Artists Giving Back

3, 4, 5

This lesson introduces the concepts of supporting the arts and artists “giving back.” This lesson also introduces the concept of serial reciprocity—when someone does something kind for you, you pass on an act of kindness to someone else.

Lesson Rating 
PrintOne Forty-Five Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • respond to literature that characterizes a struggling artist.
  • recognize why arts in the community are often supported by philanthropy.
  • identify the value of art, music and drama to the common good.
  • define the concept of “giving back.”
  • state why artists who are successful may wish to “give back.”
  • define serial reciprocity as passing on acts of kindness.
  • make a classroom goal related to serial reciprocity.
  • Camille and the Sunflowers (see Bibliographical References)
  • Books/posters of Van Gogh’s art
  • Internet access for teams of students

Anholt, Laurence. Camille and the Sunflowers: A Story About Vincent Van Gogh. Barrons Juveniles, 1994. ISBN: 0812064097


  1. Anticipatory Set: Show the students some examples of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. Talk a little about the colors, style and feelings generated from the paintings. If the information is available, talk about where the paintings hang and how much they sell for today. Tell the students that this very famous artist didn’t sell very many of his paintings when he was alive. He didn’t make enough money from his art to feed himself. His brother helped him buy materials for painting and helped support him. Ask the students if it seems fair that he was so poor and now his paintings sell for millions of dollars. Talk about whether this art is important to us? If Van Gogh were alive today, what would people be willing to do for him to make sure he had money for food, paints and canvasses?

  2. Read aloud the book Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt (see Bibliographical References). Discuss the main idea of the book that the artist Van Gogh was a struggling and misunderstood artist. Talk about how and why the boy and his family helped Vincent. Talk about the contribution of this artist to the common good. How can an artist survive if he can’t make money on his art work? He needed someone who recognized his important work to support him.

  3. Tell the students that some people choose to give time, talent or treasure to support artists and the arts. Creative arts in the community are often supported by philanthropy because it is important to the community. Help the students verbalize why the arts are important to the community (beauty, cultural diversity, leisure, etc.). Students may share stories of their own experiences with attending a show, performing in dance or music show, or visiting an art museum.

  4. Since it is difficult to support oneself when getting started in the arts, many artists rely on philanthropy. Many of them feel the need to “give back” to say thanks for the opportunities they were given. "Giving back" is a motivation for giving.

  5. Another form of giving back is called serial reciprocity. When someone does a selfless act, the recipient of the act often feels motivated to pass on or pay forward the kind act. This passing on of kind acts is called serial reciprocity. For example, you may be walking down the hall with your arms full of books. The person in front of you opens a door for you and asks if you want help carrying something. You thank the person and appreciate the unexpected help. Next time you are in line at the drinking fountain, you remember the kindness and let the person behind you move ahead of you in line.

  6. Ask the class to imagine what the classroom would be like if students were passing around acts of kindness at unexpected times. What would be some of the effects of this behavior?Discuss small ways they may "pay forward" or “give back” for kindnesses they receive.


Student participation in discussions and acts of kindness will be evidence of their comprehension and engagement in the concepts. Student pairs from Day One should come up with a written list of ways their assigned organization/event funds their performances.

Cross Curriculum 

Students make a classroom goal in which they commit to “passing on” acts of kindness in the classroom, school and at home.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
      2. Benchmark E.4 Define and give examples of selfishness and selflessness.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
    3. Standard DP 05. Role of Foundations
      1. Benchmark E.2 Name a local philanthropist who has given to a foundation.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Name a corporation or business that has contributed money for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.5 Identify one local citizen who has helped the community through giving and/or service.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark E.3 Identify outcomes from the service.