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Artsonia: Online Gallery
Raises Funds, Art Awareness,
And Self-Esteem

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At a time when money for the arts is limited and families may be spread across the globe due to military service, immigration, and other causes, one online resource seeks to support the connections of far-flung families and the bank accounts of local schools in one broad stroke. Artsonia is a masterpiece: a fundraiser for the arts and a free online gallery for student artwork in one inspired package. Included: Practical tips to help new users make the most of Artsonia.

For educator Kathy Jadud, the rewards for using Artsonia as a gallery showcase for her students artwork extend far beyond the enjoyment of her students and their families.

My participation has had a considerable impact in the area of my professional growth too," shares Jadud. "I would tell any new teachers who are thinking about getting involved that if they want to grow professionally, the online gallery is a good place to start."

Jadud, an art teacher at Big Creek Elementary School in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, didn't even know how to upload a file when she began using Artsonia. Learning how to manage Big Creeks online Artsonia gallery has overlapped into many other areas and increased her knowledge of technology. What Jadud didn't anticipate was that her experience with Artsonia would literally "pay off."

"When I started using Artsonia, I knew there was something there about fundraising. I had enough to do and planned to check that out at a later time," she recalled. "I was so surprised when they sent me an email message and said I had earned some money."

Jadud quickly discovered that when parents and families view their children's work on Artsonia, they can purchase T-shirts, coasters, and many other items that feature the artwork. Fifteen percent of those purchases are refunded to the school.

"This is important to me now because our gallery has helped me purchase resources that didn't fit into my budget. The first thing I purchased was a projector for my computer," Jadud reported.

Although she will mention the fundraising aspect of Artsonia to parents, Jadud teaches a diverse population, and she is careful not to overemphasize it. The parents of her students appreciate the opportunity to purchase items with their children's art, and many buy them for grandparent gifts or birthday presents. For Jadud, however, Artsonia primarily serves the students as an e-portfolio and a means of keeping a history of their growth in art.

Victoria, a second grader in Kathy Jadud's art class, shared this artwork in an Artsonia gallery of "Ohio Birds."
"When we have a few minutes to spare at the end of a class, we 'drop in' on our Artsonia gallery and look at the students' work on our SMART Board. There is something magical about seeing the images on the big screen," observed Jadud. "The students are always interested in the statistics -- how many people have joined their 'fan clubs' and what awards they have received."

In her teaching, Jadud uses Artsonia to review lessons that she has done in previous years. She and the students examine samples of those projects and discuss what worked in the past and what did not, giving them a concrete target for their own work. Jadud has also used Artsonia as a resource for lessons that are based on traditional art forms from other countries, and when their work involves other cultures, her students often view published work in galleries created by schools in foreign lands.

"I often refer to Artsonia to see how I constructed a lesson," Jadud stated. "I don't do the same things every year. My lesson plans may change from the writing to the actual production, and I don't always go back and revise the plan. Artsonia doesn't just keep a record of the student work but keeps a visual record of my work."

A few years ago, a publisher asked Jadud to use a photo of a student's project from her Artsonia gallery in a new publication. She also received a note from an author who saw an art project that Jadud had based on her illustrations. It is common for Jadud to receive messages from teachers across the country, asking questions about specific projects or commenting on the gallery as a whole.

GALLERY "GROUPIES"

"Artsonia is the best advocacy tool I have, says Susan Bivona, an art teacher in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. I can honestly say that my every conversation with parents includes how much they love Artsonia. It might sound hard to believe, but it is true. Our online gallery has made students, parents, and administrators take notice of the art program at Mount Prospect School."

Bivona, a self-professed "Artsonia groupie," publishes all of the artwork done by her elementary students in an online gallery hosted by Artsonia. By the end of fifth grade, the students have more than 20 pieces of artwork in their virtual portfolios. In the classroom, Bivona relies on her Artsonia gallery to show students examples of current projects, to share student work with parents during conferences, and to run slideshows of student-created art during school events.


Top "Techniques"

Teachers and the experts at Artsonia agree that a few practices will get any new user off on the right foot:

Start small, perhaps by publishing the work of just one grade level or two.

Decide how you will organize the portfolios, with all or only the best student work.

Establish a clear format for recording the photos and student names.

