Today’s post is all about working together to create a lasting educational experience for you and your students.  Finding and collaborating with artists-in-residence’s is an essential part to providing long-term educational value to your students.

And trust me.  I’ve had all types:

There was the guy who used homemade instruments to teach sound.  The “washboard” is hiding behind some shelves in my closet with cobwebs on it.

There was the slam poet who came and worked in our 4th and 5th grade classrooms.  Those poetry books are still checked out frequently in our library.

There was the artist who came to create mosaics.  Our lunchroom sat empty for 2 full weeks whenever she was in there.

There was the acting residency that came to have students write their own plays.  We’re still using those techniques in almost every classroom.

And then, there was the person that pitched herself as an artist-in-residence, but didn’t really know anything about arts integration. Ugh….I shudder at myself every time I think about that one.

Each one of these residences could have been great.  One or two of them actually were.

Why?  What makes those two so special?

Because we did the work up front to create a mutually understood objective, found an artist that matched our needs and worked with them to create an experience from which both we and our students could glean a lot of information.

I can’t stress enough how wonderful an artist-in-residence program can be.  They make the arts come alive and they can connect it to your content in ways you wouldn’t imagine.  But if you aren’t clear in your needs, wants and objectives, all you’ll get is a generic program that was a waste of everyone’s time.

You want a catered affair; not McDonald’s.

Finding the Artists

Some of the trick to this process lies in finding the actual artist to work with.  Try to use your state education and art agency websites for this.  They usually have a working list that is updates at least annually with people that go through a very stringent vetting process.  I like the one we have in Maryland, but I know you can find similar pages in almost every state.

If you strike out there, you can always go to places like Class Acts or Young Audiences.  They work with artists all over the country and can match you with several artists for the type of project that you are looking to achieve.  Again, the artists are vetted and have a track record.  This is crucial.  That example that makes me shudder?  Yeah….that was a recommendation of someone in the community, by someone else in the community and no other vetting had been done.  Stupid, yes.  But I’ll never do it again, that’s for sure!

The nice thing about each of these types of website is that almost all of them have ways to cost-share or to provide grants to help defray the cost of the artist-in-residence.  So give them a try first!

Collaborating

The other big part about an artist-in-residence is in the work you do beforehand.  You need to collaborate and work out the details of what you’re looking for long term from this project.  This shouldn’t be a once-and-you’re-done event.  Those are called assemblies.  This is a commitment to continue this work after the artist is gone.  It is a way for students to truly experience what an artist does, be a part of the craft and make those critical connections that we’re always striving to achieve.  That requires some legwork.  Teachers, administrators, related arts teachers and the artist-in-residence need to sit down together, face to face, and map out what the residency will look like, the objectives that will be met and how it will connect within the content curriculum.

After this, you’ll also need to come together after the residency is finished.  You’ll want to debrief about what the students learned, what assessments can be given to monitor student learning, and provide the artist-in-residence some feedback.  The artist may also have some feedback for the school on how it can also work with the artist in new or different ways.  Remember, these are creative people and may have some ideas that you haven’t thought of.  This is a great time to decide next steps for this particular art form and to engage the artist in ideas for extension and deepening.  This type of collaboration could be invaluable!

Other Considerations

During the collaboration process, you’ll also want to go over scheduling concerns, special needs of the artist and the other small details that go into having a guest stay in your school for a while.  This will be addressed later this week, so stay tuned!  Just be aware that the details are important!

Your thoughts?

Have you had an experience with an artist-in-residence that gave you a lot of food for thought?   Why not share them with us?  The more we know, the better we do!

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