concord Community Music School)

7.3: Supporting Teaching Artists

Our seniors do things they have not done in years, never tried, or perhaps did not believe they could do…. Their cognitive abilities are challenged as they recall music from their past and have the opportunity to revisit those memories. As they move to the music or create a work of art, hand-eye coordination, balance, rhythm, and sequencing of instructions all contribute to feelings of accomplishment and well-being. Amanda Frey, Director of Activities, Rockville Nursing Home (partner facility of Arts for the Aging)

The number one key to the success of your program is a professional teaching artist. But that person can only be effective with your help, which begins with training and continues throughout the life of the program. As in any job search, first ensure that the candidate has the skills, motivation, and “fit.” Then focus on training. Providing compensation and support in a learning community are also important. As always, attention to detail is necessary: “It is a challenge to get good teachers,” notes Lisa Shaw, former director of adult programs at the Levine School of Music, “but the biggest challenge is dealing with the ones that turn out not to be good.”

This section looks at:

Assessing Qualifications

A good place to start is with the definition of a teaching artist. According to Eric Booth, teaching artist and founding editor of Teaching Artist Journal:

The term is usually applied to those artists who draw people into arts experiences, without the intent to make them skilled practitioners. (Although they certainly may hope their involvement will inspire participants to investigate the art form further.) These TAs work with students in schools, with prisoners, seniors, businesspeople, and teachers. Their work serves many purposes (not just development of skills in the art form), which include boosting learning, preparing people to see performances, awakening individual expressiveness and creativity, transforming a group’s interpersonal dynamics, enhancing appreciation of art and life.

The teaching artist’s expertise is the capacity to engage almost anyone in arts experiences… . Their gift is to draw people into arts experientially, and not through the traditional routes of giving information first or direct instruction. They create a safe and exciting atmosphere that leads people into authentic work in the art form before they get insecure, judgmental, or doubtful that they are skilled enough to be engaging artistically. TAs are masters at tapping people’s artistic competence.85

Because this expertise corresponds with outcome goals for participants, a professional teaching artist enhances a program’s effectiveness and success.

In the search for the best candidate, look for a practicing artist with these skills:

  1. Understanding of your art form
    • Knowledge of basic formal language
    • Knowledge of trends, history, and styles of the discipline
    • Knowledge of key practitioners of the discipline, both historical and contemporary
    • Understanding of the creative process (e.g., inspiration, planning, developing an idea, using materials and techniques, expression)
  2. Understanding of the classroom environment, andragogy, and human development
    • Process and product, the continuum in experiencing the arts
    • Planning a lesson, including modeling, demonstration, and differentiated instruction
    • Time management
    • Hallmarks of normal aging
    • Curriculum unit and residency planning
    • Classroom management
    • Evaluation and assessment, strategies and practices
  3. Understanding of the collaborative process; working in a facility
    • The residency planning process
    • Working with others86

Leaders in the arts and aging field emphasize the importance of these skills and competencies for the teaching artist:

In addition, some skills are linked to specific artistic disciplines and types of programs. Those who direct New Horizons bands, for example, ideally should be music educators because they are experienced in group instruction at different levels and with different instruments. For intergenerational programs, regardless of discipline, the teaching artist or facilitator must be able to communicate and work with both young people and older adults.

Most of these skills are tangible. Perhaps greater determining factors of the effectiveness of a teaching artist are intangible qualities:

Finally, artists who are successful in working with older adults usually have had or want a connection to older adults.

Making the Hire

The most effective way to find a teaching artist is by word of mouth. Talk to

Look for community arts organizations and institutions that use professional teaching artists. Arts education organizations such as community schools of the arts are good places to start. Identify resources in your community through the member directory of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts. Identify other arts education organizations through the Americans for the Arts field directory. Arts programs at colleges, community colleges, and universities are also likely to be helpful.

In addition, almost all local, state, and regional arts agencies have adjudicated rosters of artists. In New England, for example, features a free searchable directory of artists, performance spaces, and presenting organizations designed to match artists with presenters. In the audiences served search category, selecting elders is an option. Locate regional and state arts agencies through the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and local arts agencies through Americans for the Arts.

Don’t overlook older teaching artists who add value to arts and aging programs. Writing in Vital Involvement in Old Age, the authors explain:

Observing and reacting to the aging of their contemporaries seems to help [older adults] to integrate aspects of their own aging, to view their individual experiences in a reassuring social perspective. For all of its frightening concomitants—recognized and unrecognized—growing old, in these terms, is a powerful confirmation of membership in a human race that is more expansive and more enduring than any one lifetime.87

Janine Tursini, executive director of Arts for the Aging adds: “For many of our older adult teaching artists, they now recognize the importance of their work. They are enriched in new ways by participants, and vice versa.”

