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The Death of A Teaching Industry?

Posted by on in Musings about Art and Life
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I have been thinking about writing this post for a while but I was worried I would sound whiny. However, the questions need to be asked. Please know that I really want to know what you think.

I am a teacher and an artist. I am equal parts teacher and artist. I love both aspects of my career but my teacher keeps feeling like a failure.  I am not whining about a lack of students. I am already moving in new directions because of this sad trend. I do however, want to understand how you think.

Being a teacher in the mixed-media art/craft industry is not a piece of cake. Developing classes, experimenting with materials, writing articles and tutorials is exciting work for me and incredibly time consuming not to mention expensive. I often work for months to research, design and craft what I think is a great class. I unveil the class, put it up at a store or a retreat and while many say...oh that is so cool. Very few students sign up. 

When enough people don't sign up for a class it has to be canceled. The people who did sign up are disappointed but two people can't support the effort of the teacher and a class with only two students lacks the dynamic energy that makes classes so much fun and deepen the learning experience. The store loses out as well. Those of you who have lost all of your local quilt shops or art stores know that lack of class attendance was part of their death knell. 

When classes at retreats are canceled it can really wreak havoc with the event schedule and for students who have made travel arrangements which can't be refunded. A teacher at a retreat also has expenses and if she doesn't have enough students to cover her expenses and provide some income she simply can't travel to teach. At some events in the last year students have waited until the last minute to sign up for workshops and then get upset when they find the workshop was cancelled due to low enrollment. We feel like we can't win. 

We teachers, store owners and event organizers talk about the 'why' all the time: not enough advertising? bad economy? boring classes? too much free stuff on YouTube? Do the classes look too hard? Do the classes look too easy?

The other think we teachers discuss is how do we create an income if students aren't taking classes? Many are looking at leaving the industry. The number of retreat swelled in numbers for a while which hurt attendance but now there are fewer retreats and still fewer students. These retreats can't stay in business if they don't have students. 

What are we doing wrong?

Maybe we aren't doing anything wrong. Maybe you simply don't want classes anymore. Maybe you simply don't make the time for fun anymore? Maybe you are satisfied with what is available for free on-line. Maybe you are bored with me/us?

So, I am asking you.

Why do you take classes?

Why don't you take classes?

Why don't you attend retreats?

Why do you attend retreats?

Do you get enough information on-line? 

Do you prefer on-line classes to real life classes?

Do you think classes are too expensive?



Liz believes that CREATIVITY is the new superpower! She is a mixed media textile artist living in Colorado. Liz is author of First Time Beading on Fabric and she is co-author of 2 books, Fabric Embellishing: The Basics and Beyond and Threads: The Basics and Beyond. Liz loves teaching and sharing the joy of making stuff in her articles, classes and workshops. join the fun in her free on-line book studies in the discussions forum.


  • Liz Kettle
    Liz Kettle Friday, 27 March 2015

    Thanks for your comments Janet! I agree that rather than treasuring what art and making adds to our lives society tends to consider it frivolous. That will swing back around though it will take time.
    My on-line classroom is getting ready to open! We were trying to get it done last year but there is always more back-end tech work then one realizes. :)

  • Liz Kettle
    Liz Kettle Sunday, 01 February 2015

    Deb, your answers are hardly irrelevant! As someone jumping into the retreat business your thoughts are important.
    From all of my reading all of the replies and the many, many facebook posts about the topic, it seems that smaller events will be/are in demand from a desire level. Especially, smaller events where a person can really grow their artistic skills and not just make a project. Hopefully, I can teach for you one day. :-)
    I hope your surgery goes well and you do indeed have a quick recovery! You have work to do in this world.

  • Liz Kettle
    Liz Kettle Sunday, 01 February 2015

    I think teaching in the community college arena would be a great way bring together art and business Lori! Have you heard of AIR?
    I am working with the Colorado Springs team to build connection between business and art. Artists bringing creativity to businesses to improve the bottom line.

  • Lori Wostl
    Lori Wostl Sunday, 01 February 2015

    I will check it out as well as call Front Range here in Westminster.

  • Liz Kettle
    Liz Kettle Sunday, 01 February 2015

    Great thoughts and intriguing ideas Lori! I know some colleges are offering entrepreneur
    degree specialties. Maybe combining that track with art would work?

  • Lori Wostl
    Lori Wostl Sunday, 01 February 2015

    Hmm - I need another project like I need a hole in my head, but this is my life we are talking about here! LOL I guess I will make some inquiries. I think you are in my area - would you teach in that venue?

  • Lori Wostl
    Lori Wostl Sunday, 01 February 2015

    I am AKA as Lori W at Art Camp for Women: Remember Art Camp for Women, Artfest, Journalfest, CREATE? We must make it worth our while to be a contributing factor. I agree with almost everything already said, but I have an idea that needs consideration.
    (I went and answered the Qs so I made sure we are on the same page.

