Friday, May 29, 2015

In the Art Room: Top 10 Tips to Putting Together an Amazing Art Show

I've blogged about many of my art shows. You can read about the one from 2012 here and here; 2013 here and here and 2014 here and here

Well, it's that time o' year: ART SHOW TIME! I know for many of you art teachers out there, you've already wrapped up your annual show and I'm sure it was a success. I just finished off my 12th art show and I gotta tell ya, I'm still learning. Fortunately I have learned a thing or ten over the years and I thought I'd share them with you in this here post: The Top 10 Ways to Host a Humongo Art Show! Enjoy, y'all! And please share your tips and tricks in the comments, I'd love to hear from you.
This big ole collaborative piece was created a couple of years ago and still hangs outside my room. Second graders created the Jackson Pollack-inspired papers that frame the piece, while fourth graders created the tissue flowers and third made the brown palette and bristles of the brush. Make big beautiful stuff like this and you have instant and permanent art on your walls!

1. Start organizing early. Bwahahaha!! For those of you that know me, please pick yourself up off the floor and stop laughing. Folks are starting to stare. Y'all. I'm the least organized person On Planet Earth. That should make you feel pretty good about yourself for a coupla reasons: 1. You prolly can find your keys, wallet and phone every morning without a panic attack and 2. You can totally pull off a Humongo Art Show! 

In all cerealness, might I recommend you do the following: 

* Keep all student artwork organized by class. You already do this, I'm sure. I hoard every single thing the kids have made all year long for the art show. I remind the kids of this plan. In the meantime, I attempt to share as much of their work in temporary displays in the halls as well as on Artsonia.
* Matte their work as they complete it. I think everything looks a little nicer with a black frame. If you frame things as they complete them (or have the kids do it if you like that lopsided frame look, ahem), it will be a lot less stressful during art show time.
* Have the kids sign their work. Personally, I don't like labels on art work. I find them distracting. Imagine Mona Lisa with a big ole white label slapped at the bottom. Distracting much? What I do like is seeing an artist's signature. We spend a long time talking about how when an artist signs their work, that's their way of saying, "masterpiece complete". We sign our work either at the top or bottom in black sharpie. I let the kids decide if they'd like to write just their first name or their entire name. 
 Kindergarten artwork hung by one parent volunteer...
 Kindergarten art work hung by another parent volunteer. Notice how differently each parent hung the work. My theory: if it's up, it's good enough for me! By the way, here are some links to those projects seen above: clay birds, snowy landscapes, shape paintings, line paintings, self-portraits

2. Get help. Lots of it. My school has had an art show since before my time ("BC", Before Cassie, was a lot loss crazy I know!) so it's well established. My first couple of years, I hung everything every.single.thing. myself. I spent my spring break hanging. I spent my mornings and late nights hanging. During my third year, my brother was in a terrible car accident (he's a fine now. An English teacher on a reservation. Sup, Kris!), I was unable to hang the art show and something magical happened: parent volunteers came in and HUNG IT ALL. From there on out, I've utilized my parent volunteers to hang the art show. 

Here's how I do it:

* Woo them with donuts. At the start of the school year, I had a meeting during my morning planning for parent volunteers. I called it "Donuts with the Art Teacher". I walked my potential volunteers thru some options: volunteering in the art room during projects, hanging art work, mounting pieces and/or Artsonia help. I scored two dozen emails and kept them mildly busy until the art show. 
* Give them art hanging direction but don't be a micro-manager. Here's my theory: we are hanging EVERYTHING that EVERY KID has created throughout the year. I teach over 400 kids and they make between 5-7 two dimensional pieces. That's a whole lotta art work to hang. I tell the parents just a couple of things: where to hang the work (we hang all artwork outside of the student's classrooms so they can easily find their pieces) and what to hang it with (more on that in a sec) but I leave the aesthetics of hanging the work up to them. Some parents like to hang work by projects and some like to scatter the work as you can see in those pics above. Let them take ownership and enjoyment in hanging the work. That's what will keep 'em coming back.
* No parents? Let's talk alternative routes. Before I tapped into my parent volunteer network, I had the students help me hang the work. We'd walk our stack of pieces out the hall with our balled up pieces of sticky tack on the back and work on hanging. This was very effective with my older students and is something I plan to go back to when we hang smaller displays. Once finished hanging, the students could write criticisms, a-glow-and-a-grow or simply chat about their work. You could also utilize your fellow teachers. I find that bribery works wonders. Bring in some pizza, provide the sticky tac and make an afternoon of it. What would take them an hour would take you thirty. Presented to your colleagues that way just might get them to see your point of view.
 There's nothing worse than spending hours hanging artwork only to see it all on the floors in the morning. This year, my GENIUS bookkeeper came up with a solution! 

