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Teachers sometimes think about what other jobs they could have outside the classroom, and those thoughts are coming even more often these days. But what does it look like when an art teacher becomes an entrepreneur? In today’s episode, Candido welcomes on Shana Circe to talk about her journey from the world of education to becoming a teaching artist and everything that has been involved in the adventure. Full episode transcript below.
Candido: I’m not sure if it’s a result of the pandemic and people taking time to reflect on their lives or perhaps some teachers at odds with their respective institutions, but I have friends that are looking to leave their current positions. However, they want to continue to educate others. To me, that process seems a bit scary and risky, but what if there’s real value to leaving the four walls or the red tape of your institution and finding alternative classrooms where we can teach and help out little artists experience visual arts with less limitations, or what if our fellow teaching artists are looking to legitimize themselves with their own businesses? I’ve been thinking about this a lot, so I reached out to a friend, Shana Circe, who recently started her own art education venture in hopes that she couldn’t enlighten us a bit. This is Everyday Art Room, and I’m your host Candido Crespo.
All right Shana, thank you so much for joining us.
Shana: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Candido: All right. I’m very intrigued by your journey into becoming a teaching artist. Can you share your origin story with us?
Shana: Sure. It’s a long and winding road for sure. I went through the traditional path of going to school, going to get my four year degree in art education. I went to SUNY Nul Paltz, a place we both know.
Shana: I also continued on there for my master’s degree in art education. I concentrated in photography as well as ceramics. Then I took a very short stint into, I was very fortunate in that in my student teaching placement, my teacher went on maternity leave and I kind of slid right into the classroom experience. That was really exciting in the beginning. I found my way into art classroom teaching a higher level photography course, the dream for any art teacher in a high school.
Shana: That placement ended eventually. Then I had to go the subbing route. I did that for a while, while trying to make ends meet. I did some work in high ed. It was at a time when art jobs were being kind of cut left and right.
Shana: There was a lot of art on the cart. I know that still exists today. Yeah. Resources weren’t plentiful when I was looking for a job and I wasn’t willing to move out of New York at that time.
Shana: I had an opportunity to go into higher ed and I took that opportunity to go work at New Paltz and then spend 18 years there.
Shana: Yeah. I kind of took a non-traditional path and spent 18 years working for the college in administration, in admissions, in alumni relations, but I always use my skillset of teaching, maybe not art teaching, but I was a supervisor to a lot of young college students. I trained them in a lot of different ways to do various jobs on the campus. That part I really loved and enjoyed, was the education piece, just in a different facet-
Shana: … a different way. Then I was very fortunate during that 18 years, that I had the opportunity to continue to employ my art skills. I got brought into communications meetings and design meetings. I got brought onto marketing tasks force, task forces, and things like that. I always had an opportunity to be involved in the visual aspects of a lot of what we were doing. I felt very satisfied for a really long time. I was kind of fulfilling these needs of education piece, working with student, and also the art piece. Then the pandemic hit.
Candido: Right. Right.
Shana: I was really happy at New Paltz for a really long time. I won’t say that I wasn’t happy when I decided to kind of transition, but there was a lot going on at the time in terms of the pandemic. A lot of people had a moment to kind of just breathe from the everyday kind of hamster wheel of life, like get up, get everybody out the door, get to work, get to all your meetings, complete all your tasks. During that breaking period, I had that moment to breathe and really think and really think about what I wanted the next 20 years of my life to look like.
Shana: I had a really successful 18 years and it’s like, “Well, do I want to do this for another 18 years? Or, do I want to really reevaluate?” Big part of that was my youngest son, Simon, had really pulled me back into the everyday art making because he was home, I was home, my other son was home. We needed to entertain ourselves in a lot of ways. We had always made art together, but this now became a regular occurrence. We were sitting down at the table and painting every day together and it was driven by him.
Shana: I found myself kind of reinvigorated into, “Oh my gosh, this is something I’ve always loved, but I just haven’t had time to concentrate on for a long time. Now, I really want to spend the rest of my working life, doing this.”