    Just imagine a mixed-media art curriculum where not only was the specific art technique taught, but writing, marketing, blogging etc. were part of an BA in the arts??? Makes me smile to think of it! Why can't these classes be made available in our local Community Colleges?

    This idea that would answer my needs and desires as well as the needs and desires of the teacher - I think.
    1. Steady and count-on-able income for the artist/teacher
    2. Local facility
    3. Subject taught over time so some increment of improvement is available as well as
    4. Intermediate classes
    5. or even Expert classes
    6. A local community/tribe in "my/our/your" art of choice is built
    7. Affordability is maintained.
    8. More visibility and availability makes the audience/buyer pool grow too.

    I know there are reasons that this is not done:
    1. the colleges aren't set up for this yet - although it works for Real Estate
    2. the teacher might have to travel weekly - this could be built into the cost of the class

    I am sure there are other reasons, but I think if there were a demand there would be a way to deal with these reasons.

    Why do you take classes? The other reason I take classes is to learn something and then PRACTICE it over time. Not what happens when we go away to retreats.

    Why don't you take classes?I have come to know myself well enough to know that if the weather is nice - my disposable time will be spent outside. So the online classes I take will be in the cold weather months, Oct - April. Unless on the beach (Artfest) or very convenient - I won't go to a class in times that I could be outside.

    Why don't you attend retreats? When I leave my home to go away to a retreat, even if I drive - I am always looking at $1500 or more. I do not think the classes are overpriced, the opposite in fact. But the ones making the $$$ are the hotels, food vendors etc. I happen to know this REALLY. Also it takes away from my available travel time with my man or family.

    Why do you attend retreats? One of my primary reasons to go to retreats is to be with my tribe. Build my community of artists in my genre. And then I go home having lots of new online friends that I may or may not ever see again.

    Do you get enough information on-line? Often not. Now I know which artists I admire, either from their blogs or their books and will try a class with them. Often a favorite artist with good books and good art doesn't work in an online scenario.

    Do you prefer on-line classes to real life classes? No - not really. I took two live online classes in 2014 and loved both of them even though some of the sessions were basic. You know the old saying - when stuck, review the basics.

    Do you think classes are too expensive? Usually no. but there is one artist who I would love to take a class with who with the added cost of travel and lodging I just cannot justify. So I guess it depends. I do not think 150 dollars for a 6 hour class is more than it is worth.

    Thank you Liz for this open forum to address this question. If you are wondering - I would be happy to participate in getting Colorado to offer such a curriculum as a model for the rest of the country. In fact with the new push for affordable 2 years of advanced education by Obama, now would be a great time to do this.

  • Eileen
    Eileen Thursday, 25 February 2016

    First of all, I appreciate what you offer through youtube and your site.
    As far as your questions are concerned, I feel the cost of travel makes it difficult for some to travel. On another level, I feel the online way of teaching may become more prevalent with our changing times. Hopefully that could also include a teleseminar, so questions that would come up during a retreat, would be able to be address. Live streaming would be great, but that requires particular technology. But maybe teaching centers could offer that with the instructor.
    We are a global village, which is wonderful as we meet, share ideas and can learn from one another. Being generous is what I see as a key ingredient for a happier world. When people come together in whatever way is possible and are willing to share freely and learn from one another, the Universe responds in like in different ways in our lives. Pathways open, that wouldn't normally open if we feel we have to protect ourselves. I've seen this happen over and over in my life as well in the lives of those I work with.
    It is a big time to let go of our fears in our world today, and share the goodness, ideas. In that, inspiration opens. I know when someone shares some idea or insight with me, I feel more inspired, expansive, something lights up and some thing new is birthed.

  • Cathy
    Cathy Saturday, 31 January 2015

    Why do you take classes?
    I take classes partially to learn and practice under guidance, and partially for the social aspect of enjoying the company of people of like mind.

    Why don't you take classes?
    I live in a rural area so taking classes generally involves travel and overnight lodging. Sometimes it conflicts with my schedule and sometimes I can't afford it.

    Why don't you attend retreats?
    I love retreats. The biggest limiter is budget. I have been on one retreat that was a class retreat where I thought some of the classes were worth it and some where not. Some were very simple things that didn't need a class at all. But I enjoyed the retreat overall because of the location and the social aspect.

    Why do you attend retreats?
    Most retreats I've attended have been free-sew retreats. I love the opportunity to sew uninterrupted and to spend time with other quilters.

    Do you get enough information on-line?
    I get a lot online, but it doesn't provide the social interaction I enjoy.