Aside from conducting a job interview to ascertain whether a candidate has the necessary skills and qualities, ask him or her to do a teaching audition. Go see and hear the artist perform, or view his or her work.

Conducting Training

Creating a plan and allowing sufficient time for training helps ensure the success of a teaching artist. Chances are great that you are not going to find the perfect person who has all of the necessary skills and qualities. Do the best that you can, and rely on training to address any deficiencies. Remember to pay the teaching artist for time spent in professional development.

One common deficiency is experience in working with older adults. Most professional teaching artists work with students in schools or in community arts facilities and other settings. Likely training topics are:

While most professional teaching artists are experienced at group facilitation, consider providing a refresher. The International Association of Facilitators has an online publication, Basic Facilitation Skills, and other resources on its Web site. Another option is the Technology of Participation facilitation method created by the Institute of Cultural Affairs.

As noted in chapter 6, an effective method is to plan joint professional development opportunities among team members and other staff. This approach creates and strengthens the learning community and each person’s commitment to and knowledge of the program.

Anne Basting and John Killick have a good description of considerations for training teaching artists who work with older adults with dementia:

[The artist] may never have worked with people with dementia before and may suffer a kind of culture shock in coming into contact with unusual behaviors and unexpected communication problems. To let the artist sink or swim in these circumstances would not be a recipe for getting the best out of the situation. In a spirit of goodwill, staff could adopt a process of induction which might include a preliminary information session about what to expect (not necessarily full of medical explanations, though these could be supplied if requested), followed by a gentle taking of the hand in the early sessions especially, until they have settled in. It is a good idea to have one member of staff with a special responsibility for helping the artist out with practical problems and acting as confidante.88

Basting and Killick also provide advice about working in a facility with older adults of various abilities:

Working in your organization may be a new experience for the artist. This doesn’t just apply to the large parameters within which it operates but small customs, even quirks, which make it individual and distinguishable from other organizations of a similar kind. A visiting artist can easily fall foul of the rules and procedural niceties that the regular staff take for granted. They can be helped to come to terms with these. For example, some facilities have rules about knocking before entering a room. Artists might need to learn a code to turn off an alarm, or what your facility sets as bathroom protocol.89

Train teaching artists by giving them direct instruction and reading material, and facilitating their experiential learning. The latter is typically the most effective technique. Regardless of the amount or quality of the training, teaching artists are likely to be overwhelmed at first. They will also encounter challenges. But with a clear understanding of goals and expectations, and the ongoing support of you and the entire partnership team or staff, they—and your participants—will succeed.

Program Example: Training Teaching Artists

Arts for the Aging contracts with approximately 18 teaching artists. There are one or two openings a year for new artists, who are identified mostly by word of mouth and faculty recommendations. Interested candidates submit resumes, interview with the program director, and visit programs in three different disciplines. The artist’s training is guided by an Instructor Orientation Program Observation Sheet, which also includes questions to answer specific to each observation, so that the learning is sequential. The trainee meets with each of the three teaching artists and completes a Program Proposal Form. At the same time, the program director gives the trainee reading materials on creativity and aging and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Once the proposal is reviewed and revised, the trainee receives a stipend to lead the program at five different senior centers under the program director’s supervision. Experienced teaching artists continue to provide mentoring. Finally, following a post-mortem discussion with the prospective artist and with senior center staff, Arts for the Aging offers the teaching artist a one-year, renewable contract.

Executive Director Janine Tursini notes that this experiential training is an effective way for potential teaching artists to learn the importance of process and understand that little movements such as toe tapping signify success. It also familiarizes them with diverse classroom settings in day care centers, nursing homes, and community centers. Observation, supervision, and mentorship ensure that the teaching artist is prepared to effect positive change in participants and to cope with challenges.

Providing Support

Teaching artists require two kinds of support: adequate compensation for their services and a learning community in which they share advice and methods with peers and supervisors.


Teaching artists are professionals who are providing a service. An important principle is to pay them adequately for teaching, professional development, and administration (e.g., planning and evaluation meetings). Remember to reimburse them for transportation expenses. Few organizations are financially able to provide full-time employment to teaching artists—especially in the aging services field, where facilities typically devote only a small percentage of their budgets to activities.

How much to pay artists depends on the geographic region and what you ask them to do. One information source is the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts’ Survey of Member Schools Report, which includes teaching artist salaries, faculty pay rates, and more.

Teaching Artists’ Fees


You may encounter the perception among some funders and aging service organizations that teaching artists should volunteer their time and talents. Educate these people about the skills and qualities of professional teaching artists, connecting who they are and what they do with outcome goals for older adults. Remember, it always circles back to programmatic impact and benefits to participants.

