Reflections From A TN Teaching Artist

By Elizabeth Davidson, TN Teaching Artist –

Elizabeth Davidson as Harriet Beecher Stowe
Elizabeth Davidson as Harriet Beecher Stowe

On the occasion of their 50th anniversary, I was asked if I might write something about my experience with the Tennessee Arts Commission as one of their teaching artists. It is with great pleasure that I do.

In 2006 I had finally finished writing the last draft of a one-woman play based on the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe and the writing of her most famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Commission was going to sponsor a presenter’s conference in Dickson at the new Renaissance Center. At that time, Jay Noble, who was the director of Performing Arts, sent an invitation to artists to participate in a presenter’s conference and showcase. The charge was $30. In other states and areas of the country, the charge can be from $600 to over $1,000 depending on whether or not you perform in a showcase. We were allowed to do 15 minutes of our piece.

At that showcase, a lovely woman, Laundrea Lewis, was in the audience. She was and still is working with the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. At that time it was a designated agency with the Commission. After it was over she approached me and asked if I would like to have my play be a part of the Student Ticket Subsidy grant program. For those of you who are not familiar with the program, it is a grants program that schools can apply for money to either take students on a field trip to experience arts programs or bring artists into the school to perform and work with students there. I was thrilled, flattered and said yes.

That was in the summer of 2006. I have been an artist with that program since and have had the good fortune to predominantly make my living as an artist because of it. It has been rewarding for me as a person as well as a performer because I have been able to use my art to teach students about important subjects, both academic and social.

The Commission has helped me and other teaching artists by providing us with individual guidance and participating in their arts education conferences. We have learned marketing, communicating with teachers, creating an attractive artist profile and many other important skills. It has provided us the opportunity to meet with teachers from all over the state and share our projects with them.

I would like to especially thank certain people who have been of invaluable help to me over the years. Many have moved on and are no longer with the Commission. Every time that happened I thought there would never be anyone else who could help me the way they did. Every time that person was replaced by another amazing individual. Others have been there for all these years. I would like to thank Jay Noble and Laundrea Lewis for getting me started; to Ann Brown, Hal Partlow, James Wells and Danielle Brown for their overwhelming patience and guidance; and to Suzanne Lynch, Lee Baird and Mike Chambers who have also been amazingly patient with me in my quest to understand technology so I could create my profile listing which is outstanding.

In closing, I would like to thank all the teachers that I have worked with over the years. They have had the courage to think outside the box in educating their students and reaching out to the Commission to bring me to their schools. It is impossible for me to calculate the return on that initial investment of $30. More importantly, the Commission has enabled me to make a difference on so many young minds with my art and for that, I am truly thankful.