    Do you prefer on-line classes to real life classes?
    I like the visiting too much and I like that real-life makes me do things NOW. I have a tendency to procrastinate on online classes.
    Do you think classes are too expensive?
    No. I haven't seen one yet that I thought was too expensive for what was offered.

  • Marylou Farley
    Marylou Farley Saturday, 31 January 2015

    I have to disagree with Shelly, maybe in LA or NYC classes can be found weekly or monthly but out here in the rest of the USA classes are scarce in any sort of media. I would drive 2-3 hrs each way, with joy for a class or two at the time all the wonderful retreats (art contimuim Artfest etc) I was raising a family and money had other priorities. Now that I Could go to the retreats, Art and Soul is about the only one I'm aware of. but as stated before, that 5000+ expense is real. I could save and justify the class fee but travel and lodging is a killer. I know the teachers travel more closer to home to save expenses as I (the student) want something closer to home to save expenses. I understand why the retreats need solid payments and restistration so far in advance but with todays economy tying up a thousand or more bucks weighs heavy on the mind. now my final problem the last two yrs classes offered are not as varied, and of course the two I want will be on the same day. LOL
    when we do have a class offered over a weekend at a college they are sold out and enjoyable. I do not know if its lack of knowledge at the college or unability of teachers willing to come but have not had anything last 3 semesters

    online courses-too simple, I learn something from each but without the 1 on 1 interaction just not as fun or stimulating.

  • Diane
    Diane Saturday, 31 January 2015

    Why do you take classes?
    I like learning and I like people. In the abstract. In actuality I have limited subjects that fascinate me and I don't like ALL people.

    Why don't you take classes?
    See above. LOL
    Why don't you attend retreats?
    Some are very expensive and others are just hard to get to, travel wise.

    Why do you attend retreats?
    I have attended a local art camp for almost 20 years. It has gotten smaller over the years and we have mostly self directed activities with a few demos of new ideas.
    Do you get enough information on-line?
    Yes, I am enrolled in too many Craftsy classes. :)
    Do you prefer on-line classes to real life classes?
    Yes and no. I like that I can review online and take my time and that I don't have to listen to all the conversations in the room. On the other hand, it is very exciting to see a great teacher responding to a highly motivated group of students.
    Do you think classes are too expensive?
    I think the cost and inconvenence of travel and accommodations are more daunting than the actual class fees. I would really LOVE to take a class outside the US but I keep hesitating. For the same amount of money and time, I can go visit a friend in England and stay in her spare room and we would have an absolutely wonderful time playing around in her studio. So that's my next "class."
    Liz, I hope you find exactly what makes you the happiest - teaching, creating, whatever!
    Looking forward to seeing you again at Quilt Festival in Houston next fall.

  • Patty Cramer
    Patty Cramer Friday, 30 January 2015

    So, I am asking you.

    Why do you take classes? I take classes to learn new techniques, make new friends and get out of the house.

    Why don't you take classes? Sometimes the classes are held when I can't go.

    Why don't you attend retreats? I love retreats, but being retired on a fixed income I can't spend $400 - $500.00. I really have to plan and also find something I really want to do. I find taking classes with a local guild might be more cost effective.

    Why do you attend retreats? To have a much deserved vacation, not have to cook and mingle with friends.

    Do you get enough information on-line?
    I have never done an online class
    Do you prefer on-line classes to real life classes?

    Do you think classes are too expensive? Which classes, online or in stores or at retreates? Guild classes are always affordable in my mind.

  • Ginny Ballou
    Ginny Ballou Friday, 30 January 2015

    I way prefer in person classes. I have cut back on retreats since Teesha Moore no longer does Artfest. I have the resources to attend but there are not a lot of classes I'm interested in taking. Being in my 70's, I think my creative life is winding down thus my interest is waning. Having good friends who are retreat teachers, I understand the time, effort, energy and cost to instructors but I think the Internet has REALLY cut into retreat attendance. Glad you're asking the questions for your own sake and that of others that probably are wondering the very same thing!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Patricia Belyea Friday, 30 January 2015

    I am a teacher who approaches low enrollment differently. I will teach a class with one or two students because I want to teach. Those students are thrilled and we have a wonderful day together. I gain photos of students taking my class which helps promote the class in the future. I'm also loathe to disappoint a student who has bought the supplies, cleared her schedule, told everyone she is taking the class and gotten excited about taking a class with me. This approach has served me well and I have a strong enrollment these days.

  • Liz Kettle
    Liz Kettle Saturday, 31 January 2015

    Patricia, I often do teach two to three students at a time when the classes are local for the very same reason. I hate to disappoint a student! Some classes though just don't support it due to the number of supplies I have to lug around and the importance of interaction among students. My Journal class series is an example of that.