Shana: Working with people in the arts world and creating my own art and craft. I give him a lot of credit and also I’m a podcast junkie and audio book junkie. A lot of the things I was listening to at the time, were really supportive of this idea of living your life to the fullest.
Shana: You only get one of them, do all the things you want to do. You don’t have to do the same thing forever.
Candido: Right. All right. This is a great transitioning point. Couple things. First, anybody who went to New Paltz that’s listening to this conversation, we love you.
Shana: Yes. We love you New Paltz. I still love New Paltz.
Candido: Those videos of you and your son making art, they were just perfect. I mean whoever’s listening to this, if you ever go back and you see those videos, they’re fulfilling. I get to do the same. I’m fortunate that I get to do the same thing daily as well. I get to paint and draw with my son and it’s something that he loves and we build and we connect and it’s well, it’s just fun like you said. It brings you joy. Then the other thing is, you already mentioned it, but I’m going to go back because specifically on your website there’s a line that I’m so intrigued by, you wrote, “I’m an artist who has finally made art a priority.” I was wondering if you can maybe expand on that.
Shana: Sure. When I was kind of writing that bio, this whole process, it was a process. I didn’t just wake up one day. I had that aha moment where I was like, “This is what I want to do,” but I had no idea how to do it. Honestly, I don’t know if other art teachers feel like this out there or other artists feel like this, I’m sure you do, we’re all human. A lot of us probably have converging emotions. I didn’t feel like I had earned the right yet to call myself an artist. I had taken a departure from it. It was an at home thing that I explored on my own. It had been 18 years since I was kind of priming and prepping myself from that schooling experience to putting myself out there. When I was writing that, I almost felt like I had to explain myself like, “Where the heck have you been for 18 years?”
Candido: Yeah. Right.
Shana: You know?
Shana: “Why are you important now at this stage of your life,” granted anybody coming across that would not know my backstory, would just assume I’m an artist. But for me internally, I was like, “All right, I’m an artist.” It took me a long time to say that out loud. Now art is my priority. I’m not focusing my energy on other things.
Candido: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shana: That was actually hard. I look at that line and it’s like, I have to remind myself I am an artist and art is my priority.
Shana: I almost have to give myself permission to be that person.
Candido: Yeah. Yeah. Immediately I’m thinking like, “Oh, is it for those of us who are battling maybe imposter syndrome as an art teacher and,” and there’s that disconnect between being an artist as well. That’s something that I constantly push. That’s something I’ve been talking about on this podcast. It’s something that for as long as I’ve been interviewed, it’s something that I’m pretty passionate about, is reminding art teachers like, “Hey, you’re one of the few educating, or I guess educators, who can claim to be professionals in the subject area that you teach.” When I read that, I was moved by it and I felt like it was something important to bring up. It also plays a role in the next question I have and that’s, what did you have to do to be considered then a teaching artists?
Shana: I’m looking at my notes here.
Shana: I had to decide kind of like my last statement. I had to decide I was going to be a teaching artist. I just had to say, “I’m an artist, I have skills, and I’m also an educator. It’s something I’m passionate about.” I think being an artist and being an educator are two very different skill sets. For those who are blessed enough out there to have both of those skill sets or at least be motivated enough to learn both of those skill sets, sometimes one comes more naturally to people and the other, but you have to have both to be a teaching artist.
Candido: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shana: I had to decide that I was going to do it. I had to have that gumption and claim my space.
Shana: Which everyone out there, you should do it. I don’t know if it was turning 40 or whatever it was, but it’s like, “Nope, I’m claiming my space and that’s what I’m going to do.” Then I had to start putting myself out there. I had to find organizations or an organization that would kind of legitimize that in a way. I was very fortunate. I live in a robust community where there are a lot of art opportunities outside of the public school-
Shana: … setting, which I know does not exist for everyone. I’m very privileged in that way. I found Cornell Creative Arts Center, who is just a wonderful organization. It really jives not only with my wanting to be an art educator and to teach, but also they’re a very inclusive organization and they have a very inclusive philosophy about art for all. They’re a wonderful organization and they gave me a chance. Then I had to put myself out there online. I have a big online education and presence and do that without apology, and just claim that space there and say, “I have things that I know and want to share with others, and I’m really passionate about that. Here they are. Let me put them out there for you.”
