Three Quick Tips for Coordinating an Amazing Artist Residency at Your School

 

I’ve been on both sides of the equation: an Artist in Residence at various NH middle and high schools and the Residency Coordinator for Michael Zerphy’s visit to my son’s elementary school. But if there’s one thing these experiences have taught me, it’s that successful residencies are all about preparation. 

 

So, whether you’re interested in hosting an artist at your school, or you already have plans for an Artist in Residence to come to your school and want to make sure you’re prepared, this list is for you.

 

Tip #1:  Manage Expectations

 

The NH Arts Council does a great job preparing its residency coordinators for the task of hosting a residency.  But it is then up to the residency coordinator to disseminate that information to their schools.  Typically, this means getting the teachers, parents, and administrators together in a room several times prior to the commencement of the residency, with the artist in residence in attendance for at least one of these meetings. Sure, you’ve planned the whole thing out on paper, and the Residency Coordinator and Artist have probably engaged in a robust email exchange for moths now.  But it’s crucial to get he entire team involved—and early—and when detailing the ins and outs of an Artist Residency, nothing beats face-to-face communication (though, in a pinch, a Skype visit will do).

 

The important thing is to go over the day-to-day schedule for the artist, laying out their expectations as well as those of the teachers.  How much will teachers be expected to participate, and in what capacity?  Will any of the school specialists be involved?  What about lunches?  Does the artist have certain dietary requirements?  Does he or she want to eat lunch with the teachers, or do they prefer to dine alone? The more all parties know what the residency will feel like before it happens, the fewer surprises there will be when it actually arrives.

 

Tip #2:  Get Parents Involved

 

I swear, if my son didn’t bring home a newsletter from his teacher once a week, I wouldn’t have a clue as to what was going on in his third grade class.  I’ve tried everything under the sun to encourage him to be more forthcoming about his school day, but the kid just isn’t a talker. Which is only one of the reasons why it’s important to keep parents in the loop about your school’s residency.  Better yet, give parents jobs!  Many PTOs cook lunches for their Artists in Residence, or even host the artist at their homes overnight. 

 

Sometimes, there are even opportunities for parents to be hands-on helpers as set-builders, costume makers, or makeshift publicists.  The bigger you build your community around the experience of a residency, the bigger the payoff for your kids, your school, and your town.

 

Tip #3:  Look for “Added Value” Opportunities

 

In my small NH hometown, we had a state rep who was a notorious non-supporter of the arts.  Every time I looked up this guy’s voting record, my heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces.  So what did I do when storyteller/mime Michael Zerphy came to my son’s school for a week? I invited the miserly state rep to the kids’ Friday night performance at the culmination of the residency!  Did seeing the kindergarten through 4th graders perform their new miming skills change Grinchy’s politics?  Doubtful.  But it gave him a first-hand opportunity to see that the arts do indeed add value to our children’s lives.  Plus, maybe a twinge of guilt next time he voted down arts funding.

 

But even if you’re not up for making a political statement, there are other “added value” opportunities that crop up when an artist comes to your school. For example, when I go in to schools for residencies on writing (I’m a screenwriter and novelist) I have a deal with my local indie bookseller (The Toadstool) whereby schools are eligible to receive 25% of the total receipts of my book’s sales. So, it behooves schools to help sell my young adult novel (REUNITED, Simon & Schuster) by getting students (and parents) prepared ahead of time and turning my visit into a fundraiser.  Similarly, circus performer Troy Wunderle, a two-time visitor to my son’s school, offers a comparable sale for his circus-related merchandise.

 

The trick to discovering “added value” opportunities lies in your ability look beyond the school and the artist and find other ways this visit can benefit your school and community.  It might be as simple as making a connection between your school and a local business or community member(s) who may not have had a previous relationship.  Or, your school’s residency might inspire town historians to document the experience for posterity. 

 

 My point is, whatever your residency offers to your school’s student population also has the potential to expand outward. So, be creative in your thinking, and make sure you look for ways having an Artist in Residence at your school can benefit your the community.

 

Hilary Weisman Graham is a screenwriter, Emmy-nominated TV producer, filmmaker, and the author of Reunited (Simon & Schuster), her debut young adult novel.  Visit her at:  http://www.hilarygraham.com

Hilary Weisman Graham

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