There's been a lot of good suggestions given on here for scrounging
materials and cheap alternative supplies. I've found paper mache and
cardboardto be cheap materials which yeild big, impressive projects. A
good strategy might be to produce some really huge, eye catching projects
that get people to start noticing the art program rather than little
drawings and tempera paintings. I use the bright, fadeless bulletin
board paper (from the teachers supply room!) to cover our paper mache
projects instead of paint.
I've been teaching for many years in a wide variety of schools, camps, and
museums in many geographical areas. The one thing I keep finding is that
schools continue to buy from school catalogs which are the same as retail
stores. Catalogs do give quantity discounts and some actually pay for
shipping, but the cost per item is still basically retail. This amazes me
because most schools can qualify to purchase goods from wholesale art
distributors. I suggest you look in the yellow pages under "art supplies,
wholesale". If you find a listing, call the company and ask what is needed
to open up a school account. In the last two places I've lived and taught
(new Orleans and rural Hawaii), I found such suppliers. In New Orleans,
the distributor explained that he couldn't sell to schools because it put
us in competition with his retail accounts (art supply stores).
Technically, they aren't supposed to sell to you unless you are planning to
"resale" the merchandise with the regular retail markup. I got around this
by "selling" the materials to my students. In effect they paid for the
materials with a small art fee, but we got a lot more for our money buying
at 40% off retail prices.
This may sound complicated but its definitely worth a try. You might also
look into accessing the person in charge of ordering supplies for your
school system. Often the art teacher knows more about brands and the best
papers than the administrator who is doing the buying. They might welcome
your imput, especially if you can save them money. This way you get the
materials you really want and they get to save a few bucks.
In addition to being a scavenger, an art teacher really needs to know about
materials, how to research prices and sources. Some of that comes with
experience (i.e. in the long run, its cheaper to buy good brushes that last
and to spend some time teaching kids how to use them, clean them and store
Buying even the cheapest brushes every year can be expensive.) The best
college experience I had for my profession was working at an art supply
store for a year.
No matter how much money you get, you will always find a zillion ways to
The Surgeon's Motto: "Never say 'oops!', always say 'there!'