From: Josephine Langbehn
As you have learned about me, I love to connect my classroom to the community. Another way I love to go beyond the walls of my classroom is to invite a guest artist. I have found there are many valuable lessons from having guest artists in my classroom. It shows students that art is very alive and not created by a bunch of dead white guys; it shows students that being an artist is a real and viable career; and it introduces students to local artists which also can promote how interesting your city is.
The first time I thought about bringing an artist into my classroom, I quickly overwhelmed myself with worries. How will I fund this? Are the kids going to behave? What will the materials cost? Will the artist engage the kids? How much do I pay the artist?
Once again, you will have to do a little extra work, but it is sooooo worth it, and, really, when don’t we do extra work?!? Not only do the students get exposure to another form of art making, but they also get to hear another voice on what makes the visual arts so interesting. It also changes up the daily routine, which not only do the kids find invigorating and refreshing, but so do I. There are two approaches I will take into consideration when planning with the artist. If I can afford it, and my class sizes are not too big, I will have the guest artist work with the kids to create a permanent installation. If that option does not work for my budget or class sizes, I will choose to have the artist in for one visit to talk to the kids about their work and then the students will create a small individual project they then can take home.
Here are some helpful tips that I have found effective when having a guest artist:
1. Find an artist with a media and subject that will engage your students. For example, I have brought in...a graffiti artist because my kids love graffiti; a mixed media artist that creates polyhedron sculptures which connected my students to math in an interesting way; and a cartoon artist because my kids love graphic novels.
2. Meet with the artist to see if they are willing to work with your kiddos, what they request for payment, and time frame of the visit. Often times artists are very willing to work with students because they also see the benefit. I am very upfront with my budget. This will alleviate any confusion later. I will tell the artist, “I only have 'X' amount of dollars for you and the materials.” I also like to think of the project as a collaboration. Oftentimes the artist has worked in other schools or on other projects that has involved kids and they might have good insight on what you would like to do. I really want the artist to be excited about what they will be doing in my classroom, so I want them to have just as much voice in the project.
3. Make sure to keep your principal and school treasurer in the loop. Your principal will be more willing to support you if they know what is going on. I am super lucky and have a very supportive principal. They may even be able to find you more money to fund the project. For example, my principal was able to give me extra money to take a small group to the visiting artist’s studio. This totally made the project more meaningful for my students. Your school treasurer or secretary also knows all of the low-downs and will also be a great resource for your budgeting.
4. Keep your eyes peeled for local grants to help fund the artist. In Nebraska, our arts council has grants available for this very thing. Also, there are some local organizations that also have grants available. Oftentimes the artist is more than willing to work with your budget, but I really like to pay them what their normal rates are.
5. Ask another staff member(s) to come hang out in your room that day. I usually will ask one of our guidance counselors, who used to be an art teacher, to come hang out in our room for the day. This helps with classroom management and it gets more people (staff) involved in the art department and even the project.
These tips have really helped me have good working relationships with the guest artists. I have had these working relationships turn into great friendships, too. I also think having a guest artist not only benefits your students, but it can also benefit your entire school community. A guest artist not only gives your district something to talk about, but also gives your school positive news to share. Positivity for your students! Positivity for you! Positivity for your school! Positivity for the arts! Positivity for everyone!