#WeAllDeserveArts: Precious Blake – MSAC Arts in Education Program Director and Accessibility Coordinator

Expanding Our Collective Imagination

August 14, 2020

When a seed of an idea is planted, how do we cultivate the ground for joy and healing to grow? One of the first and foremost conjurers of that joy is the artist. 

Similarly, teaching artists plant threads of possibilities for children, educators, families, and adults to learn about themselves, their environments, and the world around them. They are our critical healers, connectors, and relationship builders in the ecosystem of arts education that includes fine arts specialists, educators, community leaders, families, and learners.

Teaching artists embody intentional adaptability through their collaborative work. Intentional adaptation is an element of Emergent Strategy, a framework that builds upon decades of organizing for justice and liberation written by adrienne maree brown.

“Many of us respond to change with fear or see it as a crisis… A first question to ask ourselves is, how do we practice increasing our ease with what is? Change happens. Change is definitely going to happen, no matter what we plan or expect or hope for or set in place. We will adapt to that change, or we will become irrelevant.”

Aligned with the Emergent Strategy principle of “change is constant, be like water” every teaching artist adapts between phases. Today, the need for teaching artists to shift during a moment of crisis is greater when there is financial instability, families are seeking new ways to teach their children at home, and everyone is looking for connections in this time of extended isolation. And just like water, teaching artists are transitioning: hosting live Instagram or Facebook events, recording performances, including parents that are working at home into their online classes, and fostering virtual communities.

With the importance of teaching artists to lifelong education, it is also important for funders to support their work as entrepreneurs and artists. According to Americans for the Arts, over 94% of artists and creative workers across the nation have experienced a loss of income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, many artists of color who already face systemic economic, social, mental, and medical barriers are especially feeling the brunt of the pandemic. In Arts Administrators of Color’s COVID-19 Survey, 75% of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Maryland artists indicated that their stress and anxiety levels have increased because of financial concerns resulting from the pandemic. 63% said their depression and despair have increased due to the disproportionate impact the pandemic is having on BIPOC communities. But the survey also showed Maryland BIPOC artists have still embraced entrepreneurial resiliency by creating new or repurposing existing artistic and cultural experiences in a virtual format.

To support educators and teaching artists before the pandemic hit, the Maryland State Arts Council convened over 60 editors in Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 to revise and update our Arts in Education program to be more reflective of the arts education landscape in Maryland. When the pandemic interrupted in-person experiences, MSAC then convened over a thousand people through several virtual listening sessions to learn how to best support the arts sector and the arts education field. From these conversations, the Arts in Education program implemented actionable items to support creative adaptability:

  1. To ensure funding equity across all 24 counties, especially rural areas, an Equitable Funding Formula was created for school-based programming that considers the rates of Free and Reduced Meal Rates (a statewide measure of education access), school population numbers, and a base amount granted to all counties.
  2. To support teaching artists as artists and connectors, program guidelines include a wider array of programming possibilities such as out of school time programs, field trips, lectures, creative aging, and eliminate time restrictions for residencies and performances. 
  3. To support teaching artists as artists and connectors, communities and populations that can be served by teaching artists have expanded to include students in early learning, pre-K to 12th grade, and people who are incarcerated/experiencing re-entry, people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, veterans/military, people from the LGBTQ+ community, and English language learners. Eligibility for schools/sites were clarified to include community centers, libraries, shelters, jails and prisons, parks and recreation centers, and other eligible non-profit organizations.
  4. To support teaching artists as entrepreneurs, we removed financial barriers in budget submissions, included more allowable expenses under the Arts in Education Grant, and encouraged the agency of our teaching artists to set their own fees in full.
  5. Immediate actions in response to COVID-19: Processed full payments to all teaching artists with outstanding grant agreements.
  6. Sustained actions in response to COVID-19: Included online programs as an eligible activity in our Arts in Education Grant, created self-assessment tools to help teaching artists create online programs, modified payment procedures so teaching artists get paid at time of grant approval and after an educational engagement has concluded.

MSAC models our teaching artists’ intentional adaptations by leaning into trust, constant change, and continuous feedback. As we build our Arts in Education program to support Maryland children, adults, families, and teaching artists, we strive to inspire expansive imaginations and dreams to be realized through the arts. 


Precious Blake

Cited Links and Websites

Precious Blake is a visual journalist and arts administrator who makes pathways for equitable access to the arts, truth-telling, and community resilience by working with arts education leaders, curating joyously brave conversations, and creating collaborations that combine her passion for journalism, illustrative archivation, and highlighting historically marginalized voices. Currently, Precious is the Arts in Education Program Director and Accessibility Coordinator at the Maryland State Arts Council.

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