i Friends! We recently had the privilege to host a remarkable gathering in collaboration with Paul Gambill and Eric Booth of Community Engagement Lab, who are working to put together a network to support teaching artists throughout the region. Held at the Kimball Jenkins estate on December 5th, this gathering was a significant moment for those who believe in the potential of art and education to create thriving, supportive communities. Here, I share my some insights from this inspiring.
Getting to Know NETAC
One of the highlights of the gathering was the introduction to the New England Teaching Artist Collaborative (NETAC). NETAC is an emerging Collective Impact initiative with a noble mission - building regional capacity to develop thriving communities. Its primary goal involves preparing teaching artists to serve as catalysts for activating creative potential and fostering partnerships with educators, organizations, and community groups.
In July 2023, NETAC held its inaugural gathering in Burlington, where it brought together fifty teaching artists and community leaders(with Randall and Jason of Queerlective among them!) from across New England. The focus was on planning, learning, and envisioning how NETAC could evolve into a powerful force for positive change. Throughout the gathering, three key areas took center stage: Communication, Network Building, and Professional Learning.
A Journey of Collaboration
The December gathering kicked off with warm welcomes and introductions setting the tone for a day filled with meaningful discussions. Eric, representing the Community Engagement Lab, led a creative warm-up activity, where participants shared stories of group creativity successfully addressing social problems, illustrating the potential of collaborative art.
The discussion then delved into the history of NETAC and the mission it seeks to accomplish. Eric Booth shared insights into the Collective Impact model, emphasizing the importance of relationship building and outlining a timeline for establishing local projects and convenings.
Thriving Community and Teaching Artistry
Eric then posed a critical question - "What constitutes a thriving community?" Attendees were introduced to a powerful definition by Tasha Golden, emphasizing that thriving communities are not free from difficulties but have access to well-being. This includes relationships, support, and engagement.
We explored how teaching artistry can be a potent tool in creating thriving communities. Attendees shared inspiring examples of projects that improved well-being reinforcing the idea that teaching artistry can address perennial problems and foster positive change.
The Road Ahead
The group then discussed the obstacles that Teaching Artists (TAs) face in community change work. These challenges, categorized into TA Support/Professional Development, Communication, and Funding/Resources, were thoroughly examined. Eric then facilitated a discussion on how these challenges align with local realities, identifying both support and gaps in support for TAs.
The group embraced the Common Agenda proposed by the NETAC's Steering Committee - the creation of a rigorous teaching artist professional development program that promotes exemplary school and community partnerships to build thriving communities. Attendees emphasized the importance of mutual support, breaking barriers, equity, and creating safe, trusting atmospheres.
As the gathering drew to a close, we looked to the future with optimism. Next steps were outlined, including the establishment of diverse working groups, planning the next gathering, establishing hubs committed to supporting NETAC's mission, expanding the network, and embarking on fundraising efforts.
This gathering was a significant step towards realizing a thriving, inclusive future. It exemplified the power of collaboration, art, and education in building communities where all individuals are seen, heard, valued, and supported. As Queerlective and NETAC continue our journeys, the prospects for more thriving communities and well-being are brighter than ever.