The One Where Ms. Y. Goes Behind the Scenes

In the hundreds of podcast episodes that I’ve recently listened to, art teachers’ stories seem to be exactly the same. It’s almost always a woman who volunteers at her kid’s school and then ends up teaching part-time while having difficulty finding the courage to ask for funding. The biggest common denominator that I see in these stories is that they’re married to men who work full-time and they have the luxury of staying at home while he pays the mortgage and sacrifices their dining room, spare bedroom, or finished basement.

My story is different. I’m single, I don’t have kids, and I live in a tiny apartment in the Bay Area. I don’t have a two-income household, nor a dining room, nor a basement. I expect to be compensated for the hours that I work because I can’t afford to volunteer my day due to the high cost of living in the Bay (though I always volunteer if my PTA needs me at a special event where I can pass out my postcards). My thoughts when I hear these women discuss how they became art teachers is always, “Well, yeah. Your husband keeps the lights on while you get to spend all day working on your business. Must be nice.”

It dawned on me recently, though, that these art teachers are just utilizing their resources. They have certain things in their lives that they can count on. Their lifestyles and their combined income is what they have to work with. I also have resources. I work in an amazing after school program where I can talk with parents, teachers, the lunch lady, and the principal. They know me and I know them and that’s a big leg up that not everyone else has. I live in a city that supports arts education completely. My school has a great art program and a strong PTA. I live just a 10-minute walk away from campus. I have connections that help my art camps succeed and it has been an essential second income during school breaks. My business allows me to live in the Bay Area pretty comfortably.

So, in the spirit of sharing resources, I’ve put together some thoughts on how to run your own art camp or class. This will hopefully give you and others a starting point.

How to Run an Art Camp if You Don’t Have a Studio Space

Of course, the first thing is to find a space. Here are my top three ideas:

  1. Local Parks + Rec Department (highly recommended)

  2. Churches

  3. Local art museum or art center

Parks + Recreation

  • Great advertising; they have a catalog in the mailboxes of almost every city resident

  • They provide tables, chairs, restroom, utilities, paper towels, etc.

  • They deal with enrollment, payments, cancellations

  • Your name is gold because you’re a trusted employee of the Parks + Rec Dept.

  • Your only costs are materials and a required background check

  • Past catalogs can help you decide what to charge, best times/dates

  • Flexible schedule; you choose the times/dates and age groups

  • They take a percentage of the revenue (typically 30%-40%) rather than a flat fee; this could be nice if you’re worried about low enrollment

  • Often they provide extended care so you can go home earlier

  • Plan 6 months in advance for your camp; January deadline for a summer camp is typical; be sure to honor their deadlines and offer great quality photos and catchy class descriptions so your classes stand out

  • You’ll get paid after the classes are completed

  • They may offer a staff member to assist you

    Hosting in a Church

  • They are always looking for people/visitors to come into their buildings

  • Have tables and chairs, bathrooms

  • Parking

  • Low/negotiable cost; ask a representative from any church you’re comfortable with

  • Will have more space than a dining room in your home

  • Sometimes there’s a grassy area or play structure to have recess

  • Be sure you’re comfortable associating your name to this particular church

  • Automatic pool of students!

    Art Center or Museum

  • What an inspiring place to have a class!

  • Museums have an Education department, which could be looking for independent contractors to offer classes

  • There could be an arts center that only focuses on performance art but would like to add a visual art element to their offerings, or vice versa

  • Your class description can be added to their mailing lists, i.e. people already interested in what you’re doing

  • Connect your curriculum to the exhibiting artist/movement/medium in the galleries

  • Offer to highlight items in their gift shop as a bonus

Other Bits of General Advice

  • Don’t send kids home hungry

  • Always offer praise; acknowledge effort

  • Give students free creative time and recess

  • Each student helps with clean up/organizing the work room; return everything to the way it was; always be respectful of someone else’s space

  • Have some food on hand just in case; you can’t really go wrong with Goldfish crackers or fruit snacks for yourself and any student who eats all their lunch and is still hungry

  • Bring 10% more materials than needed for a particular project; you will need extras for making a prototype, doing a demonstration, and if someone messes up and needs another

  • If a student is unhappy or frustrated with their project, allow them to decide what to do with it: try again? start over? If they want to put it in the recycle bin, ask if you can keep it. This sends the message that their work has value.

  • Buy good quality materials. Generally speaking, you cannot go wrong with Crayola products.

  • Provide free-time self-guided activities so you can take a break from teaching and they can explore. I recommend activity books, books to read, stickers, Scotch tape (they LOVE this), board games, card games, a salad spinner to do spin art, bracelet-making materials, etc.

  • If a class is too large, divide into two teams and rotate groups with teaching the lesson

  • Always ask parents if it’s OK to take photos and post on social media; find a photo release and have them sign and date it for each student

  • Have a first aid kit with ice pack, parent contact info, and second contact info on hand at all times; Epi-Pen may be needed as well if a student has severe allergies

  • Get insurance and a tax ID (not your SSN); some parents use your services as a tax write-off

  • Pinterest is your friend. Michael’s coupons and teacher discounts are your friends. Upcycle. Recycle. Google what you can do with a TP roll or shoe box.

Remember That You Can’t Do It Alone!

  • Figure an hourly rate to pay someone you trust to work with you

  • Find a substitute in case something comes up

  • Enlist a teenager/intern who’s looking for volunteer hours and be willing to sign off their paperwork

  • Ask parents to bring snacks

  • Invite a community member to guest teach an art lesson, bubble blowing, jump rope, zumba, or other activity

OK, was that everything!? Haaa! I really learned a whole lot during my first 3 years as an art teacher and I am happy to share more information if there’s anything else you want to know.