The Ultimate Artist in Residence Resource

An artist in residence is a practicing artisan who comes into a school for a period of time to work on a specific project or unit. It is a unique collaborative opportunity to bring in hands-on, minds-on learning.

Resource Overview

Teaching artists bring practical knowledge, experience and artistic skills directly into the classroom.  These opportunities can be a wonderful way to jumpstart your arts integration and STEAM efforts, as well as expand what you’re already doing in your curriculum.  This resource explores everything you need to get an artist in residence experience up and running in your school.

Why an Artist in Residence?

The wealth of knowledge and experience that teaching artists bring to the classroom is unparalleled. They excite students about their arts area of expertise and provide a depth of knowledge that is generally inaccessible for general education teachers. Only because they are already stretched to cover a wide breadth of subject areas.

This provides an invaluable experience to students. And although school- or grade-wide assemblies can be engaging, they don’t provide the hands-on support that students receive through a teacher-artist classroom partnership. 

Residencies can also vary widely – some are for a single day and others can last for a week or more. It truly depends on the goal for the residency and the artist that you’re bringing in.

How to Locate and Choose a Teaching Artist

Locating artists whose expertise matches existing curriculum can be a barrier for some teachers when organizing a residency. However, many don’t realize that artist agencies exist!

These agencies work to pair artists with schools and teachers who would benefit from the depth of knowledge and experience that an artist can bring to a professional development session, or classroom. 

Teaching artists who are committed to working with a teacher will often also be amenable to offering professional development sessions for teachers. These sessions are wonderful opportunities for teachers. They gain insight into a specific art form, and bring that art back to their classroom even if they don’t have the opportunity to work with the artist in a workshop. 

Below is a list of some visiting artist agencies across the United States: 

Artist Agencies

Young Audiences For Learning: Claiming to be the nation’s largest arts in education network, Young Audiences serves over 5 million children and youth each year in more than 7,000 schools and community centers across the country through a diverse network of 30 affiliates. Young Audiences works with their artists to ensure classroom preparedness and management (as most artists do not have a teaching background).

Encore Performing Arts Ltd.: This organization operates out of NY but boasts that it has grown into one of the largest performing arts agencies in the Northeast. Workshops and residencies accompany stage performances and teacher study guides are provided for all productions.

Arts Horizons: Established by John Devol, a Broadway musician, this organization claims to reach more than 350,000 students and teachers each year with their artist partnerships based out of NJ.

Alliance of Artist Communities. This organization provides resources for teaching artists looking to connect with schools, training workshops, and a free directory of artists worldwide.

State-Based Teaching Artist Organizations

Association of Florida Teaching Artists

New England Consortium of Artist Educator Professionals

Rhode Island Teaching Artist Center

Seattle Teaching Artist Network

Teaching Artists of New York City

Teaching Artist Support Collaborative of California

United Artists of Utah

If you don’t see your community listed above, your state, county or city websites for the link to your Local and State Arts Councils. Many of these organizations have a list of working teaching artists that have been vetted and have good track records. There are also many more excellent artists-in-residences that are not affiliated with these lists due to the fees the organizations charge the artist. A quick internet search with your area and artist-in-residence will provide options as well.

How to Choose a Teaching Artist

Once you connect with an agency or a local arts council, you may have several teaching artists to choose from. First, be sure to interview from a selection of artists before committing to a residency. This ensures that you’ll find an artist that’ll fit into your classroom and your goals well. These are questions that are important to consider since you’ll be spending money to bring them into your classroom.

Also, be sure to ask about their previous experiences and what training they have had in pedagogy. Some artists may be fantastic at their craft, but don’t come with experience of helping teachers learn how to continue their lessons after they leave. Using a teaching artist is not only meant to be a collaborative process, but a long-term one as well. 

An artist-in-residence requires careful planning and support. Never just bring in an artist and then let them “do their thing” while you sit in the back and catch up on work. Check in frequently, get their feedback and make them feel like a part of the school team for the duration that they are with you.

Planning a Teaching Artist’s Visit

But before the teaching artist comes to visit, you’ll 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, 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 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!

Putting the Schedule Together

When it comes to putting together a schedule for the visit and all the different lessons they’ll teach, there’s a few different factors you’ll have to consider: 

The Artist’s Schedule

The artist may have special scheduling needs you haven’t thought of. They may need time to set up or tear down for their project. They may want to meet with teachers before the lesson to find out prior knowledge or to show them some different techniques.

They’ll also need times for breaks to use the bathroom, eat lunch and to recharge occasionally throughout the day.

