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Creative Access Artist in Residence

Idaho Parents Unlimited

This year our VSA Idaho Creative Access Artist in Residence program provided students in community centers, and special and general education classes with a comprehensive art education curriculum. Providing high quality arts experiences for students who have disabilities and special health care needs throughout Idaho continues to be our primary focus. Opportunities for inclusion and universal design for learning were incorporated whenever possible.
Sixteen residencies occurred throughout the state of Idaho in visual, performing and literary art. This included twelve schools and two community centers. All residencies were linked to Idaho state standards for Arts and Humanities; individual residencies were also linked to grade requirements for physical education, graphic design, writing and drama. All residencies were specially designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities and address their IEP goals for motor skills, social skills and academic requirements. Students ranged from pre-k to extended 12th grade with a wide variety of diagnoses and disabilities. We provided arts education for a diverse population of under served children, including geographically isolated students in central Idaho, high school students with developmental disabilities and preschoolers involved in early intervention programs.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

What can we learn about ourselves and our world by participating in the arts?

What we learn is that art is a vehicle for self-discovery. By participating in art we (all learners) discover what speaks to us and what does not, what we have a natural aptitude for and what challenges us. We learn that each art form is a type of language in itself. We learn that persistence is key to creative output and that our ideas are worth exploring. We learn that what we think is beautiful or ugly is a personal truth, not a universal one. We learn that what drives each of us is different and that there can be many right answers. We learn that revision is a necessary part of creating and failure is a side effect of creative endeavors. Failure is not something to be feared or ashamed of, but a natural part of the learning process. We find that even though we may have disabilities or limitations we also possess abilities, that once uncovered can help propel us through life. We learn from art that the images, words and sounds that surround and inform us are generated from the minds and hearts of people who also have something to say about themselves and how they relate to society. We learn that the questions themselves are as important as the answers; that in asking questions the pathway to learning unfolds.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Creative Access residencies encompass visual, literary and performing arts throughout Idaho, addressing state standards for Arts and Humanities, interdisciplinary, as follows:
Goal 2.2- Engage in discussions about arts and humanities issues
Goal 3.2- Communicate in the humanities discipline through the application knowledge and skills
Goal 3.3 -Communicate in the humanities discipline through creative expression

Our population is primarily children with disabilities, who may be nonverbal or have speech/ language disorders. Students respond by showing excitement and enthusiasm about their art education sessions and participate to the best of their ability. Increases in motivation, vocabulary, and social skills are evident. Students demonstrate knowledge and understanding through critiques as well as in participation of final showcase events.

“I liked that we had a performance. It’s is always a special day when Mr. Jordan comes to our class.” ~Student at Lowell Elementary

Additional standards are linked to residencies. The following is an example of identified standards in graphic design at a printmaking residency at Capital:

“By applying knowledge and skill to images in printmaking with paints and molds, we gained an understanding of the printmaking process and how it is used in the workplace. We learned how to conceptualize an idea and see the design process through to its completion.” -Student report excerpt.

Graphic Communications Standards, Idaho
Performance standard, 1.1 -Knowledge of the history of graphic design field


Students in our Creative Access program consistently surprise teachers, parents, and staff with their capacity for learning and skill building in the arts and correlating them to other core subjects during residencies. “When students paint pictures about their world, they make connections about ALL Sorts of subjects!” stated a teacher at the Notus Elementary residency with teaching artist Helen Grainger Wilson.
One teacher reported “realizing the importance of fun in the learning process.” Another classroom teacher was surprised by the therapeutic components of dance and by how responsive and successful her students became because of it.
The impact of our program showed improvements in student motivation and learning across the board. Outcomes included improvements in student in verbal skills, spelling scores, mathematical and rhythmic skills, motor skills, artistic skills and social skills. Residencies surprise and delight teachers and parents by improving execute function and communication in students.
When parents, teachers, and peers see what the children are capable of doing, they are witness to the many benefits of arts education. The increased confidence and pride of parents in their children was apparent at every site visit and final event. Students themselves gain confidence in their abilities and understanding of their own unique learning process.


Our data shows that the outcomes of our arts programming are surprising and wonderful; that all students showed substantial increases in learning, ability, and motivation. Our residencies include non-disabled peers whenever possible, inclusion which fosters understanding and tolerance.
We learned what works best is having all teachers and para professionals present to support students during the residency. In addition, having a timeline that works for both classroom teachers and teaching artists is imperative to the success of the project. Accessible materials and spaces are also necessary.
We continually strive to accomplish greater outreach with classroom teachers. Informing educators of how valuable arts integrated residencies are to student learning, particularly for those with disabilities, is essential to our mission. Once they witness the benefits of learning and comprehension for students, teachers frequently request another residency. Opportunities for children with disabilities in arts education is greatly limited.
In the future one thing we would like to do differently is to require professional development of our program for teaching artists. Keeping them in the loop of changes in grant requirements and education sometimes proves difficult. Another thing we would like to do is to foster more residencies that are truly inclusive of students with and without disabilities. Both groups benefit from experiences when students are learning side by side with their peers.
For someone who is considering a similar project they would need to understand that working with artists and teachers to meet the needs of students with disabilities is complex. Administering multifaceted residencies across the state for children with a variety of disabilities requires excellent communication skills and flexibility. Knowledge of special education, systems of support, arts integration techniques as well as national and state standards for art education are essential to successful programming.