Shana: Especially in the online space. There’s only almost 8 billion people on this planet. I only need like a thousand of them-
Shana: … to be interested in what I’m doing and that will be supremely gratifying to me-
Shana: … to be able to share that with them.
Candido: I already knew you before you jumped into this journey. Our paths have crossed. We have mutual, overlapping circles of friends. I saw while you were transitioning into your current position, but I still see on social media, some of your posts that you’re sharing materials, you’re sharing quick tutorials, even some lesson plans. I took one of your posts and shared it on my teacher account so that some other teachers can see or get an idea of what you were doing. I don’t know how you find or how you’re able to balance the two, of giving free tutorials online and maintaining your online classes.
Shana: It’s hard. I definitely have not found that magic formula yet. Some days it feels really off balanced, I feel like I’m really behind on one side versus the other. Right now, I have free online tutorials, the day to day grind of Instagram and reels and all of this, which is fun and it’s quirky and fun, but then I also have in-person classes at the center that I’m teaching, that I have to create lessons and lesson plans and materials and samples and all of that for. I got a lot of other things going on too. I also have a photography business and that really-
Shana: … really pays the bills. That’s a whole other skillset we can talk about.
Shana: Maybe another question or another day. Finding the balance is tough, but just like in a classroom when you’re planning your day, you could be a teacher, an elementary school teacher that has first graders, second graders, third graders, fourth graders, fifth graders rotating throughout the day, God forbid in the pandemic, where everybody’s on a different schedule and you have to balance all of that out, and you’re managing material reals and you’re sharing classrooms and all of that. I’m the only one I have to worry about generally.
Shana: I have anywhere from, in person students, maybe like 30 to 40 in person students, I’m juggling at a time. It’s the same thing. I sit down and I make lists and I prioritize plans and it’s like, “What’s in person? What do I have to make samples of? What has to be prerecorded? What has to be in what format,” because that drives me crazy. Everything’s in a different format-
Shana: … online. It’s a balancing act for sure. I know that that’s going to continue to change. As I grow and decide what I really like to do and what’s worth my time, I’ll figure out where I spend more of my time.
Candido: Okay. I didn’t even know you were doing in person teaching by the way.
Candido: Yeah, I didn’t even know that.
Shana: Right now, Mondays and Wednesdays.
Candido: Okay. All right. Yeah. That’s quite the caseload for you. We haven’t even mentioned yet, but you have a specialty that you’re teaching. What medium are you focusing on for your classes?
Shana: Yeah. Right now I am focused and very passionate about watercolor painting specifically, and some mixed media. I do introduce other mediums and line and wash and things like that, but I really love watercolor. I just learned watercolor.
Candido: Did you?
Shana: I went to school. I never had a watercolor class at New Paltz.
Shana: They don’t teach watercolor in fine-
Shana: … arts courses generally.
Shana: You learn acrylic, you learn oils, all kinds of other mixed medium and drawing classes. You might use watercolor, but it was never a medium that was introduced to me. I would’ve considered myself a very weak painter-
Shana: … all through college. That was not my medium.
Shana: Painting was, it scared me? Then I discovered watercolor because my son got a watercolor kit and we started messing around with watercolor. I had the really fun opportunity to teach myself, a lot of the same principles apply of course in all mediums, but teaching myself was like being in college again, but there’s no curriculum and no grades. It was super exciting.
Candido: Well, you could have fooled me because I did not think that that was the case. When people go to check out your work and they connect with you, I guess they’re going to feel the same way that I did, except now they’ll know because you’ve pulled the veil. You revealed the truth.
Shana: Yeah. I encourage anyone who has ever been curious about a medium or has never tried a new medium, just do it. You might fall in love.
