Inside: Find out how to get free classroom art supplies so your students can discover the magic of art!
Empty Classroom Cabinets
I started teaching elementary art in a urban, South Dallas school back in 2008. Seeing my classroom for the first time was a shock! I had boxes upon boxes of faded construction paper scraps, dozens of mostly dried up markers, and a pile of metal scissors that barely cut the scraps. That was it.
Where was the paint? The printmaking supplies? The clay tools? The paper cutter? No, the paper. WHERE WAS THE PAPER? There was no paper besides the letter-size copy paper I stole from the copy room.
I went straight to my principal and told her I needed art supplies if she wanted the kids to make art. She told me to make a list of what I wanted, and they would do what they can. I, of course, made her a nice long list and hit up the office supply stores with my own money for crayons and colored pencils to at least get me through until my supply order can through. I’ve got this, I thought.
Making It Work
School started. No supplies arrived.
Okay. No need to panic. The first week or two will be introduction anyway, and we can use pencils and copy paper for some drawing activities. I had about 800 students divided among 37 sections of students, and it was my first time teaching elementary art, so I didn’t need to be doing any advanced or complicated projects right away anyway. I also managed to con some of the classroom teachers into giving me their extra 12×18 manila paper.
Finally, I go to the office manager and ask the status of my supply order. She said my list was too long, and they didn’t know what was the most important, so no order had been placed. Breathe.
I marked the things absolutely necessary from my original order and gave it back to her. I ended up with only 1/4 of my original list, but I now had paintbrushes, paint, working scissors, glue, 12×18 white paper, and construction paper.
I made it work, but I felt very limited by the supplies. My family and friends graciously donated to my classroom, but the biggest difference was my discovery of Donors Choose. (This post is not sponsored. I just think you all need to know about and use this site!)
DonorsChoose.org is a non-profit where teachers post about projects they want to complete with their students. Individuals use the site to find and contribute money to projects they like. In addition to the helping out a classroom or school in need, the money given by the individuals is tax-deductible.
When you submit your request for free classroom art supplies, you choose exactly what supplies you want from the catalogs of stores. (I ordered from Blick for the supplies and Barnes and Nobles for the books.) Once the project is funded, Donors Choose places the order and ships the supplies right to the school. The main requirement after you get the funding is to submit pictures of your students using the supplies as well as thank you notes from the students to the donors.
Through DonorsChoose.org, I got 7 different grant requests funded. I received a full art library, a class set of block printmaking supplies, air dry clay and tools, lots of sharpies, and miscellaneous crafting supplies like pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and such. It was an amazing experience. I was thrilled to be able to leave that classroom well-supplied for the next art teacher.
Curated Connection Library
Art teachers regularly contact me to ask about the cost of membership to the Curated Connections Library. We all know how far an art teacher’s salary has to stretch, especially when we have to find a way to provide supplies for students on our own. That’s why I was so excited to discover that Donors Choose can be used to become a member!
Teachers who have 6 or more points on Donors Choose can create a “Special Request project” for a yearly membership. First, get an price estimate from us at this link. Then, create your “Special Request project” on Donors Choose and upload the PDF of your estimate. For more information, visit this link.
Tips for Getting Your Free Classroom Art Supplies Grant Funded
Here are my tips for getting your grant request funded on Donors Choose:
- Rather than doing one big request, do many smaller requests for free classroom art supplies. Each of my requests were only a couple hundred dollars each, so they were easier to get funded than if I had done one big one that encompassed everything.
- Use powerful language. Donors want to know that they are helping students in need. Don’t be afraid to get emotional and tell the story of the challenges facing your classes. Talk about the value of art and how it will benefit the kids.
- Keep it short and simple. Use a story or hook that draws donors in and make them want to act! A couple of powerful paragraphs will always beat a wall of text.
- Don’t forget to send the link for your grant requests to your school parents and administrators (as well as your friends and family) once the link is live. Your funding may end up coming from your own community.
Donors Choose Grant Request Example
Here was the text of one of my grant requests to give you an idea of what I am talking about.
“At moments of great enthusiasm it seems to me that no one in the world has ever made something this beautiful and important.” — Andrew Wyeth, artist
My elementary art classroom of high-poverty, inner-city children is full of such enthusiasm. On a very limited art budget of only $100 per year, I must provide meaningful and exciting visual arts experiences for all 800-850 students, grades Kinder-5th. This comes to a meager $0.11 per child. We need help to move beyond the basics of paper, crayons, and markers to introduce the tools and media that professional artists use. The introduction of more advanced art media in my classroom excites and draws in my emerging artists–giving them the spark to continue with art throughout middle and high school and hopefully into their future careers.
These sharp minds need Sharpies! Sharpies may not sound like an exciting tool to you, but a Sharpie is one of the most useful tools an artist has in her toolbox. Sharpies add a bold quality to drawings, adds finishing touches to a painting, and can transform a mess into a masterpiece in just a few strokes. Sharpies are ideal because they don’t run when touched by watery paint and the bold line is the perfect thickness to make an artwork really POP. Your donation will help create artworks that the students and their parents will treasure.
Give it a shot! You may be able to provide your students with brand new experiences that wouldn’t have been possible without the extra materials.
This post was originally posted on September 28, 2015.
I am a new teacher in a kindergarten class. I teach colr and art with my students but not an “Art Teacher.” Your testimonial was really touching because I saw myself and classroom in your story.
Michelle M Wilson
Do you have any suggestions for those of us whose districts do not allow us to use Donors choose?
Try listening to our podcast with guest Holly Bess Kincaid about funding your art program: https://artclasscurator.com/11-funding-your-art-program-with-holly-bess-kincaid/
Another option that has been going around social media is creating a “wish list” of items for your community to bring or fund. The most recent edition of this is creating an amazon wish list and sharing it with anyone who may be able to help.
I hope this helps. Happy Teaching!
In August of 2021, over 20 inches of rain fell in under 24 hours in Waverly, TN. We lost 2 schools completely and damage to a third. We finished the rest of the school year by combining the schools throughout the county and bussing students. We received some school supplies and limited art supplies. Do you have any suggestion on how to find art supplies for my classroom for the upcoming year along with the two other schools? I have tried DonorsChoose in the past without any luck. Any help in the right direction is greatly appreciated. Thank you.
That is so devastating! I recommend two of our podcasts Funding Your Art Program with Holly Bess Kincaid and Getting Great at Grant Proposal Writing with Barbara Lardner.