My New Job. My New Year.

Two Thousand and Nine!

If there’s one thing that’s certain about 2008, it’s that just about everybody in America is glad to see that f**king thing gone.  We’ve all reaffirmed the importance of government leadership by doing without it for eight years.  And, even though no one really knows who & what to blame for who & what, now we all seem to gauge the size of the mess our little experiment got us into to mean that maybe good leadership might be powerful enough to fix it.  We’re all hopeful, anyway.

New year.

I put up a new calendar that features art by my four year old niece.

By way of relative measure, it challenges confidence in my effectiveness as a college art teacher.

I can deal with that though, because I’m not a college art teacher any more.  And, that’s what I’m here to write about.

On January 12, my birthday, I’m going to start a new position with the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.  I will be a Recreation/Enterprise Facility Manager I.  I also hope to find a way to streamline my title before any business cards are printed.  There’re a lot of mouthfuls there for one little card…

I’ll be working to open, then help manage a new art center in Brentwood, MD — just a couple of blocks outside the NE District of Columbia border.  I was sold on taking the position, after meeting some of the people involved, when the person who will be my supervisor said the bottom-line purpose of the center is community development.  The humanities and humanity.

The Brentwood Art Center is set to open this spring.  I’ll be sure to post an announcement so any of you in DC Metro can come to the opening.  For now, you can see the building (under renovation), here — just look to the NE (spin the little “N” on the compass so that it faces SW):

Needless to say, I’m elated to have landed a job in the arts now while the economy is dishing the field such a heavy beating.  I’m also excited to be out of academia.  It’s so easy for academicians to not be connected to anything but academia.  That, and now is terrible time to be looking for a tenure-track job in any field, let alone the arts.

As recently as August, I wasn’t too worried about finding a non-academic art job.  Now, I feel like I dodged a bullet.

Ah, two thousand and nine.

Post Part 2, My Story:
a.k.a. the background that would explain why I hope everything’s going as swimmingly as I hope it is.

I’d like to lay all this out to resolve a vague, pent-up, coming out of pseudonymity, blog house cleaning.  You know, new year, blog’s close to it’s first birthday, maybe you want to know why I think my new job’s a better fit for me than college teaching, etc.

So…

I started off in our world amidst the hills outside of Cincinnati.  In the hills.

There are certain personality types that towns like Cincinnati or St. Louis just can’t hold.  You sound out your sort of emotional sonar and there’s just nothing out there for it to bounce off of.  A person who finds his/her self in such a position can incubate a dissonance that can be, at least, artistically productive.  You could stay and hope to maybe score one in the name of art; hope to not flatten out through cultural attrition or elevate adolescent self-destruction into adulthood.  Or, you can leave.  I left.

I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  It was, summarily, the antidote to cultural banality.  Chicago is the great and rightful mecca of young people disillusioned with the flatter lands of meat and potatoes.

(Cincinnati counts as part of the flat land, even if geography disagrees.)

During the reception for my class year’s BFA thesis exhibition, I met a guy who operated a little non profit gallery that focused on what I’ll call pre-emerging artists.  He hired me under the table, from time to time, to paint, spackle, hang art, etc.

It was there, spackling in the hallway, that I met Josh Garber, for whom I eventually started working part-time as a studio assistant.

When I quit my bartending job, Josh recommended me to Paul Klein for a preparator job at Klein Art Works.  Paul has a great paternal talent and impeccable, if seemingly idiosyncratic integrity, and there is no better person for an aspiring young artist to work under.  I keep a link to his Art Letter in the column to your right.

While working at Klein Art Works, I met Cheonae Kim.  After spending an 80-or-so hour work week with her, installing her exhibition and executing wall paintings under her direction, she invited me to study at Southern Illinois University. I spent three years there, finishing my MFA in 2004.

Soon after returning to Chicago in 2004, I ran into my friend and former neighbor, Mike Bancroft, in the (formerly) Bank One on Milwaukee Ave. just south of Fullerton.  I’d curated art exhibitions as parts of fundraisers for his non-profit, Cooperative Image Group (Co-op Image).  So, when he said they were looking for someone to team-teach a silk screen printing program for teens, I jumped on board.  I would go on to give Co-op Image everything I could/everything I couldn’t stop it from sucking out of me for the next two years.  We opened an art center in Humboldt Park, did more than I could write out, and radiated a special blend of awesomeness that proves art doesn’t have to be snotty and that the ‘hood is spilling over with great kids who flourish as soon as something good comes to the third world side of America.

(America is, in fact, partly a third-world country.  If you haven’t seen it, you’re ignoring it.)

