Funding Author Visits for Schools

By Rukhsana Khan

(Preamble) Although the resources I have listed here are primarily available to schools in Ontario and Canada, I hope this article will be of benefit to anyone looking for ways to fund such enriching and rewarding programs as author and storyteller visits.

One public librarian once told me that children will cherish the memory of an author visit for a long time if not indefinitely. Author visits are vital ways in which children make the connection that books are written by real people. Not only can author visits influence children to seek out and read the books of the author who visited, but they can make kids look at all books in a different light. As such they are a vital tool to promote literacy. Unfortunately it's primarily the more affluent schools, with active PTA's, who benefit the most from author visits because they can afford them.

With all the cutbacks in funding, the schools (both private and public) are finding it even harder to bring in artists to enrich the learning of their students. And artists can do just that.

Through the use of the resources I've mentioned below, even schools in less affluent neighbourhoods can afford the benefits of author visits and artist interaction.

Art education is a vital and yet often neglected aspect of most school learning experiences. The cash-strapped nature of most public schools make it appear as if author visits and art-enrichment programs that other schools enjoy are beyond the means of poor schools, but this does not have to be the case. There are many wonderful programs available to enrich your school's art program through subsidies that fit various budgets. These are just some of them. I highly recommend all schools to utilize these resources. These funds are largely available through tax dollars.

The Canada Council for the Arts

The Canada Council is federally funded. You can apply to have an artist or author come and do a reading at a venue. Sometimes they will even pay the artist's fee and travel costs but in order to do this you need to have a public reading (open to the public) and in a public venue not in the school.

For more information:

The Canada Council for the Arts
350 Albert Street, P.O. Box 1047
Ottawa, Ont. K1P 5V8
toll free: 1-800-263-5588 ext. 5060
(613) 566-4414 ext. 5060
Fax: (613) 566-4390

Ontario Arts Council

This is a provincial organization with an excellent program called Artists in Education. In this program, for a nominal cost ($300 and up) a school can bring in an artist (author/illustrator/performer) to spend five days teaching a group of students and enriching their art education. The Ontario Arts Council covers the majority of the expense. Normally it would cost anywhere from $200 to $500 day to bring in an artist for just one day. This is an excellent program that I highly recommend and have been involved in (as one of the artists) in the past.

For more information:

The Ontario Arts Council
151 Bloor St. W.
Toronto, Ont., M5S 1T6
1-800-387-0058 or 416 961-1660
fax: 416-961-7796

The Writers' Union of Canada

This organization has a special service. It has certain grants available that will subsidize an author visit to a school. It's called the Writers in the Schools program. The great benefit of this program is that it will subsidize an author visit by $100 for a half day or $150 for a full day presentation, plus it will pay for the author's travel and accommodation costs where necessary. An excellent program but one where the funds quickly run out. The funding year begins in April so it's best to apply early.

For more information:

The Writer's Union of Canada
24 Ryerson Ave.
Toronto, Ont. M5T 2P3
Fax: 416-703-0826

Writers in Electronic Residence (W.I.E.R.)

This is a program that works online. For approximately $500 you can enroll a classroom for a term where an author will critique and work with students on a one-to-one basis from across Canada. An excellent program. W.I.E.R. is also involved in creating new programs that will benefit a wider audience.

For more information:

317 Adelaide St. W
3rd Floor, Suite 300
Toronto, Ont. M5E 1C7

The Royal Conservatory of Music

This organization takes a three pronged approach to art in the classroom. They pair a musician, a visual artist and a literary artist (storyteller) to enhance art education.

For more information:

The Royal Conservatory of Music
273 Bloor St. W.
Toronto, Ont. M5S 1W2
416-408-2824 x 470
Fax: 416-408-3096

I have included information on storytelling because it is usually neglected in school curriculum and yet it is vital to improving communication skills (both listening skills and verbal skills) in children.

The Storytellers' School of Toronto

This is an organization with a program called Storytellers in the Schools where they will help subsidize a storyteller visit in a school for up to $250 for a full day, where the school has to provide the remainder of the storyteller=s fee. Usually $250. For those teachers interested in improving their teaching skills through use of storytelling technique there are also some very reasonable and excellent storytelling courses offered through this school as well as a venue where you can practice in front of an audience (called 1001 Friday nights of Storytelling).

I encourage all teachers and educators to invest in learning storytelling technique. Even when you cannot afford an author visit, using storytelling technique to present books to children can make all the difference between engaging an audience of restless children and alienating them.

For more information:

The Storytellers' School of Toronto
791 St. Clair Ave. W.
2nd Floor
Toronto, Ont. M6C 1B7
Fax: 416-656-8510

To practice (or just enjoy) storytelling attend 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling, every Friday night from 8:30 pm to 11:00 pm, at St. George the Martyr Church by the Grange. Located at 205 John St. (North of Queen St.). It only costs $4 to attend.

In conclusion, literacy is a goal that all schools aim for. It is best fostered through a love of reading and that in turn, is fostered by a love of story and storytelling. They are all intimately connected. It is my wish that along with story reading, storytelling as an art form, will be reborn within the school community. I hope to one day see schools come together and put on storytelling festivals. Not only could they raise much needed funds through ticket sales (which parent wouldn't pay to see their child perform?) but they could foster a sense of community and multiculturalism and at the same time improve their students' communication skills.

This article is copyrighted by Rukhsana Khan and cannot be transmitted or produced without her express written permission.