Candido: All right. This next question is kind of a cluster of questions, but we’ll break it down a little bit. What’s marketing been like? There’s probably overlap there between finding the balance between the online tutorials and classes. But yeah, what’s marketing been like for you? Has being part of different organizations assisted in that process?
Shana: Yes and no. Marketing in general is always kind of the, what is it, the 800 pound gorilla in the room? It’s just like, you have to do it, it’s there. Everything you do on a daily basis, no one will know about it if you don’t tell them about it. That’s what marketing is. I joined a couple of local arts societies in my area. Like I said, I have a really robust art community in the city I live in. I’m in Kingston, New York, upstate New York. I started researching arts organizations and just kind of reaching out to people, that has helped a little bit. I think my experience with the college and having the opportunity to work with a large marketing team on marketing a college, I know they’re very different things, but the same principles apply-
Shana: … in terms of how to communicate with an audience. I brought a lot of that with me and a lot of it’s online. It’s, YouTube and Instagram and Facebook. They kind of have different audiences. I tried, but I’m not on the TikTok bandwagon. Sorry, I can’t add another one. That’s okay. That was a choice.
Candido: That’s okay.
Shana: I do reels. If you want to see me look like an idiot, feel free to see my reels on Instagram, mostly about coffee. I have a lot more to do in this area to keep building. Building an audience and a brand takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight. I’m totally fine with that because I know the arc of marketing, building a brand. It doesn’t scare me that it’s little still and it will continue to grow. I can see the growth happening every day. Huge for me, and I think anybody making a switch, was my pre-established network has been instrumental. Not in the ways I would’ve expected. It’s not just my friends taking my art classes or buying my artwork, but they are reaching out to me for things related in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, whether it’s commissioning pieces from me or working with me on a collaboration, bringing me in to do programming, or just lots of opportunities have come up, but it’s all from my pre-established network that had nothing to do with the art world.
Shana: Really, networking is important.
Candido: Who’s your target audience? I’ve seen a little bit of everything from you.
Shana: Yeah. I would say my primary target audience would be just anyone who wants to bring art into their life-
Shana: … on an everyday basis. I work with children. I work with adults who consider themselves non artists, but are really stressed out and don’t know what else to do, to artists who, I’m working one on one with an acrylic painter, but they want to learn watercolor.
Shana: He wants to introduce this other medium to his work, but he is well established. I don’t have to teach him about color theory. I don’t have to teach them about-
Shana: … basic brush information, but there’s a lot more we can do. I’m a little all over the place.
Shana: I won’t lie.
Candido: No, that’s fine. I just wasn’t sure.
Shana: Where should I be? Maybe your audience can tell me where I should be and who I should be concentrating.
Candido: I’m sure that the listeners will tell you that there’s nothing quite like being around or surrounded by children as we all experiment and explore together, and all that curiosity brings.
Candido: But then again, maybe some of us have experienced what it’s like to teach adults and watch how they experience a moment of freedom and an exploration in their own right. I don’t think there’s a right target audience, but you’ll probably find it as you continue. You’re probably going to see-
Candido: … which is the one that you gravitate towards most or which gravitate towards you. I have some colleagues that are in a little bit of a bind, they love teaching, but are probably experiencing less than supportive environments and are considering leaving their current placement. What would you advise those teachers to do?
Shana: Don’t quit tomorrow. Yeah, this is a big question and one that I wrestled with for a long time, maybe for different reasons. I think first and foremost, and I had said earlier when we were chatting, my husband is an elementary school teacher. He’s been in the elementary schools, especially throughout this pandemic. I’m sure some people are having the particular thoughts or feelings because the world is a very different place today than it was maybe five years ago or 10 years ago. I would say first, have a heart to heart with yourself and your partner, if applicable. For me, that was a big part of it. I was making a big change that would affect a lot of things, including income, benefits, health insurance. I’m in a very privileged place where I have a partner who has health insurance.