Alas, money.  Health care.  Money in the arts.  Health care in America.  While I doing was a little-trial-by-fire-everything at Co-op Image, I also worked for a while at a baselessly pretentious antique prints gallery, framing art and trying to undo preservation damage faster than they could improperly store things.  I taught as an adjunct at two community colleges.  I did freelance web design, which I never liked, and other freelance art/design-ish things.

So.

I took a one-year contract as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art in New Media at the University of Toledo.  It was a good job.  Toledo…  if you don’t understand the shape Toledo is in, I doubt I can explain it to you.  My wife couldn’t and probably never would have found a job there.

I spent the next summer teaching in a youth summer arts program for the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.  My students made this site for it:  www.yaaw.org.  (The roll-over on my photo was their idea.)

Then, I left Ohio, again.

I taught for one year at Northern Virginia Community College in Woodbridge.  It was in many ways a positive middle ground between the discourse I enjoyed at the university and the focus on serving where it counts that I enjoyed in the non-profits.  The high percentage of students who didn’t want to be there, let alone learn, did wear on me.

Through it all, I’ve worked in construction, retail, galleries, non-profits, and higher ed.  I’ve done art handling, art facilities maintenance, customer service, curatorial work, education, and community building.

I feel lucky to be starting a new job that will utilize all of these experiences.  I hope I’m as good a match for it as I think it is for me.

My life has seen quite a number of obstacles.  Unemployment has been a tougher one, emotionally, than I would have imagined.  My life has also been wonderful and full of good fortune.  I’ve been able to do so many things I wanted to do.  I met my wife on La Playa Barceloneta — how many of you can say that?

It all begs a question though:  What do you do with a blog name like “Teaching Artist” when you don’t teach art anymore.  “Administrating Artist”?  “Arts Administrator: When you say it fast enough…”

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Catharsis

That’s what I want.

Pure, simple — the other side.

I’m just not going to get it.

It was like this when it all started, this not-working thing.  I taught a summer class, 2 days a week for six weeks.  Even when that finished, during the early days of listlessness my summer pay was stretched over the course of the entire academic summer.

Slow and flat.

That’s not what I wanted.  I wanted a climactic, if not cataclysmic, break.  Overworked one day.  Daytime home singing in your underwear the next.

Whatever, I’ve never been an underwear-only guy, not even when I was single.

In the very same way, I had hoped my return to the world of the employed would be grand and triumphant — not so much in the details, but in the style.

I guess that’s for private sector people, or something.  People who get cabinet posts and press conferences.

Today, I signed an acceptance letter for a new job.  A non-academic, non-teaching, very-much-arts job.

It came following an offer that arrived in its first form, twelve days ago.  This for a job I applied to months ago, that I first interviewed for a month and a half ago.   I’ll start on January 12, my birthday.

It’s good.

It’s positive.

It’s not cathartic.

The first time I was in Tokyo, in 1999, I rode a roller coaster that ran alongside a public transit rail line.  While we twisted, turned, dropped, and climbed, we could watch them plod along, flat and even, on their way to work, I guess.

Now I know how they must have felt.

It’s OK.  It is in fact, on my way to work that I needed to be getting.

And that’s that.

Mrs. Meteechart and I are going to Boston for Xmas.  We don’t know anyone there — we’re going because she’s never been and I like the place.  This time of year, it seems, we enjoy most being a family of just two.  It’ll be nice to be somewhere cold.  I still have trouble acknowledging that people refer to December in DC as “winter”.  And, yes, we’re taking the train.

Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen

Not even Jesus.

As by Leadbelly

(Click it, you know you want to)

The thing about working in private sector art galleries, et al., as I’ve done once or twice, is that in them, a person,  perhaps the owner, can just decide whether or not he/she wanted to hire you.  On the other hand, they know that because you are an artist you almost certainly have no other options for work in your field.  You will therefore earn less than you would in a functionally similar position in an industry that does not require your specialized knowledge.

The thing about working in non-profits, like the one I played such a complex and consuming role in establishing a few years ago, is that we could choose to act whenever we thought action was needed.  The downside was that we often delayed paying ourselves so that we could make sure the rent was paid.  That is, that’s when we paid ourselves.

The thing about working in academia is that it will take you months, 6 maybe, to get through a hiring process — if in fact there is no inside candidate, canceled search, etc. — within a generation “tenure-track” will be erased from the dictionary, and logical analysis in said field is often misdirected energy.  On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to be pummeled up out of (rather than down out of) the adjunct gauntlet, you will receive health insurance, retirement benefits, and a reliable pay check.

