Symonds Elementary School's artist-in-residence program brings local artists, musicians, and other creatives into the school to share their skills and perspectives with students. When these residencies are implemented school-wide, we see a wonderful opportunity to weave the school community together in a common focus through shared experiences. Teachers and students can delve deeply into a school-wide theme and focus area. This process has an additional intrinsic potential to offer practical professional development opportunities to every teacher that takes part in the process.
Learning Benefits and Concept
This unique creative process also creates memorable moments in the students' lives, and these memories can be used as places for core content and other important information to "stick to." Through actively engaging educational experiences, educators can deepen that retention by letting students work with the information to create art that has meaning to them. To create such a learning event requires a seed of a concept, gathering a little support, and a sprinkling of courage to develop something new.
The concept could be a school philosophy that your community would like to see visualized, both physically as a work of art and internalized in the school community through the creative process. Maybe it's a curricular focus area that could use a unique approach or even an area that doesn't get covered in as much depth as you'd like, perhaps because you can't quite get to on your own. There's great value in finding a fellow teacher, a specialist, or colleagues willing to develop a small team interested in pursuing a residency concept and willing to join the planning process.
Funding and Administrative Support
Strong support and communication from your school principal is essential in building an art residency program. Start a dialogue to introduce the concept and discuss what options are available. Are there assembly, enrichment, or even building/grounds funds that might be used for an art residency fitting those criteria? Does the district have student enrichment funds available? Some schools may never start this dialogue because they never realize what funding possibilities are out there.
Funding an art residency is probably the biggest hurdle for any art program. Symonds relies equally on three different sources of funding:
- District enrichment funds
- PTA funding
- An art fundraiser program
There are many programs that make fundraising for the arts manageable. I run a rather successful yearly fundraiser through a program called SilverGraphics. This supplements our programs but could also be saved up for a few years to fully fund a program.
Over the last three decades, our principal's vision has lead toward the development of a school-wide enrichment team. Under his guidance, our art, music, PE, and media/library specialists (the "specials" team) have joined together to act as the planning team for enrichment opportunities -- such as our art residencies. We've also developed a working relationship with our PTA, vital advocates for the program who provide monetary support, coordinate volunteer assistance and organizers for extra work sessions, and rally families when needed.
An art residency can be designed to take as little or as long as you want, depending on the project design and outcome. All-school residencies take longer than those with a single grade level. We've found that, in order to reach all students and maintain a level of quality for the learning experience and the work, two full school cycles are a minimum. For our school, that works out to be 12 contact days with the artist and an additional day for a culmination. We often schedule a session where the artist offers a teacher workshop that helps us prepare for some aspect of the education process. These 12 or so days are often scheduled consecutively with the artist, but sometimes we've spread them over a few months so that additional work takes place with the art teacher or in the classrooms without the artist-in-residence.
For Symonds School, we have found that sticking to the existing specials schedule works best within our tight academic schedules. So the artist joins me, the art teacher, for each of the 12 scheduled days. We've also done this within music and PE schedules depending on whether the residency focuses on music or athletic movement. We follow the regular art schedule, unless we need to fill a planning block with an additional class session.
When working with an artist, I try to maintain the existing routines of art class. As we "coteach," the artist leads us through whatever artistic process we embark on. Culminating events often take place during school. We also like to create an after-school/evening event to share with the greater school community.
When a residency reaches completion, we design a culminating event that allows our school community to experience, remember, and celebrate all of our hard work. The entire school population -- families, faculty, school administrators, and our greater school community -- join together to experience this presentation of the final product. This could be an all-school show, a gallery display of student artwork, gathering around a group art installation joined in song, or some other uniquely-designed event.
These events provide opportunities for students to reflect on and talk about what they have learned, the process of creation, and their own personal insights. This community event offers another moment where everything learned and experienced can sink deeper into students' memories and working knowledge. It's also a way for adults to show our children that what they do has value and that we appreciate their efforts.
Bringing in a professional artist to teach his or her creative process provides in-school, hands-on, professional development opportunities offering teachers truly unique educational approaches that they can add to their tool box. This works well when teachers can arrange their schedules to take part in their classes' time with the artist. Sometimes it's helpful to schedule an additional after-school workshop with the artist, just for the teachers to better understand a specific aspect of the process or an additional technique that they could incorporate into their teaching.
Finding an Artist
If you don't already have an artist in mind, finding one can take some searching. Your state arts council (or that of a neighboring state) may have an artist roster website geared to school residencies. Artists on these rosters will have valuable experience working with schools and developing successful residencies, and may be the best choice for a first residency. Local artists and art groups may also be interested or know someone who fits your needs. Your PTA and community members are also a valuable network for tapping into unrealized local connections (although you'll need to work more proactively to ensure the educational qualities of artists that are new to working with schools).
Have you implemented an artist-in-residency program? Please share your experiences.