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Artist in Residence

Michael Wingfield with pre-school students
My school is hosting a musical artist in residence this semester.  Michael Wingfield will be arriving in May.  Our art teacher does a residency in Maine each year and has a long-standing friendship and artistic relationship with Michael.  She suggested Michael as  an artist in residence to the interim headmistress who thought it a wonderful idea and hired him.

Hiring an artist in residence
Having an artist in residence will disrupt the normal flow of your school, especially if he or she is working with all the students in the school, creates lots of noise, disrupts the use of large rooms or spaces, or otherwise rocks the normal way of doing things.  As such, the faculty needs to be consulted, informed, and listened to, every step of the way.  An immersion experience for the school should be planned a good year in advance.  The arts faculty, some of the regular classroom teachers, and the administration should be on board with the concept of the idea before the faculty is consulted!

Administrators and teachers, be VERY careful about how you approach this subject.  Are you taking away a much-prepared-for event in another teacher's schedule by doing this?  Are you inconveniencing a whole wing of the school with the noise and foot-traffic of students to see the artist for a week or more?  Be considerate and think of this from everyone's perspective!  Ask others for input to make sure you're not being myopic!  

Step 1. Choose an artist
 You can do this in a variety of ways.  The way my school did it was through referral.  "This guy is great.  He'll make all the kids alive and excited to dance, drum, and sing.  You've got to hire him."  Enthusiasm is a great referral.  We decided to take the suggestion and then examine our school culture to make the residency fit.

Another way is to have a well-ordered, open discussion at a faculty meeting to determine what kind of residency would fit the needs of the school best.  If your school has philanthropic ties to a particular charity and you'd like to explore the culture of a country associated with that cause, you might want to hire an artist who can help you do that.  If you have a student population that is 75% Haitian with an all-white faculty, you might want to explore hiring an Haitian artist who can celebrate that culture.   Likewise, if you have a minority population that is not represented in the faculty, you might want an artist who can help the school recognize the culture of that group of people, maybe a Hebrew dancer, Vienamese chef, Polish poet, or Japanese fine artist. 

Once an artist has been chosen a fee and length of residency must be negotiated with the principal.

Step 2. Plan the residency
What does your end-product look like?
Do you want an end product?  A concert, festival, art exhibit, demonstration, or carnival?  How long would the artist need to prepare that?  What is the availability of supporting equipment (tents, stages, risers, chairs, catering, parking, etc.)  What is the availability of the artist?  Is this a fundraiser for the school?  How could that be maximized?

In our case we planned a large festival in an outdoor tent in the spring.  We're having a pig roast, face painting, and dance after an all-school performance lead by the artist in residence.  As such we have planned an intensive schedule whereby all students will have two, hour-long sessions with Michael each week plus the dress rehearsal the day of the performance.

Final performance of dance with Orff orchestra
We sat down with the master schedule of all the arts classes and Michael and tried to schedule the his time with students to be during our class times.  That would disrupt the regular classroom teachers the least.  As we went through the schedule our committee's secretary kept notes on questions and comments for the regular teachers, parents, administrators, etc. to include in future communication.

Sit down with your parent/teacher committee to tell them of the residency, generate buzz, and begin to generate parent questions so that every detail can be figured out.  Make your meetings like a parfait: arts faculty, faculty, parents, arts faculty, faculty, parents, etc.  Have one administrator who is the point-person be at ALL meetings.

Whose project is this? 

Usually it is clear which arts teacher the artist-in-residence is for.  If a painter is hosted, we assume that this project is a special one of the fine art teacher.  If a drummer is hired, we assume that this project is a special one of the music teacher.  But this is not always the case.  In our case this residency is the brainchild of the fine art teacher, under the subject of the Spanish teacher, and of special importance to the interim headmistress who has perceived that the parents have become overworked and need to stop doing and enjoy receiving a good party.  Make clear to the faculty and parents under whose auspices the residency comes.  Keep referring back to this and the school will be of one mind and a more central and unified expectation for the residency.

In our case, this is what we are saying to faculty, students, and parents with the residency.

Hey Kids!  The annual Spanish festival this year is going to be amazing!  We're renting a tent, hiring a caterer, and studying music and culture of the Caribbean Islands in a huge concert and party.  Yeah!!!!

Parents don't have to hire, plan, coordinate, or donate ANYTHING!  We're not asking for money or even admission.  The only parent involvement we need is some logistical help with children and ordering queues the day of.  This is a community event for our community, a gift of culture and joy for you!

Teachers, we are having this festival in place of several events we would normally have.  No concert for Grandfriend's Day, no Mother's Day assembly, no maypole dance, no springtime informances.  Most of the time the artist has with students is during their Spanish, music, art, or gym time with some exceptions, please see the master schedule, etc. 

I'll keep you posted on how this residency goes.  Wish me luck!  I'm looking forward to learning throughout this whole process!

Here are some of Michael Wingfield's lessons.
Pre-School Children


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