So then, apparently, the thing about securing a position with a non-academic government funded entity is that things move VERY slowly.  I don’t think that when all things are said and done, this will out-slow academic hiring processes, but waiting from Wednesday to Monday to hear back about a salary counter offer is not a thing that perks up a December weekend.

I do, however, look forward to that rarest combination known as work in the arts having dependable pay checks.  When I line that up with my experience in the non-profit world — more similar to this position than is my experience in academia — I believe the trade off with bureaucracy will be a favorable one.  But.  I mean. Um…  Resolution?

It would enable me to budget, and thus begin to craft my Xmas holiday plans.

Adding to my woes — related via both anxiety and employment — Friday brought an emergency doctor’s office visit for my wife.  Without health insurance, if that’s the end of it, we’re only out $240.  If that is not the end of it, there is this giant, gaping abyss of potential financial destitution just lurking out there at the end of a road paved with phrases like “let’s try this test.”

Hire Who? What, Me?

I am, right now, in the midst of negotiating an offer for real, live, gameful employment.

I am, therefore, unable to focus on anything, at all, and can not write an intelligible post about any other subject, if even this one.

I have known for over a week that THE CALL would be coming, thanks to an attentive and kind person who is aware of the arcane slowness of the hiring process.

I have, therefore, been relatively uninterested in all other things for some time now.

I made a counter offer 24 hours ago.  And, therefore, while I understand that there are forms to be signed in triplicate, each requiring a Reduction in Paperwork Act policy to be printed out  in quadruplicate before I hear a response, the fact of this matter plus the cheapness of the coffee I’m drinking has taken years off my heart’s life expectancy.

In other news, I’m working with transferring  ink jet prints onto traditional gesso panels along with with egg tempera.   Who else combines digital media with 13th century technology?   People who need durable, absorbent grounds, I guess…

Wait, what was I thinking about, again?

Landing a Community College Teaching Job

Philosophy Factory has a great post of advice for those who are seeking a faculty position at a community college.  It is: http://philosophyfacotry.blogspot.com/2008/11/philosophy-jobs-part-two-writing-cover.html

(It’s a follow up to Part 1, which is more of an opinion and overview of CC teaching.)

I wanted to post a link to it because a (relative) fair amount of people surf through here looking for academic job application stuff.  My posts on the subject are mostly relegated to the moaning category − fumes emanating from the horrible stink of what I went through last spring before I decided that the labor relations and the astounding paradoxes lurking within academic hiring practices made academia an industry I was no longer going to sacrifice all other aspects of my life just to stay within.  If you really want to know more about that, go back to January in the archives and read forward.

I do however:

  1. Love community college teaching.
  2. React rather harshly to the snobbery toward community college teaching often espoused among university faculty.  — I’ve been both.  And let me tell you that a whole lot of university students wish their professors valued teaching a little more highly.  You all know what Aristotle said about teaching.
  3. Wish to reiterate that teaching full-time in a community college presents a combination of challenges that many faculty would rather not face.
  4. Want to tell you that I have not had a student in any of the community colleges I’ve taught at that was unlike one or more students I’ve taught in universities, nor vice versa.  However, the percentage of “difficult” students – i.e. those who would rather not be there, who need help becoming psychologically prepared for college (which is altogether different than learning speed or academic preparation) – is often considerably higher than it is in 4-year schools.
  5. That said, there are far less spoiled brats with inflated senses of entitlement in community colleges.  Personally, I’d rather deal with helping late teen/early 20-somethings grow up than try to maintain my patience with the overprivileged set.
  6. In community colleges, I’ve also had a higher percentage of very mature, self motivated students – often older, sometimes going back to school after “screwing up” – who were a joy to teach, than I’ve seen in the big state universities I’ve taught at.
  7. Think that teaching is very emotionally rewarding.  It is so whether you’re a Nobel laureate at an R1 (I imagine) or as an adult literacy volunteer at a community center.  That’s to say that CC teaching is best for those of you who want that emotional reward.
  8. Want to tell you that if unappreciative and unconcerned students drive you over the edge into Rate Your Students territory, you should probably find another profession.
  9. Think you should know that bureaucracy will madden you no matter where you go in higher ed.  Moreover, in all cases, you will be asked to smile through some absolute bullshit at the behest of your institution.
  10. Also want to lay out on the table that when I moved from a 1-year full-time at a big state U to a 1-year full-time at a CC, I got a more than 30% pay raise.

Not Even the Bats Feel Like Staying in This Belfry

Oh wow, unemployment is turning out to be much more difficult than it seems like it should be.

I mean, how many times during the last few years have I wished for more free time?

s’pose that’s why they say to be careful what you wish for… huh?

