NEA Arts Magazine

Back to Basics

The Teacher Institute in Contemporary Art in Chicago

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 Two artists talking in a studio

Glass artist Josiah McElheny (left) visits the studio of TICA participant Ken Vanderstoep. Photo courtesy of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Located just a few blocks from Chicago's famous lakeshore, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is a world-renowned teaching facility for the visual, museum, and literary arts. Founded in 1866, SAIC now offers six undergraduate and 13 graduate degrees as well as hosting an additional 2,000 students annually for continuing education. The school also offers summer institute courses for high school students, and other special programs. Each summer, SAIC also plays host to nearly 100 high school art teachers from across the U.S. for its Teacher Institute in Contemporary Art (TICA). In this interview the NEA speaks with TICA Executive Director Philip Baranowski.

NEA: What is the vision behind TICA?

PHILIP BARANOWSKI: Our mission is to have high school teachers work alongside contemporary [visual art] practitioners -- both established and emerging -- so they can get as much knowledge of the contemporary landscape as possible. At the same time, we want to have teachers reconnect with their own artmaking process, which is the fundamental reason they got involved in the first place.

The thing about teaching art in high schools is that it's a really difficult job, time consuming and demanding, yet teachers are very dedicated to their field and students.What's difficult for every one of them is finding time to deal with their own art practice. What makes them such a great population is that they're always thinking of the students first. Their art practice is put off to the side, neglected. We allow them an opportunity to connect with that artmaking spirit.

Each session is a mix of teachers from urban, rural, large, small, private, public, and at-risk student [settings]. We try to get a blend of environments so people can share their stories and their creative experiences with their students.

NEA: TICA is targeted to teachers who have been in the field for at least ten years.

BARANOWSKI: The specific nature of the program is to bring in teachers that are committed to teaching, not looking for a career change or graduate school. Once you reach the ten-year mark, [you] don't need help with teaching itself. What they need help with is the opportunity to connect with the two things I mentioned: their own art creativity and the contemporary art landscape.

NEA: What impact do you hope the program has on the selected teachers?

BARANOWKSI: TICA is a very intense week. [The participants] are busy 12 hours a day for six days. What I hope they walk away with -- and I believe they do -- is a profound sense that their work matters, that the jobs they do of reaching students to develop an understanding or direction in visual arts matters nationwide. I say to them often that tomorrow's artist is sitting in their classroom right now. And that does not mean just the major cities.

NEA: Can you walk me through how the sessions work?

BARANOWSKI: [The teachers] are involved in the studio from 9-4 doing painting or technology, whatever their studio subject is. A different visiting artist presents to them each day, and that visiting artist also participates in the studio. The reason there's a different visiting artist each day is because we want the participants to experience a breadth of contemporary art, not just a particular view. Evenings are made up of workshops and museum education, museum visits, and additional presentations from guest artists.We do a discussion about their high school art work, what their students do, and works of art in their community so we can discuss that important works of art exist everywhere. As [the participants] look at and understand their own art work and their community art work, they can play a role in the education of their students.We also discuss regional museums and historical societies so they can discover that important art is everywhere, not just in major museums.

If they choose to continue their own studio practice, the participants can stay for what's called a studio extension week so they can continue uninterrupted in their own artmaking directions.

NEA: TICA includes free room-and-board and supplies for each teacher.

BARANOWSKI: High school art teachers need support, and often that's financial support. It's important that . . . they can have the opportunity unencumbered by cost. We want to reach the people that would have much greater difficulty finding the funding to participate in [a program in] Chicago for a week or two.

NEA: How important is Arts Endowment funding to the TICA program?

BARANOWKSI: Through the generous funding of the NEA, we are able to provide honoraria to a number of artists so they can take time out of their busy schedules to participate and also to provide the opportunity without Snancial cost to a huge number of teachers so the environment becomes one of willingness to participate. I've had many artists that have spoken very passionately about their time spent with the teachers and how important it was for them to come and share with them and engage with them. One thing that's really so profoundly fascinating about TICA is that all participants walk away changed from the experience, and that includes the visiting artists. They are so thankful that they came. It's a wonderful kind of experience.