Working in Classrooms

painting a muralAre you a visual, media, literary or performing artist who is interested in working with students on a hands-on arts activity or artist residency? ArtStarts’ guide to Working in Classrooms provides tips on how to work with teachers and students to create a successful in-class project.

What is an Artist Residency?
Can I be Artist in Residence?
How can I find a school to work with?
What is the Artists in the Classroom Directory?
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.

Can I be an Artist in Residence?

Artists engaged in residencies are practicing artists working in variety of artistic disciplines: literature, visual arts, digital media, performing arts, traditional arts, etc. To work in schools, an artist should be able relate well to young people and have the ability to discuss and demonstrate their art with ease. Whenever possible, artists are encouraged to engage in residencies at schools in their local communities.

Any artist who possesses these qualities can be a successful artist in residence. However, if you plan to seek funding for your project, you 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 find a school to work with?

If you are an artist who has an idea for a project, you may wish to begin approaching schools to gauge their interest. Whenever possible, try to work with schools in your local community, as this will allow you to make your project particularly relevant to students’ lives. Make an appointment with a teacher or the school Principal, taking your Curriculum Vitae and examples of your work to your meeting. If possible, prepare some research beforehand on possible sources of funding for the project you have in mind. Schools’ budgets are often limited, and they will appreciate that you have thought seriously about the logistics of your proposal.

What is the Artists in the Classroom Directory?

The Artists in the Classroom directory is a resource that ArtStarts provides to educators who are looking for artists experienced at working in classrooms. ArtStarts is always looking to expand the diverse range of artists in our directory, with emphasis on artists from communities outside the Lower Mainland. Ideally, artists are added to the directory after they have successfully completed an artist residency that has been funded through the Artist in Education 2 program. This ensures that each listed artist has demonstrated the high quality of their work with young people. For more information on the directory, contact the Program Manager.

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 (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 the School District Office that services the school where you will work, as well as the school’s Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) to inquire about funding opportunities. Many community arts councils will also have information about funding for local artists. Consult the Assembly of BC Arts Council’s directory of Arts Councils in BC to get in touch with yours.

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 artists who complete 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. Become aware of the school schedule (holidays, exams), and discuss the nature of your visits. Some teachers prefer to work intensely, scheduling 3-hour creative “think tanks” over a short period of time. Others, particularly at the elementary level, find students need longer periods to reflect and digest between artist visits.
  • Make use of teacher knowledge! Teachers know their students best, and can provide the artist with invaluable information 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

  • Maintain sensitivity to the needs of the students & the school environment, which is very different from where artists normally create work. Students and staff may face busy timetables and competing demands on their time.  Plan a visit before the project begins to get a sense of what the school will be like. Ask questions about the flexibility of the schedule, as well as the availability of spaces and equipment for making and storing work.
  • 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 the 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.