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Creative Access Artist in Residence

Idaho Parents Unlimited

This year, our VSA Creative Access Artist-in-Residence program provided visual, literary, and performing arts education residencies to students statewide in community centers, and in both special and general education classrooms. We implemented art education curriculum for students who have disabilities and special health care needs, along with their non-disabled peers whenever possible. Inclusion is a fundamental tenant of our program and we strive to serve all learners in our residencies including those students who are at-risk, home schooled or medically fragile.
This year seventeen residencies occurred, comprised of thirteen schools and four community centers. All residencies were linked to Idaho Core State Standards for Arts and Humanities, individual residencies were also linked to grade requirements for physical education, graphic design, writing and drama. 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. Our program reached a diverse population of under-served children, including children receiving chemotherapy at Camp Rainbow Gold, high school students with developmental disabilities, and preschoolers in early intervention programs.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

How does art enhance learning and expand thinking?

Art enhances learning by making meaningful connections for students with hands on experiences. By participating in the arts, students are offered opportunities to engage in making artistic choices, discover their interests, and work through challenges. During our arts integrated residencies, students make meaningful connections about their own experiences as well as between academic subjects, expanding their comprehensive learning and knowledge base. Students with disabilities are often over looked in this important aspect of independent choice making due to a slower learning pace and/or overly helpful aids. Current academic climates often focus on the completion of projects rather than the exploration of materials and the creative process, hijacking students’ (with disabilities in particular) ability to engage deeply in subject matter. Our residencies provide students with opportunities that engage them with experiential learning. Kinesthetic learning is a style in which learning takes place by engaging in physical activities. When we sing, dance, paint, perform, we use our muscle memory, engaging parts of the brain involved in learning such as the frontal lobe and cerebellum. Therefore, when students engage with academic subject matter that involves muscle memory, they work together for enhanced learning outcomes. Forming these connections is important for all students, but is a particularly effective tool in reaching children with disabilities who do not learn easily in the traditional educational model of lecture and note taking.

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

Residencies include Idaho State Standards in visual, literary and performing 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 non-verbal or have speech/ language disorders and therefore are challenged in their ability to respond to questions. However evidence of learning was apparent when students showed excitement and enthusiasm about their art residency and participated to the best of their ability. Increases in motivation, vocabulary, and social skills are evident. Students demonstrated learning by making creative contributions, following instructions and performing in final showcase events.

Students in the STEP extended high school program responded during a residency with Amy Nack.

“I did something I didn’t think I could do (designing and printmaking textiles) or even wanted to do, then it turned out really good.”

“Sometimes I don’t know what to do and I like it when my classmates help me.”

Students designed and printed hot pads that were distributed at the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force Summit. Students learned about food insecurity, food choices as well as basic tenants of printmaking and design.


The impact of our program yielded improvements in student motivation and learning across the board. Students demonstrated improvements in artistic skills, listening and vocabulary, mathematical skills, and motor coordination. Residencies surprised teachers and parents by improving students executive function and communication skills. Students in our residency program demonstrated their capacity for learning and skill building through engagement in the arts and correlating them to other core subjects.
While the impact of our programs promotes skill building and the acquisitions of new knowledge, it also impacts how society views people with disabilities. Arts integrated learning is a forum for creativity and collaboration and therefore due to its natural structure it serves to breaks down barriers between people and perceptions. Many students with disabilities/ special health care needs find a voice in the arts which enhances their ability to communicate as well as benefiting the audience who engages with them. By including and engaging students in the arts, we are planting the seeds for future inclusion, collaboration and expression. The impact of creative and innovative thinking are critical s for students in today’s schools, yielding problem solving abilities for the future. People with disabilities have a unique and important role to play in the world of innovation, technology and design of the future, offering input and creating things that are more accessible and user friendly.


Each year outcomes from our program offer new and interesting learning results for students participating in our arts integrated residencies. Because our student populations have a great deal of neuro-diversity, we see an array of both expected and unexpected outcomes. Teachers and parents alike reported that students showed substantial increases in learning, ability and motivation. Our residencies include non-disabled peers, inclusion which fosters understanding and tolerance. A fundamental principle of inclusion in education is the valuing of diversity within the human community and providing the least restrictive environment possible for students, maximizing students potential and quality of life. When people with disabilities demonstrate their gifts and abilities, it changes how they are viewed by society, lifting a veil of mystery about the disability experience and shifting the focus to the human experience in all of its variations. Opportunities for children with disabilities in arts education is greatly limited for many reasons including a lack qualified teachers, inaccessible buildings, behaviors, and communication barriers. Students who are able to engage in arts integrated residencies gain knowledge about their interests and potential, evolving into primary stakeholders of their own education.
Classroom teachers who participate in our residencies witness the benefits to students in learning and comprehension, often times requesting additional residencies in their classroom. Through our evaluations and reporting channels, we have learned that the best way to support residencies is by having all teachers and para-professionals present to assist students while the teaching artist is in the classroom. Developing a timeline that works for both classroom teachers and teaching artists is imperative to the success of the project. We strive to meet the diversity of all learners in our program, offering opportunities for creativity, the acquisition of skills, and the expansion of knowledge.