I retired three years ago. I wasn't tired of making art with kids. I was tired of all the other stuff: the nonsense being shoved down my throat by administration, the state regulations, the assessments, the Essential Questions, the SLO's, the so-called professional development that never related to art education, the data, the lunch duty, the requisitions for next year's supplies (due in February when there's still a half year of school to go), and more. I was tired of making doctor and dentist appointments in the late afternoon and racing to get there on time. I was tired of booking vacations when everyone else is on vacation. I was tired of being exhausted of Friday nights, and I was tired of grocery shopping on Saturdays when the stores are crowded.
But I wasn't tired of making art with kids. As a matter of fact, it was just the opposite. I had so many projects I wanted to do again, and so many new ideas I wanted to share with students. So I needed a plan to make art with kids, on my own time, with my own rules. Just hands-on mess-making activities. Papier-mache, paint, collage, weaving, mask-making, and more more more. Low tuition; just enough to pay for the materials and other costs.
My plan involved opening my own business, DragonWing Arts. I put the plan in motion about 2-1/2 years ago. The plan was (and still is) to have classes of students grades 3-6, or ages 8-11ish, for weekly classes in a session of between 5 and 8 weeks. Each multi-week session would be based on a theme. I had/have so many ideas for themes. By the way, all photos in this post are from my DragonWing Arts classes. Our themes thus far have included All About the Face, Around the World, Marvelous Mess,
But the big challenge continues to be finding students. I do not live in the community where I taught, so I do not know the children. My friends do no not have young children. So I have tried, with varying degrees of success, advertising in a local weekly newspaper, contacting area art teachers, and sending flyers home in backpacks. The schools have been a challenge, often refusing to allow flyers to be sent out for a fee-based program. I have fluctuated between 5 and 3 students per session. I had some repeat students. But this fall, my repeat students have all just started 5th grade, which is in the middle school, and the school and their schedules are new to them and their parents say there's too much going on for them to commit to the art classes. So every time I latch onto a student for a year or two, it seems they "age out" because of the demands of middle school.
I believe, ironically, that my program is more important than ever. My
students, who came from several local schools, had universal complaints
about their school art programs. They rarely did anything messy; rarely
painted. They've never touched papier-mache before they came to my
class. They've drawn and colored with pencils and markers. They have
never done weaving. They have imaginations and creativity waiting to be
In two and a half years, we've made 3-D painted paper weaving, we've hammered nails to make rain sticks, we've experimented with salt and watercolor and we've marbled with shaving cream; we've learned basic perspective, made toothpaste batiks, giant masks, and stocking/wire sculptures; we've made papier-mache flying pigs, Darumas, rain sticks, and ice cream cones; we've built giant eyeballs, painted paper, made papier-mache pulp reliefs, tie-dyed coffee filter flowers, and held art shows for the parents.
And this fall, the plan was for papier-mache garden gnomes and gnome home doors in tree stumps or mushrooms (large, with more papier-mache and all sorts of fun embellishment). I was totally excited. Yet, suddenly, I found myself with only one student signed up and as of today, I've had to cancel the fall session. I am frustrated, disheartened. I want these smiling happy faces back in my little classroom.
I advertised the program for three weeks, and didn't receive even one response from the ad. School hadn't started yet, so I couldn't even attempt the backpack battle. It seems like the stress of school has gotten worse, and when you are working with a clientele that "ages out", you need to continually find new "clients".
I don't expect you to offer me any solutions. What works in your community might not work in mine.. I just wanted to share my frustration. Meanwhile, I'll keep plugging along, and hope that this winter I may find a new batch of students.