LITTLE FALLS -- Elementary school students cavorted in the gymnasium with a professional folk dancer, gathered at the feet of a storyteller or learned the intricacies of fencing from a Shakespearean actor during Artist Residency Day in Little Falls.
More than 100 students from several central Minnesota communities participated in the event, all under the watchful eyes of about a dozen art teachers for whom the event was designed.
Sponsored by the state's Artist in Education program, Artist Residency Day is intended to encourage classroom teachers to apply for grants that underwrite the cost of bringing professional artists into their schools for short-term residency programs.
Five Minnesota-based artists showcased their artistic skills -- dancing, acting, writing, storytelling -- as well as their teaching skills for the teachers invited to the event, one of four of its kind in the state this year.
Loren Vanasek (right), an art teacher at Rippleside Elementary School in Aitkin, learned about the Arts in Education residency program during a discussion Saturday with Denese Sanders (left), an Arts in Education program associate, and Debra Hunt, program manager for the Minnesota Alliance for Arts in Education.
"It gives kids an opportunity to spend a Saturday with artists in a hands-on way," said Nancy Ratzloff, a Little Falls art teacher who helped organize the event. "And it's a chance for the artists to show what they have to offer" for the Artist in Education residency grant program.
To qualify for an Artist in Education grant, a school must design a short-term residency in cooperation with a state-approved artist -- one who has been admitted to the state's "roster" list.
Area schools have qualified for dozens of residency grants in recent years, but there are some teachers who are still unfamiliar with the program or who want to see prospective resident artists in action before applying for a grant, said others involved in the program.
A representative from the Artist in Education program was on hand throughout the day to instruct participating teachers on the grant application process.
Christopher Yaeger, a professional dancer, demonstrated a folk dance to dozens of children who participated in his Artist Residency Day class in Little Falls. He was one of five roster artists who participated in the event.
Seven roster artists had been expected for the event, but two canceled at the last minute because of illness, Ratzloff said.
Participating artists included actors Rhonda Lund and Elizabeth Dwyer, dancer Christopher Yaeger, storyteller Carol McCormick, and an ensemble from the MacPhail Center for the Arts.
"It's really hard to look in a book and read about an artist," Ratzloff said, "but if you are going to the trouble of inviting them to your school, it's nice to see what they have to offer the kids, what their classroom personality is like, how they interact with the students."
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