And it even works on walls we've never been able to hang on before! Fourth grade project lessons: donuts, landscapes, woven pouches, metal relief work and suns, just follow the link!

3. Nothing sticks to cinderblock. But this works. Oh, cinderblock. I've tried it all: masking tape, nope; blue sticky stuff, sometimes but that's only when the kids don't peel it off the back of the work and do I-don't-wanna-know with it; double-sided sticky tape, yeah, that works. But it's expensive and can tear the art work when it's removed from the walls. And don't even get me started on hot glue. Oh Lawd. I've lost fingernails trying to remove that from walls. 

This year, my bookkeeper suggested we use deer mesh. We taped it to the walls behind the cork strip molding and reinforced it with some push pins. Then artwork was simply paper clipped to the mesh. NOTHING FELL OFF THE WALLS. It was the most amazing experience to not find dozens of pieces of art on the floor each morning. Not only that but the mesh is practically invisible and not distracting. And it was super cheap. We bought 6 rolls for about $100 and only used 4. Many of the classroom teachers even kept their mesh to display class work. If only I'd thought of this years ago!
4. Get the kids excited. Since we've been doing an art show at my school since the beginning of time, the kids know that all of their work throughout the year will be on display. And they're excited by this! We finish off our masterpieces, create big banners and signs (visit here) and we write up lil artist bios so folks can get to know a little about the person behind the work. We write these every year so by the end of their fourth grade year, the kids have a nice collection to look back upon. It's just one of those fun ways to get the kids amped up about the art show.

Here's some other things we've done:

* Create an Art Show Pin. One year, back in my pre-blogging days, our art show fell very close to Mother's Day. So each student in the school created a small ceramic flower that we adhered a pin to. Students then created invitations with the pin inside. It was such a thrill on the night of the art show to see moms comparing their handmade pins. I just might have to do that again this coming year!
* Have the kids create invitations. This year, we simply let parents know via email, newsletter and a phone call about the art show. In years past, the kids have designed and created invitations that they shared with family and teachers. 
* Make posters and banners announcing the show. We did a lot of that this year. We hung them throughout the school and even used the left over paintings as backdrops for the words Think, Imagine, Create, Inspire that now hang in my art room.
5. Invite the big wigs. Your kids have worked hard all year. Your volunteers have busted their tails getting it all up and displayed. You just might have lost countless hours of sleep and reality television show watching time to prepare. INVITE EVERYONE YOU KNOW. You better believe my superintendent and entourage came. You better believe he was tweeting as fast as his fingers would allow. Y'all. Brag on yourself. It's good for the soul.
6. Get a sub the day of the art show. So years ago I was at an NAEA convention listening to some magical art teacher talk about her magical art show. And I was feeling a little peeved because I was all, "I could never pull all that off!" Then she spoke the magical words: GET.A.SUB. Yes! I've been doing it every since. The day of the art show, my art classes are held in an alternative location while I clear my room, set up displays and generally run around like a mad woman until 6pm. I'm fortunate to have a truly understanding and supportive administration. They get it. I bet yours will as well if you tell them what a big event you have in mind. Doesn't hurt to mention that you've invited those aforementioned big wigs!
Second grade artwork on display. Project ideas: circle loom weaving, symmetrical butterflies, collage landscapespenguinsojos de dios, and metal relief still life lessons. 

7. Offer free ice cream and they will come. We usually have between 400-500 folks show for our art show. That's not too shabby with a school of about 400 kids. It's been long established that we also have an ice cream social on that evening which is a big draw. The school provides the ice cream but that's about as much as I know. I never make it out of my art room to get any! We used to also have a book fair on the same evening but this year, it just didn't work out timing wise. I don't do craft tables or make-and-takes for a couple of reasons: 1. I think the artwork speaks for itself. To me, the evening is about the student work. and 2. I'm just not that organized! I love the idea in theory but with our crowds, I think it could get real crazy real fast. I admire those that can pull it off tho!
Special thanks to my buddy Laura over at Painted Paper for the fabulous Mexican art lessons! You can read more about those leaf print banners that first grade created here