Put the word out to families and the community and encourage everyone to visit your online gallery.

Involve parent volunteers or older student helpers in taking pictures of the artwork, if possible.

Celebrate the students' accomplishments and the virtual awards that they receive for participation.

Watch for opportunities to join in art exhibits and contests sponsored by Artsonia.

"Our school is unique because my students have family members all over the world, and over 30 languages are spoken at home. Artsonia allows these far-and-wide family members to see what the children -- their grandchildren, nieces and nephews -- are creating in art class," reports Bivona. "Visitors to our gallery can leave comments for the student artists. My students have comments left in a number of different languages. I like that Artsonia creates positive conversation about art and what my students create and accomplish."

Security is a high priority for Artsonia, and students' last names are never published. In seven years, Bivona has never had a parent complain about any aspect of the site. She began by obtaining permission from parents of all students to publish work online, so she now only has to obtain forms from incoming kindergarten students and new students.

"Artsonia supports teachers," added Bivona. "It is a teacher- and user-friendly Web site that continues to improve each and every year, and its staff really listens to the teachers and makes our suggestions or requests happen."

SHARING CREATIVITY 24/7

As its education director, Tiffany Rahn is one of Artsonia's most helpful and sympathetic ears. She is responsible for the online gallery's marketing and promotions for teachers and schools. The company was established by co-founders Jim Meyers and Eric Meidel in Gurnee, Illinois.

"Jim and Eric were interested in e-commerce but weren't quite sure about what avenue to pursue," Rahn told Education World. "One day they noticed a co-worker who had his child's artwork posted all around his cubicle. Slowly, the two of them started thinking how there could be a better way to share a child's creativity with family and friends. As the brainstorming continued, they also wanted to find a way to help support the arts in education, as already it was becoming a course that was quickly dropped or challenged when funds were low. So, piece by piece, Artsonia emerged as an online art gallery for student work, providing a new way for families to be more involved with a child's creativity and also a way for art teachers to raise funds to help purchase supplies for their classrooms."

In the past school year, about 2,500 active teachers uploaded artwork to Artsonia for their students. The site currently has nearly 4.5 million pieces of artwork on display, representing students in 120 countries. In addition, more than 1,900 lesson plans have been submitted, which are viewable by anyone who is a registered teacher.

Participation in Artsonia is free, and users may submit as few or as many pieces of art as they like. Rahn touts the site's ability to make any child a "published artist," which enhances self-esteem and encourages families to become more involved in the classroom. While the fundraising opportunities are many, they require no additional work on the part of the teacher, such as tracking orders or collecting money.

"At any time, family and friends can purchase keepsakes imprinted with their child's artwork. The gift shop is always open, which allows funds to be earned both in summer and throughout the school year," said Rahn. "Artsonia donates fifteen percent of each purchase to the school. Whenever they choose, teachers can see a running total of the funds accumulating and can claim any or all of the funds. Artsonia offers the payout in the form of a check or in gift certificates from either Artsonia or Dick Blick Art Materials. There is no minimum or maximum requirement -- if a school earns $10 or $10,000, it will be paid out upon request."

Another benefit of Artsonia is the connection it provides for military families. A number of participating schools are on military bases, and their involvement allows deployed parents and family to stay more in touch with the day-to-day lives of the children they love.

"The most interesting pieces often come when major events -- be them tragic or wonderful -- occur. Seeing the artwork just after 9/11, after the tsunami, after the presidential election -- it's so interesting to take a step back and see the world through the eyes of a child," Rahn observed. "This is also true in looking at artwork from various demographics of the U.S. or worldwide. Ask an eight-year-old to draw a picture of his neighborhood, and you will see incredible differences from a child in urban Los Angeles, a child in a small Midwestern town, a child in Thailand, and a child in Pakistan. Many of our teachers use the international galleries to help teach lessons on cross-cultural studies or multiculturalism."

Read Part 2 of this article

  • Art teacher Tricia Fuglestad shares her students Artsonia gallery and talks about how she made the gallery happen when her district didnt have a policy in place to allow it. Her Artsonia gallery has generated money that she has used to obtain a new digital camera, an interactive whiteboard, and other tools and supplies.
  • Art teacher Donna Staten shares how her Artsonia gallery has helped build student self-esteem and how it has proved a valuable connection for military families.

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