It was terrific seeing so many familiar faces at the Teacher’s Convention on Thursday and Friday. The organization I was assisting with, Learning Through the Arts, had great response although it is virtually unknown in Northern Alberta. I think over the next five years that will change as schools experience the value in integrating artists within the core curriculum.
I also met a number of artists working with other programs, (primarily theatre groups), who are part of the Artists in Education roster compiled by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.
In talking with teachers one theme seemed consistent, sometimes an artist in residence is a good investment, sometimes it doesn’t work out so well.
It seems these are your options as a school booking an artist in residence:
1. A performing group: It may be less risky to bring in a group of performers than to have an individual artist work in classrooms, because a well-formed system is in place. Your students, then, work within the system. Very little one-on-one instruction happens, but the group dynamic is explored.
2. An individual artist in residence. This, to me, can be a great option for instruction of a particular art form. If the artist-educator is experienced in classroom management and has deconstructed their art form to a level that is appropriate for the age and stage of each learner, this can be a wonderful learning experience. My best experiences as an artist in residence have been in classrooms where the teachers are engaged and supportive of the artistic process. The success of an artist in residence hinges on many factors- the attitude of the teacher, the experience of the artist, the artist’s confidence with the material and the students, and the students interest in the activities that are being explored.
3. The third option, now, is Learning Through the Arts which takes some of the risk out of individual artists in a school. With LTTA, the school chooses several art forms (and artist educators) to work in their classrooms. The artist educators are trained in creating lesson plans that combine the art form with core curriculum concepts and the artists are mentored by more senior artists throughout their terms in schools. (They also provide training in classroom management techniques!) If a school is unhappy with a match, an artist can be substituted. As an artist, the LTTA model provides a unique creative challenge and a revenue stream that doesn’t require a commitment of a week or two weeks of full-time work.
What I know for sure is that every option has advantages and disadvantages and the success of an artist in the school often has a whole lot to do with factors that can arise from the school or the artist.
My suggestion is that a school carefully look at the make-up of its staff members and their attitudes towards sharing their classroom with a guest artist. Decision making should involve a group of staff members. Residency objectives should align with the values of the school. And decision-makers should carefully consider an artist’s commitment to their art form (is the artist currently actively engaged with the art form?) and the artist’s experience (has the artist had training or enough experience in the classroom that poor classroom management will not detract from the art experience?). How will student learning regarding this art form be assessed? Will students have had enough time with the artist to incorporate the lessons they’ve learned? Schools should also ask- How will we be able to extend this experience? Will the school create an anthology of student writing? Will it create a video of small group drama that has been created after the residence is completed? I think it’s essential to consider the impact a residency will have the student and parent community after its conclusion.
We have a month prior to the Artist in Residence, Alberta for the Arts, grant deadline. If you’d like assistance in pulling together a Learning Through the Arts grant proposal or would like to talk to me about an Artist in Residence program, I’d be happy to talk to you.