8. Make it easy to find art work. There's nothing as unfun as having one million children and their not-so-happy parents come up to you and say "I can't find my artwork!" Well, make it easy for them! I always hang all student artwork outside of their classroom. We try to have everything up a good week or more before the show that way the kids can spend some time finding their work. This also helps me when lil Clementine comes to me and says "hey! I can't find myself portrait hanging up!" Well, Clemmie, that's cuz your crazy art teacher hung it with a different class. Best to get all that cleared up before the big night. 
Same goes with clay display! Have those pieces sorted by class and have the kids create labels to go next to their work. If you are super organized (read: not like me), have the kids create the displays themselves that way they know EXACTLY there their work is. Clay fish and sculpture lesson here.
 9. Create artwork throughout the year and then LEAVE IT UP! Bam! Instant work on the walls! The second grade created those reversible dot paintings at the start of the year for International Art Day. They got such a great response, I just left 'em up! 
Our Gallery of Gratitude still gets a lot of stops and stares. Not to mention it's such a nice warm-fuzzy of a collaborative piece. By the way, signs like the one you see on the left really help folks find artwork.
Also for Dot Day, the first graders created that mural which still looks happy outside my door. And those Kandinsky dots were created with a sub! I love how they brighten up my door. Perma-art is the way to go, y'all!
Third grade desert landscape lesson here.

10. Taking it all down and sending it home. Sniff. Okay, so that's a drag. Here's how I (don't) take down artwork:

* Request super nicely that the classroom teachers do it. Our art show is very near the end of the school year. Which means we teachers are cleaning out and packing up. Many of the teachers have their older students carefully remove the artwork. Others prefer to do it themselves or call in a room mom to do the job. I leave this portion of the art show in their hands. I just kindly remind them that what would take them 45 minutes would take me that times 23. After the work is taken down, the teachers return all my push pins, blue sticky tack and mesh.
* Have portfolios made. The super awesome aides at my school create portfolios for EVERY KID IN THE SCHOOL. It's simply a large sheet of bulletin board paper folded in half and stapled. Many of the teachers have the kids work on decorating those while they take down and pass back artwork.
Third grade ceramic flower lesson here

* Send fragile work home safely. The last couple of years, the day after the art show has been field day. This works out perfectly for me as that means I don't have art class. Instead, I arrange for each and every class to come to my room accompanied by their teacher. The kids sit on the floor and for 10-15 minutes, the classroom teachers and I wrap up clay projects in newspaper, put them in cheapo brown lunch bags and staple the name tag to the top. This insures all clay projects get home safely (except for the random kid who drops their bag and you hear that terrible CRACK sound) and out of your art room! I manage to knock all of that out by noon so I can enjoy a little field day action and room clean up.
Why do an art show, y'all? Moments like this. 

Whew! Was that enough info for you? I certainly hope so! If you have any questions, please lemme know! And I'd love to hear your art show tips and tricks as there's always a better way, right? Thanks, y'all! 

And special thanks to all the parent volunteers that always make the art show possible year after year. I love y'all!

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  1. Deer mesh! Brilliant! Love your blog. Keep rockin in.

    1. If only I'd have thought of it YEARS ago! Thank you :)

  2. Just finished my art show a couple of weeks ago. My classes are held at a church, so no permanent displays and a lot of prep at home. This year the venue changed five weeks before showtime so we had to scramble to figure out how to display with no bulletin boards(like last year). We covered 4 by 8 foot styrofoam insulation panels with fabric and glued strips of wood to the long edges for stability. We then attached three panels together in a "pinwheel" manner. I used straight pins to attach the already matted works of art. The music and dance classes perform the same night so we have a big crowd. During the last hour, students collect their pieces and put them in a portfolio they made in class. Trader Joe's donated bags for the bulky items. The panels worked great and are in storage for next time! (Pam from Tucson...a fellow Hoosier)

    1. Wow!! That sounds amazing, looks like you made some serious lemonade with those lemons! Great idea, getting the bags from TJ's also. Hoosiers sure are smart, aren't they ;) ?!

  3. What a beautiful show! So much joy going on there. I love the Kandinsky dot tree!

    1. Thank you!! I love that tree so much I'm gonna have a hard time taking it maybe I won't ;)

  4. Anonymous6/01/2015

    That looks like one fabulous art show. So much variety. It makes you want to get your creative hat on. Great outfit on part of the hostess too. Selina.

    1. Aw, thank you, Selina! You know a girl's gotta look good ;)

  5. Nice show! Thankyou for this nessesary show. I will hope to see more post like this next time. If you have time with your wish you can visit my site Säkerhetskamera

    1. Thank you! I'll be paying you a visit :)

  6. A-maze-Ing!!! This is a truly awesome post with incredible information! Thank you so much for sharing - I am capital I Inspired!