Learning Community

A learning community is a group of people who have common values and beliefs and who are actively engaged in learning together and from each other. In a learning community, teaching artists, supervisors, staff, the partnership team, other teaching artists, and participants problem solve, celebrate triumphs, learn new skills and information, and share ideas and techniques. They renew themselves mentally and emotionally, combating burnout, reconnecting with the value of their work, and moving forward together.

Program Example: A Learning Community

EngAGE: The Art of Active Aging has in-service training in which teaching artists are encouraged to examine their own assumptions about aging and about art while sharing communication tools, strategies, and experiences and engaging in “group thinks” about future programming and classes. EngAGE staff are a learning community in which they all continue to learn and grow from and with each other. Collectively and individually, they learn with and from the older adults in their client facilities; for example, a performance teacher collaborated with the teacher of a writing group, using hats as props and improvisation to stimulate imaginative storytelling. The ways in which the senior participants in the writing group used the props, the stories they told, and the experiences they shared provided great learning opportunities for everyone involved.


The counseling function of a learning community is particularly important for teaching artists who work with older adults who have dementia. Anne Basting and John Killick explain that staff who work with people with dementia experience stress that can lead to burnout. Because an arts project, which “provides opportunities for the access of buried memories and the release of hitherto unacknowledged emotions,” can cause distress in participants, they need an appropriate support system in place. Staff, too, can experience anxiety, especially if they are not used to working with people with dementia. “One of the problems of accompanying people with dementia on their respective journeys,” Basting and Killick say, “is that the grief they may express is often unresolvable and therefore has to be carried by others.90

To create a learning community, schedule a regular time for everyone to come together, ideally in a comfortable space with sofas and easy chairs. Have snacks and soft drinks available. One person facilitates the free-form discussion, and this role rotates among members of the group. Ask people to share problems or successes, and encourage others to chime in with advice.

Train the Trainer Programs

“Train the trainer” is a method of training a nonartist to facilitate a program. It is most appropriate for programs targeted at people with dementia. Since the primary outcome goal for this population is social engagement and not mastery, the artistic expertise and skill level of a professional teaching artist are less important. Consider, however, using a teaching artist to conduct the training.

If you plan to train others to lead a program, focus on staff of residential facilities, senior centers, and adult day programs. The key qualifications are compassion and knowledge of how to work with people with dementia. Other tips for planning the training include:

Two programs in the arts and aging field are Memories in the Making and TimeSlips. Their training topics include:

As in the familiar game of “Telephone,” a challenge for train the trainer programs is ensuring quality all the way down the line and ensuring that your philosophy is transmitted accurately. A related challenge occurs when a trained staff member—for example, an activities director—leaves his or her facility and attempts to train others, further diluting the philosophy and affecting the quality. Knowing how to facilitate a Memories in the Making or TimeSlips program could be a selling point for a staff member seeking a new job. While this is also true for professional teaching artists and arts organization staff, turnover is generally higher among the professional caregivers and activities staff who are the primary cadre of trainers. Other challenges include:

Mish Mash in America

A man is reading in an o.k. room in New York City.
He is silently analyzing. He is quietly happy.
He’s putting something together.
He’ll be at it for 2 hours.
The room is messy.
A woman gave him that hat.
He has no family of his own. His family is his books.
He is squinting and closing his eyes so he can concentrate.
He is accepting the responsibility to organize all this into something.
He is looking for something, but he hasn’t found it yet.
He is orchestrating an orchestra in his mind.
There is a desk beneath all those books.
He has a very smart finger.
He is very bright.
He is singing a song of sixpence,
and then a song of Daisy. TimeSlips story

Program Examples: Train the Trainer Programs

Memories in the Making has one trainer who conducts three-hour classes for anyone interested in learning how to use visual art as a communication tool for individuals with dementia and related disorders. The ideal facilitator for the program is a person familiar with Alzheimer’s disease who has an interest in art.

The TimeSlips program trains trainers who train facilitators. It has one national and eight regional training bases, which include an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, an Alzheimer’s Association, a university, several long-term care facilities, and Elders Share the Arts.

The TimeSlips method is taught in a daylong intensive workshop that can accommodate as many as 50 trainees and is ideal for all levels of professional and informal caregivers. Certification lasts for three years, and continuing education credits are available. Those who train the hands-on facilitators offer ongoing support through phone and e-mail counseling. Facilitators are also asked to keep a journal, which the trainers review. For larger facilities whose staff has been trained, trainers sometimes return to conduct a refresher class, and they usually return for the culminating celebration.


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Appendix 5:
Policies and Procedures Sample


Appendix 6: Teaching Artists Tools
Instructor Orientation

Program Proposal Form