The Obama Arts Policy Platform: Part 2 – Create An Artist Corps

This idea could be a great way to engage young artists in valuable paid work, something Performing Arts Workshop knows from experience is hard to find as a teaching artist. Most work part-time for a number of different organizations in order to pay their rent, eat, and pursue their artistic careers. While variety is the spice of life, relying on multiple sources of income is extremely inconsistent in a world dependant on funding cycles and the flush pockets of foundations (now turning up empty). An Artist Corps could stabilize this professional field, but only if it provided a true living wage for artists that would allow them to both share their skills and create their own art. Not only should this Artist Corps pay artists adequately (not just minimally), it should also provide health care. This is a top concern for teaching artists and the number one reason they leave artistic work for a more stable administrative job.

The Artist Corps should also take into consideration the advantage of local artists teaching local students. If based on the AmeriCorps model, teaching artists could be randomly shipped across the country with little say in the matter. A truly great program would realize that utilizing local talent is the best and most effective way to create local arts education communities. Such a program could provide teaching artists with employment opportunities after their tenure in the Artist Corps through exposure to the local arts education arena be it rural, urban, or suburban.

Currently a prototype for the Artist Corps, Music National Service’s MusicianCorps, is in its inaugural year. Created through a number of funding partners and with the passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in March of 2009, there are some great aspects to this program. Artists are recruited locally, receive full time work, and are provided health care. Their training is extensive and some of the program’s assessment tools are based on Performing Arts Workshop’s own artist evaluations, which provide a high standard for program outcomes. However, since MusicianCorps has a limited scope, the program only serves urban areas: Seattle, New Orleans, Chicago, and San Francisco. There are only 21 MusicianCorps fellows – about 5 per urban area. In contrast, the Workshop has a roster of 35 artists serving the San Francisco Bay Area alone. One of the more interesting aspects of this program is its mixed administrative model. In some cities, the program is administered local partner Community Based Organizations (CBOs), while other locations are administered through the Music National Service organization. One of the larger questions regarding growth into a full Artist Corps is what the best program model would be: one wholly administered by a national federal agency, or one run “on the ground” by partner organizations. The findings from this initial year will offer a chance to create a model program utilizing the lessons learned, as well as provide a  benchmark for moving forward.

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