  7. Anonymous7/06/2015

    Wow Girl! You inspired me to do an art show this coming school year! You make it sound so easy......which I know it's not, but you definitely gave me the courage and motivation that I needed. Your ideas are great!

  8. Your music is amazing. You have some very talented artists. I wish you the best of success. Funny Looking People

  9. This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing blog that understand the value of providing a quality resource for free.

  10. Let me say how "awe inspiring" your website is for us long-suffering semi starving art teachers. I love your stories and your pics. You have the greatest ideas and your art room is amazing! Long story short (lol) I am a mother of 4 college students that live at home, commuting. Our house is more like animal house, minus the togas. However togas may be what me and my husband will be wearing after paying for "4" college tuitions. I have taught art for almost 25 years, all grades K-12th. I started with public school then homeschool to private, and now back in public school again and loving it!! I am teaching elementary K-5th, over 800 students a week. I'm pushing 50 (insert scream), so teaching the babies is crazy, exhausting, but totally awesome. I'm using a higher percentage of brain power, which is good for us approaching over the hill status. My question to you (drum roll) is "for your fantastic art show do you keep the students artwork throughout the entire school year OR do you let students take their work home, show it to the fam and they promise to bring it back?" (yeah right) For my younger students taking their art home is a BIG motivation to do their best work. This will be my biggest show ever and so that I am not totally insane by May (no guarantees) I'm getting my strategery on now. BTW I love love your wardrobe. If I were young again, which for me was a very short time of being thin and photogenic, I would so be copying your fashion sense! However if I did that now my conservative and somewhat stoic family would cart me to the not so funny farm. I kind of like my room and board here in good old Villa Rica, GA. Blessings!!

  11. Hi cassie, I came across your work on Pinterest and I just love all of your ideas. Imitation is the best form of flattery!!! I would like to show you my copy of your mural... Not sure how to insert a photo here... Keep up the great work and thank you for the inspiration!

    1. Hi Elena! I'd love to see it! You can email me at hope to hear from you soon :)

  12. EEK! I'm putting on my FIRST art show this year! One thing I am mulling over doing is a mini write up/description of each project. Including things like artists or culture we studied, the process and mediums included. It seems like a lot because I've got K - 6th grade, but I want families to understand all the minutia of what went into each project! Do you do this?! Advice please ... from any others out there! Thanks!

  13. One question-- I also want to keep artwork from all the kids the whole year. Problem with that is I share one art room with two art teachers.. our school has 700+ kids, and our 'storage space' is shared with the whole staff as a 'supply room', so I can't really keep a lot of stuff in there.
    Our school is limited on space, and I need ideas for how to store artwork (especially 3d work) for the whole year. Please share! :) in a blogpost?
    This year, we were limited on space, so I just started sending work home. But now I'm regretting it as I am preparing for the whole school art show (I am required to make sure at least one is up for each student).

    1. Hi! Well...two things: I am very VERY unorganized and I have a whole lotta space to be unorganized in. This helps me at least APPEAR organized and keep things kinda/sorta in order. What I"m trying to say is, I'm a hot mess who shouldn't be giving advice on storage space! If I get my act together, I'll def right a blog post! ;)

  14. Replies
    1. Aw, I love your comment ;) Thank you!

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  16. Hello!

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  18. Awesome tips you have here. A very informational post. Thanks for sharing! Check out Art fair Philippines, I'm sure you'll like it too.

  19. Okay, I thought those came out pretty darn cute! I inherited boxes of miscellaneous from my mother, including lots of vintage paper doilies. I just happened to find this unopened package of 40. I folded down the bags, folded the doily in half and attached it to the top of the bag with a clothespin. vinyl picket fence

  20. Elisabeth2/28/2018

    I'm trying to understand how you secured the deer mesh to the cinderblocks...what kind of tape? Were the cork strips already there and are they permanent? Thank you.

  21. Ive listening to you on art of ed and follow everything but can you please explain in detail how the deer mesh works? I bought two rolls for my school, gaffers tape and cloths-pin and our art show is next month. help please! Thank you!

  22. Thanks for all the great Tips! This year is my first art show, I have been matting every time we finish a project. I have over 350 works to hang. About the Deer mesh are the edges sharp? What is Gaffer tape, I have been using dots that are double sided they have been working well. Did you serve refreshments at the show?

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