We all enjoy those moments during our teaching career when we are truly inspiring our students. Those "Ah ha" moments when something new clicks. When that piece they have been struggling to problem solve through finally turns the corner to something they love working on or are proud they created. When they light up as they explore a new art medium or artistic process.
How about those that love art so much that they continue to pursue it after they leave your class and go on to study it in college and pursue it as a career. How often though do we call on those former students to return to our classrooms to share their experiences studying art and working in a creative career with our current students? That was something that I loved to do on a yearly basis. Some of my former students would come back twice a year to share their college art experiences and their portfolios with my classes. It's great to have college reps come in talk about their specific art programs and often what careers are available when you continue your art studies. However, art alumni are even better! They share real college experiences with current high school students who may be considering to major in art or an art related field in college.
Benefits of having your art alumni visit your classroom:
1. They can more easily relate to your current students.
2. They will tell it like it is when it comes to everything from portfolio preparation to campus life to the many hours you will live in the art buildings on campus.
3. They can share what kind of assignments they have gotten in their college art classes.
4. They can talk about what other kinds of classes are required for art majors outside of studio courses.
5. They can talk about the cost of art supplies from semester to semester.
6. They can share their current art portfolio and projects. (I always loved seeing what they were working on.)
7. They can back up your statements about how important this or that is to learn during high school and how much help that will be later on in college.
8. Those that have graduated and gone on to art careers can share how they made that transition.
9. Art career alumni can talk about how they are applying their high school and college art experiences in the work place.
Impact this had on some of my art alumni:
Annaka Pacino - sophomore at Grand Valley State University, working towards a B.A. in Art Education:
"What really made a huge impact going back to my old high school was seeing where all the kids were at when I was there. I was only just starting to delve into the arts. I've done a lot of growing since high school and I thought it was very important for me to come back and share what I have learned and all the new skills and techniques I've picked up along the way."
Aslyn Lapham - studied photography at Kendall College of Art and Design, photographer and co-owner The Long Way Home Photography
"Returning to my high school to speak to the new generation of artists might have been the most significant work I've done. Since going back, I've had students contact me and ask about techniques and business. They've stopped me in stores and shown me their work and I've realized; this is how we keep art alive in schools. By going back and telling current students 'I was where you are, and now I'm here.' If even one student knows that art can be their life if they're willing to work for it, I will have done my job in keeping art alive."
Kelsey Adams - BFA in Art and Design from Northern Michigan University, pursuing an Arts Administration Masters at Eastern Michigan University
"The experience of coming back to my high school and presenting my work offers opportunity for current high school students to see art can become a career. I think for a lot of students they are discouraged from pursuing a career in the arts. However, there are a lot of jobs out there within the arts. Now people have so many opportunities to network and freelance (part time or full time) with the use of technology and social media. I have discovered that to be a successful artist you have to create good work but also be able to talk with people and sell your skills. I like to interact with the students, now that I have an employer's point of view, and let them know that there are career opportunities for them to pursue."
This is something that I wish I had done even more often with those that went on to pursue higher education art studies and creative careers. I hope it is something that you already do with your art alumni or consider doing in the future. It would also be wonderful to connect with the middle school or high school art teachers in your district to have the older art students come down to the lower grades to share their artwork and art experiences with the elementary and middle school art students. It is a great experience for all those involved!