“Fitting” a residency into your classroom

One of the programs that the Kentucky Arts Council is most proud of are our Teaching Art Together grants, which provide assistance for Kentucky schools to bring teaching artists into their classrooms. These grants provide students with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to experience the creative process alongside a professional artist trained in the Kentucky and national education standards.

Even so, we often have a hard time “selling” this opportunity to schools and teachers due to misconceptions about the nature of a residency. Classroom time is tight, and it gets tighter every year. So, the most frequent concern we hear about having residency is, “I don’t have a even a couple of hours – let alone a week or more – to give up to a residency if I’m going to get through all of my content this year.”

We understand! That’s why we insist that residencies complement classroom content. Residencies are a school or teacher’s chance to bring in a new voice to teach content through the arts. It’s also a way for teachers to learn new methods and techniques in these subject areas to use in the future. Take, for instance, this example from Tichenor Middle School in Erlanger.

Tichenor was awarded the Teaching Art Together grant in the 2012-2013 school year. Fiber artist, Pat Sturtzel, partnered with art teacher, Scott Fairchild, to add a fiber arts component to the Tichenor Middle School art curriculum. Pat facilitated a series of fiber arts projects that built each previous activity while also reinforcing art concepts, cultural connections and math and science concepts. Over a seven-week period, Pat worked with four core classes and provided four hours of professional development to the rest of the faculty and staff.

Mr. Fairchild and students learned surface design techniques (fabric dyeing, fabric printing, stitched embellishment) and textile construction techniques (construction of pillows, wall-hangings), each linked to various cultures (African, Southeast Asian, Japanese, Euro-American).  The residency enhanced the arts curriculum at Tichenor by giving students the opportunity to work directly with a professional artist. This firsthand experience gave students knowledge about how a professional artist works within their chosen field.  Interaction with the artist, visualizing her techniques and then being encouraged to explore their own interpretation of the creative process, enabled the students to engage in activities outside their daily instruction.

Another way the residency enhanced the arts curriculum was through the introduction of a new art medium (to both the school art teacher and students).  Mr. Fairchild had little experience working in this particular medium.  The visiting artist worked to provide the school art teacher with an authentic experience to expand his knowledge and skills.

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“During the residency I was excited to see the students work and learn with Mrs. Sturtzel. The students were up for the challenge of working in a new art process and came away with quality art projects and a basic understanding of what all goes into fiber arts.” One project the 8th grade students made were hand-dyed backpacks with a personal printed design. The 7th grade created throw pillows. The final group project consisted of a dozen 8-foot banners displaying various techniques and a mystical-themed appliqué project.

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Since the residency, Mr. Fairchild has taken what he learned and taught several lessons in fiber arts including, a pennant project, dying and printing projects, and a class quilt.  “From this residency, I am still learning and being challenged.  I remember calling Mrs. Stutzel saying, ‘You’ll never guess where I am at…  Joann’s Fabric!’  Remaining in contact with Mrs. Sturtzel and expanding the concepts of embroidery, fabric dying and screen printing, to other projects, has made a valuable addition to my art program at Tichenor. “

Artist residencies do not “take up” valuable classroom time. Artist residencies are the proverbial “stitch in time” that saves nine. Inviting an artist into your school and classroom is an enriching experience for students and teachers. Each will learn a better way of understanding the world around them and exploring the human experience – these two behaviors being the essence of education.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

The Teaching Art Together grant application is open now with a deadline of Oct. 15, 2013 to develop a residency plan to take place between January and June 2014.

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