Shana: Those things, they have to be taken into consideration. Really looking at your priorities and your goals, as well as what an acceptable life would look like if you left your position. You’re going to have to sacrifice some things, but you will gain a lot of other things. Please make a plan. I don’t advise leaving on a whim. For me, and I can only speak from my experience, maybe it would work out for you, but for me, I made a decision and I had to write this down because these last two years, of course, just all melt together.
Shana: March 2019 is when the pandemic hit. In June, I had a conversation with my husband where he was a huge supporter of this and really convinced me this was the right path. In June, I told my boss of 2019, but I didn’t leave my for almost a year after that.
Shana: I went to her with a plan, and I know not everybody has this opportunity.
Shana: I said, “My goal for myself as I develop as a person, is to not be in this role, but to be in this role a year from now.” I wanted to give them the space to do what they had to do to be prepare for that-
Shana: … in my previous position. Maybe you don’t have a year, or maybe you have a personal year where you say, “I’m going to start today working towards X,” or maybe you have three months or six months. I did a lot of work in that time to really prepare for what life would be like. I would say, you have to know your limitations and what the acceptable trade offs are. That’s really important. Life will look different when you leave that classroom.
Candido: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Shana: Not that it will be better or worse, those are subjective, but it will be different. Figuring out what’s acceptable for you. Then a big thing that my husband and I really talked about a lot was, you get to choose your hard. Obviously the world is really hard. Your day to day is hard right now. That’s why maybe you’re thinking about making this change. Well, the other side is going to be hard too.
Shana: They’re both going to be hard, but in different ways. You have that choice, if you’re fortunate enough to have that choice, and just remembering that not everybody’s as privileged to be able to walk out of their job.
Shana: If you have that opportunity, you get to choose your hard. My job is hard every day, but I wake up and no alarm needs to be set. I jump out of that bed and I’m like, “What do I get to work on now?” I’m so excited. At the end of the day, it’s like, you need to walk away because sleep is required. Go to bed. All throughout the day it’s difficult and there are a lot of challenging things, but there are things that the challenging things really excite me and invigorate me. I think finding that balance and finding what hard you want to work on.
Candido: Hmm. I want other art educators to connect with you.
Shana: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Candido: You’re definitely one of us. How do people find you?
Shana: Well, the quickest way, I guess, is social media. I’m on Instagram, Shana Circe, as well as Umbrella Arts Academy. I created this other brand called Umbrella Arts Academy with Shana Circe, to kind of separate my work as an artist and then my work as an educator and the lessons that I’m teaching.
Shana: I’m still in the process of kind of separating those accounts, just because I built such a big audience under my name first. Instagram and then Facebook, you can find Umbrella Arts Academy, also on YouTube. I do a lot of tutorials on YouTube. There’s like 70 up there right now. You can go there and it’s just Shana Circe, you’ll find me. My website, shanacirce.com, which links all of these things together, plus work I’m selling and my paid classroom experiences so people can purchase. Basically they can join my studio crew.
Shana: They get to come hang out with me twice a month. I do live sessions, as well as longer, very lengthy prerecorded sessions, with downloadable materials and things like that.
Candido: Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Shana. We really appreciate it.
Shana: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed our chat here and hopefully there is some food for thought for your audience in there somewhere.
Candido: Wow. That was incredibly inspiring. Before I even continue, I just want to give a quick shout out to all of our supportive partners. A lot of what we do, can’t be done without them. Yeah, shout out. I’m still not ready to make the jump, but hopefully some of our listeners feel a little more confident, maybe motivated, and can now begin to develop a plan. Not all of us are suited to be in a traditional classroom. I love what I do, but when I host daddy and me creativity workshops, there’s a different experience, a different level of fulfillment. If you’ve ever hosted a paint night, then you know.
If you have no intention of leaving your position, maybe this conversation could spark ideas of how you can expand your offering of education. Maybe you want to explore both worlds. If you’re looking for additional resources, check out, Five Alternative Career Options for K-12 Art Teachers by Ray Yang, and, Three Big Considerations for Taking on a New Job or Position by Andrea Wlodarczyk. Thanks for listening to Everyday Art Room. I hope you’ve learned enough to want to know more. Catch you next week.
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.