If it keeps up like this much longer I’m going to have to be institutionalized.  And, that’s fine − as long as they give me something to do while I’m in there.  …maybe something with a salary, a 401(k)…

So, yesterday I stumbled into this on reddit or digg or something (from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/mental_health/article4988978.ece):

Steps to happiness:

Connect
Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support.
Be active
Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness.
Be curious
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you.
Learn
Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence.
Give
Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding.

Oh, geez.  I haven’t done any of those things all week.

Funny enough, each of those things sounds a lot like what one might experience at, say, a job.

Yup, pretty soon even the bats will start complaining about how the landlord let this belfry go downhill.  They’ll move up to a better neighborhood, one with a Starbucks and a Whole Foods…

Oh, Academia, You Won’t Miss Me Either, Will You?

Here is a summary of why I really really hope I can find meaningful livelihood outside of academia, in one event:

(Background: Long-time readers will know that I became unemployed when the college at which I held my most recent 1-year contract decided to eliminate my position altogether.)

The college has been forced to cancel the classes I taught because they could not find any adjuncts to teach them.

Ha.  Take that m**f**cka!

No, really, I don’t feel that strongly…

Ha!

Well,  here’s the thing:  everyone knew it was next to impossible to find people qualified to teach Computer Graphics who will also do so for adjunct pay at that suburban campus – what with the mind-numbing rush hour commute times and all.  I told them so.  My predecessor also told them so.  The dean told me he was told so…  Because, unlike old-school media studio artists (my own background), the people who can teach digital media can find other jobs.  And all jobs pay better than adjunct teaching.  Some even offer health care!

So… so, here’s the other thing:

I was hired at the same time as one other art faculty, to replace two retirements, who comprised an art department of two people.  I, because I studied painting then got into digital media in order to incorporate printmaking with it, can teach all of the art classes offered at that campus.  The other guy can only teach painting/drawing (and the studio foundations that is non media specific).

More so, I have more experience than he does.

More more so, I was hired at a higher academic rank, by standard HR formula, than he was.

So, who got the permanent contract and who got the 1-year?  Who did I just say is unemployed?

I was told, quietly, that the decision was “controversial”, whatever that means.

Now that I’ve said that, however, let me also say that this other art faculty is now a good friend and a very good teacher.  He does deserve a good, permanent faculty job.  And, he is certainly better at teaching drawing than I am.  So, no disparaging here, got it?

But, who is unemployed and what college is left without faculty to teach their classes?

Hmph.

Stupidity #3 about same event:  The college actually did find and offer a position to someone to teach my former classes.  But, HR denied his hiring because his MFA is in video and he doesn’t have “computer” or “design” in enough of his course transcripts.  Sound reasonable?  Not to me.  I taught those classes (and significantly updated them), and I don’t have a single computer-related art course on any of my transcripts at all, grad or undergrad!  The adjunct candidate, on paper, is a more appropriate match, if you understand how videos are made, or if you bother to call someone who does – which this HR apparently didn’t.  And moreover on this facet of dumbness, the course content summaries that define those courses say, “teaches the use of microcomputers to make art work appropriate for a portfolio”.  I.e., “vague to the point of meaningless”.  (And, yes, it does say “microcomputers”.)  I would argue that within a contemporary context, a person could actually teach them as video classes without running afoul of the official document.

So, in what may be stupidity #4, enrollment in the Computer Graphics courses was modest at best when I arrived at the college.  You see, my predecessor, who filled the familiar role of the painter-who-is-really-a-painter who took on digital media in order to help the college transition, taught the exact same thing in Computer Graphics 1 and Computer Graphics 2.  CG1 was collage in Photoshop and CG2 was just do the same thing again but do it better…  That, and it had a 100% technical and maybe 75% conceptual overlap with the digital imaging course offered by the Photo department.   I changed them to Photoshop + Illustrator with new concepts in CG 1, and to animation & interactivity in Flash in CG 2.  The kids loved it.  But, alas, the decision to eliminate my position was made during my first semester, before my efforts could produce any evidence.

What’s so stupid about that, you ask?  Well, everyone involved has acknowledged that the computer-based offerings are the most significant growth area for the art department.  They also most directly target college-wide initiatives.  Every one has said that what they need is a dynamic instructor to build them up and promote them over a long term.  Now, they’re lamenting the difficulty of finding that in a person who is under an adjunct’s constraints (if they find any adjunct at all) and with one full-time art faculty who doesn’t know anything about the digital end of the field.  Well… they already had what they were looking for- they got rid of him without any consideration of what he actually did while he was there!

There are other stupidities corollary to those events; other things to rant about.  But, I’ll spare you.  The real question, you know, is will the next place I work be any better?