The School Schedule

Know your school schedule inside and out. Know when the kids go to lunch, recess and are in specials. If you are doing a residency with poetry, know when the language arts blocks are for each grade level.

If the residency is happening in the related arts classroom, find out when the teachers from that grade can come in and watch/work with the artist. You want to make sure that the residency is valuable to everyone and not just being used as another planning block.

The Money Schedule

Finally, be aware of when forms are due and get them in ahead of schedule. Most residencies require a deposit, forms to the various agencies or artist for contracts, and an evaluation form.

If you are using grant funds at all, these need to be a top priority. The artist gets paid and you receive your reimbursement only if these forms are filled out. So keep them on the calendar and make sure you carve out some time to complete them.

Sample Schedule for a 2-Day Teaching Artist Residency

Once the administrative side of the residency is in place, use this sample residency schedule for a world music artist in an elementary school:

Monday: 

  • Artist works with 3rd, 4th, 1st grades and kindergarten for an hour each during their specials times.
  • Classroom teachers come and observe the lessons and note how the artist teaches both classroom and music objectives at the same time.
  • In addition, the artist works with an individual 2nd grade class on a “mini-lesson” focusing on using a stick game from New Zealand.

Tuesday: 

  • The artist works with our remaining grades (5th and 2nd) during their specials times for an hour.
  • Then, he prepares and presents an assembly at the end of the day that includes each grade and showcases the 2-3 songs they learned from regions all over the world.
  • The whole school meets in the gym and sits on the perimeter of the room.
  • Then, as the artist highlights each region of the world, he calls grades into the center of the room to share the songs, dances and games they learned in their sessions from the past two days.

Funding Visiting Artists

Money designated for visiting artists often has to be set aside an entire academic year in advance. And sometimes, even paid in two or three payments over a period of time!

Maintaining organized finances is important but it’s also important to work closely with the individual in charge of your school budget. This is usually your AI Specialist, department chair, or an administrative assistant. All of that is especially true when utilizing grants.

Be sure to take into consideration that scheduling artists well in advance is a must. Sometimes as much as a year if they are being compensated through grant funding. This sounds much more complicated than it really is. It simply involves knowing what artist you would like to have visit your classroom and when, writing a grant request, and then moving forward with planning the residency.

Artist agencies are there to serve you, the teacher, so be sure to specify what exactly you are looking for in your residency. Make the needs of your classroom clear. If you are struggling with the grant writing process, here is an article about finding and obtaining funding to help support Arts Integrated learning in your classroom.

Many times, you can get matching funds from local arts councils and state and business-funded grants. You can also often save if you host the teaching artist for a combined set of grade levels or programs that they offer. Be up front with your budget and ask if those kinds of options exist.

A Quick Guide for Utilizing Teaching Artists

    • Find funding. This can be through your school, school district, or through writing a grant. Do this part over the summer.
    • Find an artist. This happens in tandem with funding since to secure the funding you need to describe the experience the artist will provide. 
    • Start a File of Local Teaching Artists: During your research for local artists, you will inevitably find contacts for more artists than you need. Save them! That way if something falls through you have a backup. Plus it gives you a place to start searching the following year.
    • Set a Format for the Experience. Come up with a schedule format that works for you, and duplicate it each year. This routine helps teachers as they are planning, but it also makes it easier when you’re communicating with the artists. It makes it easier for your sanity, too, because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!
    • Equitably Feature All Art Forms. If this becomes a yearly event, rotate through the arts. This ensures students to have well-rounded experiences in art, music, dance, and drama.
    • Communicate with Building Staff: Become close friends with your building staff, especially administrative assistants, custodians, and specialists. In order to have a successful experience, it takes a lot of communication to make sure you have permission to use certain spaces in the building. It is also important that you communicate scheduling to everyone involved. This will create a positive experience for everyone.
    • Create a Teacher Resource: Enhance the experience by providing resources for teachers that are related to the art form being taught. Teachers are always strapped for planning time and instructional time. This can be a great way to introduce the idea of arts integration, and you can share the difference between arts integration and arts enhancement. Provide a variety of arts integration and enhancement levels of activities and lessons so that all teachers, regardless of their comfort level with the arts, can find something to use. Meet with the artist ahead of time to talk and ask questions to help find curriculum connections for your school. Collaborate with the artist on ideas you have for a theme, focus, or project that connects with your school and/or curriculum.
    • Advocate for your Experience: Share, share, share everything as much as you can, and publicly thank your funding source as many times as you can. The more you can share the benefits of your experience, the more likely you are to secure support and funding again.

In Practice: A Breakdance Teaching Artist Experience

Let’s take a look at a real-world example of what this looks like in schools. Educator Dyan Branstetter shares her experience with inviting a breakdancing teaching artist to work with her students.

