Creating a Project

Are you an educator looking to enhance your students’ education by bringing an artist into your classroom? This toolkit will give you some tips and resources for building a successful artist residency project in your school. 

What is an Artist Residency?
How can I find an artist to work with?
How do you know if an artist is suitable?
How can I fund my project?
What constitutes a successful residency?
What are some examples of past projects?

What is an Artist Residency?

At its core, an in-school artist residency is a creative partnership between artist, teacher and students, taking place right in the classroom. Artists may approach schools with a potential project idea, which will then be developed with a school/teacher. Alternately, the idea can come from the school, who will then work out the details with the artist.

The circumstances surrounding artist residencies in schools are flexible. They can take place in single or multiple classrooms, with single or split grades, over the course of a week or even several months. In each case, the role of the artist is to share insights into the skills, processes and ideas involved in producing an artwork. Often, artists will spearhead the creation of a collaborative work with students. Alternately, they can guide and advise students on the creation of their own work. Either way, the artist provides a catalyst for creative expression, offering advice and inspiration for both teacher and students.

How can I find an artist to work with?

If you are a teacher who is looking for an artist to help lead your project, a great place to start is ArtStarts’ Artists in the Classroom directory. Each artist listed is experienced at working in classrooms, and has been vetted to ensure the high quality of their work with young people. You can search for artists by name, discipline or home base.

You might also wish to consult local art galleries or arts councils, who can put you it touch with artists working in your area. Consult the Assembly of BC Arts Councils website for up-to-date listings of arts organizations in your community.

How do you know if an artist is suitable?

Artists working in schools should be able relate well to young people and have the ability to discuss and demonstrate their art with ease. Be sure to meet with the artist before deciding to work with them in order to make sure they are an appropriate fit for you and your students. A suitable practicing artist should be able to:

  • show you strong examples of their work
  • provide a Curriculum Vitae detailing their history of public presentation
  • provide references or referees
  • be able to communicate their ideas clearly
  • show a commitment to working with young people

Any artist who possesses these qualities can be a successful artist in residence. However, if you plan to seek funding for your project, he or she may need to qualify as a professional artist. A professional artist is defined as someone who has completed specialized training in an arts practice (not necessarily in an academic institution), is recognized as such by his/her peers (artists working in the same artistic tradition), and who has a history of public presentation, exhibition or publication.

How can I fund my project?

As in the professional art world, it is important that artists working in classrooms are paid a fair wage for their time and expertise. In addition to artist fees, there can be many other costs associated with an artist residency project, including materials, equipment rentals, etc.

To assist with these costs, ArtStarts offers a funding program called Artists in Education 2 (AIE 2), which supports individual schools across BC to bring professional artists into their classrooms for a wide range of curriculum-integrated arts programs, including workshops and long-term residences. For more information, click here.

You may also wish to look into additional sources of funding. Consider contacting your School District, as well as your school’s Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) to inquire about funding opportunities.

What constitutes a successful residency?

With so many factors combining in many variations, there is no cookie-cutter plan for integrating artist residencies into schools. However, ArtStarts has found that successful projects consistently incorporate the following strategies.

Communication & Collaboration

  • Define the partnership between teacher and artist. Meet before the project begins to gain a shared understanding of the project’s goals and to develop a common language for work in the classroom. 
  • Working together, create a timeline for the project.  Some classes prefer to work intensely, maintaining 3-hour creative “think tanks” over a short period of time. Other classes, particularly at the elementary level, will need longer periods to reflect and digest between artist visits. 
  • Help the artist get to know your students! Provide him or her with as much information as you can about students’ learning styles, skills and backgrounds. 
  • Maintain a relationship during and after the project. The artist/teacher team should meet regularly to review the process and project goals, adjusting lesson plans to keep pace with students’ needs and interests. 

Flexibility & adaptability

  • Help the artist become accustomed to the school environment, which is very different from where artists normally create work. Invite the artist to visit before the project begins to get a sense of what the school will be like.  
  • During the project, emphasize the creative process rather than the final product. Embrace spontaneity, and recognize that important work can happen when you welcome the unknown. 

Concept and Curriculum

  • When planning a project, ensure that it is well linked to your school’s curriculum in a way that deepens learning and encourages critical thinking.
  • Encourage students to think about how the project’s overall themes relate to their everyday lives.
  • Incorporate opportunities for students to reflect on the project both in private and with their peers (journals, debates, group discussion, role playing opportunities).

For a list of research papers and studies that investigate the role of the arts in education, visit our Advocacy page.

What are some examples of past projects?

To view some examples of exemplary work created through past artist residency projects, check out ArtStarts’ Exhibition Archive.