- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2005

Most of the third-graders in Room 222 at Ashlawn Elementary School had their hands up on a recent Thursday, eagerly waving their fingers to be picked next.

Sandford “Sandy” Lyne had asked them to read the poems they had spent the previous half-hour writing. He helped the students write poems around four or five key words with the assistance of their teacher, Diane Davis. Mr. Lyne used fishing as a metaphor, encouraging them to be quiet to find the poem and to use the word groups as bait.

“There’s no wrong way or right way. It can be not rhyming or rhyming. It’s great,” says 9-year-old Trevor Mahoney.

Mr. Lyne, a visiting poet at the school, is among the hundreds of artists involved in metro-area artist-in-residence programs that pair visual, performing and literary artists with schools for hands-on art lessons. The artists range from painters, muralists and sculptors to dancers, actors, musicians, playwrights, storytellers and puppeteers.

Mr. Lyne, a former District resident who lives in Lafayette, La., spent four days at the Arlington school to work with the third- and fifth-grade classes.

“It’s a joy when they discover they actually have a voice and to watch their self-esteem go up,” Mr. Lyne says.

Mr. Lyne gets the children to want to write poems, Mrs. Davis says. “When he talks, the children just can’t look away. They’re so interested in everything he says,” she says.

The visiting artists stay for a week or longer and typically work in a workshop setting with a group of students selected by grade or by interest. For instance, performing artists might provide a performance at the end of their stay with students taking part, while visual and literary artists may teach a new technique or skill, demonstrate a new medium or help students create an art exhibit or permanent piece of art, such as a mural or mosaic.

The artists’ visits are funded in a variety of ways. The Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Maryland State Arts Council provide matching grants of up to 50 percent, with the remaining funds coming from parent-teacher associations (PTAs), school district funds or other sources. County and local arts agencies in Virginia and Maryland also fund artist-in-residence programs through matching grants.

The various arts agencies generate a roster, or directory, of artists through an application and panel process. The artists are selected based on their artistic abilities and their ability to teach children and to tie what they teach to the classroom curriculum and to state standards.

“Art isn’t something that should be separated out of the curriculum,” says Carol Regier, second-grade teacher and humanities project representative at Ashlawn Elementary. “Art is a way for [students] to express the things they have learned.”

Arlington County Public Schools uses county funds and funds from partnerships and foundations to provide each school within the district with three visiting artists for both the artists-in-residence program and single-day performances.

“It’s wonderful so many kids are being exposed to art. It’s coming right into their schools, right into their everyday environments,” says Mary Eckstein, humanities project coordinator for Arlington County Public Schools. “They get the opportunity to meet professional artists and learn from them.”

In Virginia, individual teachers or nonprofit organizations working on behalf of teachers can write matching grant proposals to the Virginia Commission for the Arts in Richmond to help cover the cost of materials and artist fees. Teachers can propose an artist or select one from the commission’s roster of 75 artists. The artists provide a general workshop for the student body, workshops for a smaller group of students and professional development for faculty and staff, along with an exhibit or performance of work generated.

“This program is designed to enhance the existing arts programs in the schools,” says Tatjana Franke Beylotte, arts and education coordinator for the commission. “It gives [students] an opportunity to see the value of high arts.”

Loudoun County Public Schools started a visiting-artist program last year that is funded by school district funds.

“[Students] already look up to their art teacher as being a wonderful artist. When we pull in a visiting artist, they get a whole other perspective on art and the careers involved,” says Melissa Pagano, art supervisor for grades 1-12 at Loudoun County Public Schools.

The artists-in-residence program for Washington, D.C., Public Schools is funded through grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities in Northwest.

In Maryland, the program’s funds come from the Maryland State Arts Council in Baltimore through the Arts in Education program, which also includes a teacher development program and other arts initiatives. The arts council, which has a roster of more than 100 artists, provides one residency a year per school, but schools can apply to county arts councils for additional residencies.

In 2005-06, the Maryland State Arts Council awarded grant funds to help cover artist fees for nearly 230 residencies. The awards are for schools in the Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Howard county school districts in the metro area. The Virginia and D.C. art commissions both helped fund about 10 artists-in-residences in 2005-06.

The Maryland Department of Education mandates that schools teach theater, dance, music and the visual arts to meet state learning requirements, but most schools in the state do not have theater or dance teachers, says Pamela Dunne, Arts in Education program director for the Maryland State Arts Council.

“We want artists who care about young people, who care about communicating their art to young people,” Ms. Dunne says.

Kristin Helberg, an independent artist living in Baltimore and Takoma Park, visited Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood, Md., to help the fourth graders paint a mural of a tropical underwater scene. She taught some basic techniques and let each of the 120 students draw and paint a section of the mural.

“They’re so used to computers doing everything, when they first come to me, they’re leery that they’re going to be able to do it,” Ms. Helberg says, adding that at the end of the project, the same students “are astounded with what they can do.”

Ms. Helberg says, “I love the way children draw and paint because they draw from their hearts. They’re drawing from feeling. I teach them techniques so they can add details.”

When a visiting artist works with students, students can witness the thinking process that goes into a piece of art, says Joan Stoer, coordinator of elementary art, theater and dance for Montgomery County Public Schools.

“It offers the students a chance to understand the creative process from an artist’s point of view,” Mrs. Stoer says.

The artists-in-residence bring expertise and skills that the schools’ art teachers might not have, says Kimberly Haden, art teacher at Potomac Elementary School in Montgomery County.

“I get as much out of it as the students do, because I’m learning something new,” Mrs. Haden says.

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