Dyan’s K-4 Title 1 elementary school hosted the teaching artists Hip Hop Fundamentals, based in Philadelphia, PA. Hip Hop Fundamentals’ mission is to educate, engage, and empower. They kicked off a weeklong residency program with an assembly focused on breakdancing, youth empowerment, diversity, creativity, and working together, embodied by Hip Hop’s four principles: Peace, Love, Unity, and Having Fun.

The students’ engagement at the introductory assembly was through the roof! Watching the artists spin, flip and dance was electric. And they were able to control the excitement of the crowd effortlessly to share new knowledge as they danced through a timeline of hip hop. Students couldn’t wait to try the dance moves themselves. Each class worked on choreography with the artists and performed for each other at an all-school culminating assembly at the end of the week.

A number of years ago, artists-in-residence were funded by the district when the music and art classes were cut in half. Now that music and arts classes have been restored, the funding for the artist in residence was cut. 

While not ideal, it is only a minor bump, because instead of simply finding and organizing the residency, Dyan also needs to write a grant and have it approved in order to fund the artist visit. As such, they’ve had successful teaching artist experiences for the past six years. 

Dyan’s principal has been supportive of her bringing these artists to their school. Each time, she proposed a grant with a strong rationale and purpose so that it would be hard to argue the benefits for our students. If you have a solid idea based on research and follow through with the work in an organized way, administrators are totally on board.

Matching Teaching Artists with Your Students

Knowing the population you serve is important. Dyan knew she wanted to get some hip hop artists into her school. Her district has a diverse population, yet their staff is not. Past teaching artists brought some cultural diversity through art. But similar to her staff, all of the artists were Caucasians teaching fine arts. Dyan wanted to find some artists that could reflect their student population as well as bring a high level of artistry and professionalism. Hip Hop Fundamentals fit this description perfectly.

Incredible teaching artists are tricky to find, because some people are incredible artists, but their strengths do not align with teaching. Jeff Mather, a teaching artist in Georgia, wisely said, “Just because an artist does beautiful work does not mean that they are adept at sharing their art form with diverse groups. Then again, you could get lucky and find an artist who seems to have some innate ability doing this. But even artists who work with art centers or museums may not have the skill set or wherewithal to succeed in a school setting.”

Each year, Dyan begins her search for perfect-fit teaching artists, and in doing so, adds more to her personal directory of connections. Even if someone doesn’t work out this year, she adds them to her list for the future so she has lots of people to contact in the following years. 

What helps tremendously are organizations who have a bank of teaching artists, such as Young Audiences: Arts For Learning. Working with Young Audiences of New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, Dyan was able to feel confident that the artists would bring a high-quality experience to her school. And did they ever.

One Person Can Make A Difference

This community partnership was a long time in the making. Dyan’s not an administrator, and she doesn’t have the power to choose school programming or change curriculum. However, she strongly believes in arts education and arts integration. So she does everything she can do to bring more of the arts to her students.

Measuring Success

It is a lot of behind the scenes work! You’ve got to secure the grant. Communicate and schedule with the artists. Don’t forget mapping out the scheduling logistics of the experience for students. However, it is completely worth it when the student’s reactions are so positive. In a survey sent to teachers after the teaching artist experience, 100% responded that their students enjoyed the experience. Dyan’s school was able to spark something inside of a number of their at-risk students as well… Some of whom drastically outperformed students who were frequently recognized for academic success.

All students left their session with the teaching artists feeling strong and confident. The message from the artists was that it doesn’t matter if you mess up, just keep going! They pointed out perseverance, focus, and self-control in the rigorous choreography, which transferred so naturally back to a classroom setting. One of Dyan’s favorite measures of success? A sign-up sheet that was started by one of her learning support students in the two minutes they had between the session and lunch.

Obviously, there were many benefits of this hip hop experience for the students. But there were benefits for the teachers as well! 

Good teaching artists are like a little hands-on PD for educators. Teachers have the opportunity to pick up arts integration techniques for their classroom… all while observing and assisting during their class’s session with the artists! 

One way Dyan helps facilitate this is by pulling together an experience-specific resource guide to share with teachers during the artist’s week. Why? To help spark lesson ideas and connections! Here is a sample of our Hip Hop Resource Guide geared towards K-4 teachers:

DOWNLOAD THIS PDF

Teaching artists bring practical knowledge, experience and artistic skills directly into the classroom. These opportunities can be wonderful ways to jumpstart your arts integration and STEAM efforts, as well as expand what you’re already doing in your curriculum. We call that a win-win!

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