In 2011, I attended my first NAEA convention. It was a very eye-opening and gratifying experience. At the time, I was going through the 5-year itch -- you know, when, after five years, you feel like you need a change in your work? This change could be as simple as creating new lesson plans or as major as switching schools or districts. I felt like I was just going through the motions: same school, same schedule, and same way of running my classroom. I was itching for a change and the convention cured that itch.
One of the sessions that made the biggest impact on me focused on how to promote my art program in the school and the community. I had expected my administration to do this for me, but what I realized during the session was that no one else can promote MY program except ME. Nobody knows what I do with my students better than I do, and no one knows how artistically gifted my students are better than I do.
I left the convention in Seattle that year with a list of ideas on how to spread the word about my school's art program:
1. Start an Artsonia gallery.
2. Display students' artwork in the community.
3. Get students involved in the local art community.
I began engineering my lesson and unit plans that spring and talking to art galleries about exhibiting student work over the summer.
When school started, I passed out Artsonia permission slips to all of my students urging them to sign up. I told them their parents would be able to see their artwork online and could Facebook, tweet, or email to share with friends and family far away. My students were very enthusiastic about the idea that their projects could be displayed on social media sites or emailed to relatives. The response was overwhelming and I was diligent throughout the school year. Every project we did I put on Artsonia. We ended up have the 6th most involved online gallery in the state of Nevada and I won a Technology Leadership Award from the site. The parents were proudly showing the office staff their childrens' artwork on their smartphones when they dropped their children off in the morning and it really made the art program seem more vibrant and more vital to the parents. I found that contests are another way to get parents to take notice of the art program. When there is a permission slip to sign, it opens up the dialogue about what their child is doing in art. If a student at the school wins, it really makes the entire school feel proud.
In 2012, I began displaying student work in the community. Every year my school did a unit on Mexico's celebration of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). That summer I spoke with the CEO of City of the World Gallery, Incorporated, to allow my students to create an ofrenda (a traditional altar) and an art display in the gallery's garden for the First Friday Art Walk in November. They gave us the space for free and I went to work enlisting the help of the PTO to assemble our ofrenda for three of Mexico's most famous artists: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Jose Posadas. The students also created self-portraits with their pets, Calaveras masks, and sugar skulls.
They wrote letters to Frida Kahlo and created Catrina (the traditional symbol of Day of the Dead) prints. All of these projects were displayed alongside the ofrenda at First Friday. Lo and behold, one of the artists at the gallery worked with the media and was enthusiastic to hear that we were doing this project. She called Telemundo and a local Spanish newspaper to interview my students and myself while we made the sugar skulls! This was great publicity for our school and, of course, my art program! The children were so proud of their work and proud of our school's art program. They would ask me if our school was the best in art, and that showed me what an impact the art program was having on their self-confidence.
That same year I invited my students to Summerlin Art Festival, a local annual art festival, to participate in their chalk walk competition. This was a great way to bring real art (not posters or PowerPoints) to my students in a city that doesn't have an art museum. The kids could see the art booths, work on a chalk piece created by my art club, and enjoy the festival with their parents. I did the same event this year and my school won First Place in the Elementary Division!
This is what has worked for me in the past couple of years to promote my school's art program. Next year will be slightly different, I'll be a new mom and I'll be looking for ways to bring the arts community to my school. There is an arts bus that visits the schools with a gallery on wheels and hands-on activities, I definitely want to check out. Also, this is my first year having an end of the year art show, I'm working on organizing a pretty basic art show this year, but I plan to add some new ideas next year like a silent auction.