    When teaching at retreats as long as my total class numbers can pay the bills and bring in some income I will teach classes with as few as one. I often end up as a substitute teacher at retreats if the students want the techniques more than a specific teacher. I always feel that if I am going anyway I may as well make the experience as great as possible for all the students I can touch.

    Connecting and inspiring is why we do this don't you think?

  • Maureen
    Maureen Friday, 30 January 2015

    I have taken a lot of classes, most of them have been very good. At this stage of my art life I feel like I should stay in my studio and work on my own style. I have taken both on-line and in person classes, I much prefer in person, interacting with the other students is very helpful. I agree that there are way too many "Shows" etc, it is no longer special to go to a show when they are all basically the same. I always appreciate the work and effort that teachers put into their classes, that said, for this year I am taking a leave of absence from all classes

  • Marilyn Weyman Kegg
    Marilyn Weyman Kegg Friday, 30 January 2015

    I do go to retreats and I do take in person classes. I go to Art Retreat in the Desert and to Art Unraveled. I can't afford to go to more, so I don't. I take in person classes to learn new skill and because I enjoy the teachers, students, and camaraderie in a creative environment. Taking a class helps me get my creative mojo going and I often need that.

    You don't happen to teach at the retreats I go to and I don't go to the one that you seem to teach at most and I'd be happy to tell you privately why not.

    When I choose a class to take, I am looking most of all at what skills will I learn that will help me go in the direction I want. I also consider the teacher and how much I like them and their classes. I won't take classes from teachers who I think are ill-prepared or who don't spend all or most of the time in the classroom actively engaging with the students. I also consider the materials fee and what students must bring with them. I drive to the retreats I go to so I don't have to consider the vagaries of the TSA and whether they are going to confiscate my stuff!

    The only online classes I have taken were on Craftsy, one from a teacher I know well, and one big group class that I never finished because I need deadlines. I've had mixed experiences online. I will probably take more online classes in the future but I definitely prefer live taught classes as we call it in the corporate training industry (my background).

    Classes are expensive, no doubt. I simply cannot afford to waste my workshop money because just the cost of the class isn't the end of the expense. I take mostly jewelry making classes and have paid up to $75 in materials fees in addition to around $150 for the class itself, not including any expenses to get there, staying overnight, eating, etc. For the retreat I attend that is driving distance from my home, I probably spend about $1500 for 5 days of classes. The one I'm going to next week is out of town and that one will cost twice as much without shopping. Expense is definitely a major factor!

    I definitely do not want to take project classes that don't teach me new skills. I do prefer classes that make a project AND teach skills. I'm lucky that I do not HAVE to travel to take classes because a major retreat occurs in my area every year.

  • Liz Kettle
    Liz Kettle Saturday, 31 January 2015

    Hi Marilyn! Thanks for responding. I think the whole travel thing has a bigger effect on retreats than many people consider. Travel isn't fun anymore and when you have to pay for each suitcase it just feels icky. I almost always fly Southwest and have become really good at packing 49.9 lbs! LOL.
    I also think that the lack of deadlines for classes is a double edged sword...some people love not having a due date and others can't get the work done without it. Maybe I need to devise a due date version of my on-line classes that I am working on. :-)

  • Edie
    Edie Friday, 30 January 2015

    Cost is the reason I don't take in person classes but every two-three years. There aren't many held in my area, and my personal economy means that to pay for a class plus travel and food means 2-3 years of saving for a really good class. There aren't any offered in the evenings here locally so a 3-5 day workshop is what I aim for every 2-3 years.

    I do take a lot of online classes, mostly because they are convenient. If I find a teacher whose product, style and production I like, I'll take several of her classes. If I chose one where the production values aren't good, I just won't take any more of that teacher's.

  • Shelly Stokes
    Shelly Stokes Friday, 30 January 2015

    Hey Liz, you are asking some really good questions.

    First, I think that there as so many new shows, retreats, and events out there that the industry is killing itself. Show are not so "special" when there is one every other weekend. With too many choices, a lot of people choose nothing. In the mean time, the teachers (and vendors) get the short end of the stick.

    I do, however, see a bright side to the teaching dilemma.

    I AM a teacher and artist, just like you. I love teaching, but am a terrible road warrior. One of my mentors challenged me to find a way to teach that worked for me, so I turned to online teaching.

    I do not currently have a course on Craftsy, but intend to submit one. It will be an introductory-level course. I see Craftsy as a way to attract lots of new people who have never heard of me or my work with Paintstiks on fabric.

    I am hosting my in-depth courses on my own website and loving it. We (me and my students) all get to work in the comfort of our home. And the long format (6 weeks) of the course allows us to get beyond the baby steps that happen in a 3- or 6-hour class.

    My experience tells me that teaching classes is not dead, but the learning preferences of our students are changing -- and we need to change with them.

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