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Prepping for a new school year is a lot of work, and it takes a chunk of our mental capacity. Thinking about service projects for your extracurricular students is probably something you have considered tabling for later. We all know that using our artistic skills to give back is a great way to connect with the community. However, service projects don’t have to be large and time-consuming to make a big impact on your students, school, local, and global communities.
Many high school art programs offer a National Art Honor Society (NAHS) as an extracurricular activity. A big focus of NAHS is to bring art to the community through service. Likewise, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program has a Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) component. Students are encouraged to tie all three areas together to grow through collaborative experiences that help others. If you are looking for activities and events for your NAHS and CAS students, or even just your art classes and art club, you are in the right place!
Short-term, small-scale project ideas are perfect to keep on hand. They are quick, fun fillers between larger, long-term projects. Inject these throughout the seasons to fill space or to get the ball rolling on the new year.
1. Welcome Signs
Create artful banners to promote a positive environment on day one. Print off locker signs with warm, personalized messages for incoming freshmen. Create pocket maps of the school or hang hand-lettered flags to identify rooms or areas.
2. Be Mine, Valentine
Art students come up with the wittiest (and cutest) valentines around. Help students create pun-loving cards and then scan and print them in bulk. Students can then sell, package, and deliver these happy messages for a small fee. These cards help students feel special, and the funds can be donated to a larger organization.
3. Calculator Covers
Janell Matas, a high school teacher in Illinois, keeps close connections with other departments when adding to her list of service projects. The math department keeps a stash of calculators for students to check out during testing or for homework. These covers, primed and painted with acrylic paint, send an art-filled message to those crunching numbers. This is also a unique way for the math teachers to label and track the calculators.
4. Cards and Care Packages
Nothing touches hearts like sending original art cards and small care packages. Consider service members abroad, hospitals with long-term patients, and nursing home residents. Women and Children centers are another great local opportunity to spread love and warmth to those who need it the most.
5. Self-Care Coloring Pages
If you are looking to boost morale or support mindfulness around the school, look no further. Students in Elizabeth Osborne’s NAHS in Illinois created artwork that was turned into a coloring book. Create a station with colored pencils in the teachers’ lounge to support teachers’ well-being. Share pages in the school library or cafeteria to impact the culture and climate of the school.
6. Google Classroom Banner Contest
Osborne’s students also participated in a Google Classroom banner contest for other classes and content areas. Students connected with teachers from other subjects, advocated for the arts, and supported student engagement through art. The end result was a personalized banner for each teacher.
Medium-sized projects may take a little more planning and collaboration with your community to get started. Schedule these into your service calendar based on what is going on in your school and the local community.
7. Window Painting
Perhaps your community hosts a yearly painting contest, your school needs some pep for homecoming, or you are looking to show support for a themed month. Window painting is a fun and highly visible way to clock service hours.
8. Art Fair Fundraisers
Print off student artwork to sell as mini-prints, cards, magnets, and more. Have students research charitable organizations and determine where to donate the proceeds. Save a portion of the earnings to cover supplies for future service projects.
9. Holiday Markets
Schools often rent out space to holiday markets or craft fairs. These are good opportunities to snap holiday photos, sell hand-made cards, clay pendants, ornaments, and more.
10. Teach Art
Connect with your community to teach art to others. Reach out to your local community center, YMCA, or afterschool organization. Teaching art to others through a weekly class or one-time workshop is a fun service project for your students. It promotes the importance of the arts beyond your school walls. Another idea is to connect with your school or district’s child development program. Teaching preschoolers melts the heart and may even make some art teachers in training!
11. Field Trip Fundraiser
Raise funds to bring art experiences to other schools. Partner with a less-funded elementary school or work with other NAHS groups. Create opportunities to pay for a bus or ticket fee into a local museum for those who can’t afford it.
Large service projects may take months or even years to complete. You may have to write grants, plan for funding, and get administrative approval for many of these ideas. These projects are worth the work, as they create a long-lasting impact for everyone involved.
12. Little Free Library
Matt Milkowski of Illinois painted a Little Free Library for his community. Support literacy and make an artful impact with these small, communal libraries.
13. School Murals
The English Department at Janell Matas’s school commissioned her NAHS students to create literacy-related murals to line the hallways. Students designed these murals in collaboration with English teachers and received administrative approval. Because murals can take months or years to complete (or add onto), you may want to consider working on masonite sheets. The sheets can be painted in your art space and installed once complete.
14. Functional Community Art
Engage with your local parks and recreation department to spruce up benches and rain barrels with beautiful and meaningful messages. Your community might also sponsor a yearly “statues around town” event. Paint a fiberglass sculpture to advocate for the arts and share a positive message. These sculptures are typically purchased and displayed by a local business and later auctioned off for a charitable cause.
15. Empty Bowls
This popular event, founded in 1990 by art teacher John Hartom, uses the goal of ending hunger to give students a sense of global awareness. This event takes planning and coordination with your community resources and student helpers. Participating in the long-standing tradition with both your school and community is well worth it. First, students create ceramic bowls for the community to purchase. Then, connect with a local restaurant to serve catered soup on the night of the event. While people are sharing a meal in their one-of-a-kind bowl, educate the community about the cause, how it developed, and about your art program. The funds earned through selling the bowls are then donated to your local soup kitchen or food pantry.
16. The Memory Project
Another popular service project, founded in 2004 by Ben Schumaker, bridges cultural understanding through portraiture and other art exchanges. Students globally connect with children in orphanages who have few belongings. They create portraits of these children or exchange artwork with them.
For more on The Memory Project, take a peek at these resources:
17. Artist Collaboration
Write a grant to work with a local artist or artist-in-residence to install a permanent mural in the school or community. Students design, propose, and acquire approval to create on a large scale. Chicago artist Phil Schuster worked with Kenwood Academy students to create a permanent installation. Through the grant, students created concrete reliefs that reflect student and community diversity. Plan to add pieces or sections each year to connect generations of students to their community’s buildings.
18. Healing Hospitality
Help the pediatrics wing welcome their littlest patients with extra care. Create fleece blankets for hospital arrivals to ease nerves and bring comfort. Keep healing vibes flowing with mini-art kits for more long-term stays. Turn childrens’ artwork into soothing stuffies or create how-to videos to keep patients busy while in bed. Research and collaborate with your local hospital for more possibilities.
Remember, service projects do not have to be enormous tasks. As you schedule out your school year, look for a balance of projects to support short-term, long-term, and everywhere in between. Giving back to the community can be as large as creating a permanent mosaic mural or as small as a welcome sign on the first day of school. Don’t feel pressured to make magic fundraisers happen—traditions and memories will be made along the way. Your art students will find it rewarding to use their artistic skills to advocate for the arts while giving back to their community. For a few more ideas, give 9 Powerful Service Learning Projects to Inspire Students a quick read.
What are your favorite art-related service projects?
Which project from the list are you excited to try with your students this year?
In what ways do you like to connect with your school, local, and global community through art?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors from across the nation and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University or any of its academic offerings.