Prepping for School Art Show

How-to-Prep-for-a-school-art-show

Many of you might be in the process of planning your end-of-the-year art show. Monday is Spring Break, but for me, I’ll be back at school sorting and organizing my student’s art work for the upcoming art show. I’ve written before about how I plan out my show…certainly nothing fancy, but boy does the show look great! Here are a few of my strategies:

Extra Art Display

Last year my friend Mario and I made folding art display panels for extra display at the art show. They were the single best thing I have contributed to the school. Since last year, the panels have been used in plays as backdrops (remember they are on wheels!) and for our PTA Reflections Photo Gallery. Talk about versatile!

Portfolios

It would be impossible to select a child’s best piece for the show without the use of portfolios. I’m the first one to admit that creating and maintaining a portfolio system requires a dedicated amount of time, but being organized is part of the job. Since I only have 15 sessions with each class, I don’t like to waste precious class time having the students create their portfolios, but if you see your students every week, then by all means, get them to do it.

On this note, if you do see a class every week, chances are you are accumulating a great deal of art work. Start weeding out which pieces go home. Any free-choice or half-done pieces that you know won’t be worked on again–send home. Any large 3-D pieces that are not intended for the art show–send home. You get the idea.

I keep my class portfolios in standard filing cabinets. When I didn’t have cabinets, I used wooden shelf-style cubbies (the best!). When I didn’t have cabinets or cubbies, I used cardboard boxes and placed the boxes under tables along the perimeter of the room.

Selecting Art Work

There are a few things I keep in mind when selecting art for the annual school art show:

  • Every student needs to have one finished piece. Sounds easy but I have some students who miss many classes. If I look through their portfolio a few weeks before the art show and they have nothing completed, I will make sure his next piece is completed in class or I will give him a piece of unfinished art to take back to class to finish there. I don’t care what the child’s situation is or whether or not his parents will even come to the art show. But that child WILL have something that represents him as an artist.
  • Since I do a huge variety of projects, I make sure I have a good representation of all techniques and mediums. I want the parents to see how broad our little art program is and that I don’t do one lesson for every grade level. There is nothing as boring (or comparative) than seeing 100 painted penguins displayed. And since parents support half the art budget, I want them to be encouraged that their hard-earned money is being put to very good use.
  • Many, many students produce amazing pieces. How do I chose which one is selected? I try and remember which piece resonated with that child. Usually, if they are proud of a piece, I remember. That’s the piece I will pick.
  • I pick all pieces. Sounds a bit like I’m a control freak, huh? Well, I am. My first year teaching, I took an entire class period for each class so that the students could pick their own pieces. It was extremely time consuming and really hard for some kids. I abandoned that idea pretty quickly. Another year, I sent the 6th grade portfolios back to their homeroom classes so that the students could look through their portfolios and select their favorites. Some selections came back as the unfinished ones or all the same ones. There just wasn’t the variety I had hoped for. Some of the selection process was peer pressure as well. Some kids chose their worst piece (or funniest piece in their eyes). So let’s just say I placed my control-freak hat back on again the next year.

Displaying Art

I have used the same system for over 10 years of art shows. This is what I do:

  • I select the class art work and send it back to the classroom teacher.
  • The classroom teacher has labels (printed by the office manager), a set of basic mounting instructions and a stack of artwork. They mount the artwork onto construction paper with regular school glue. Most of the time an aid or a room mom mounts the art.
  • The mounted art work gets sent back to the art room.
  • Volunteers take each class folder filled with art and takes them to the multi-purpose room. Once there, the volunteers cut lengths of colored rolled art paper. To make measuring easy, we place masking tape on the floor at pre-measured distances. So if we need 12 sheets of 96″ papers, we place two strips of masking tape on the floor at a distance of 96″. Then, just place the roll of paper on the floor, push until the roll reaches the masking tape marker and cut. Stack papers on top of one another until its time to use.
  • Using a Long Reach Staplerartwork is mounted by class onto the colored lengths of paper. We don’t start at the very tip top as we want the artwork to be low enough to view. Sometimes its necessary to use masking tape for pieces that extend too far into the middle of the panel.
  • When a paper panel has all artwork attached, we stack the panels on the floor until we are ready to mount the panels on either the walls or moving display panels.
  • The hanging of the pre-mounted and very heavy artwork is actually pretty quick. Using a ladder, one gal hands the heavy, art-ladden paper up to the gal on the ladder. She staples the paper to the wall. To make the top of the paper durable, the paper is folded. This is all that needs to be done. The staples hold and the artwork hangs well.
  • When it comes time to dismantle the art show, the paper panels are pulled down (they let go easily) and each panel goes to the classroom teacher. 6th grade students do well at this task. They carry the panels back to the teachers, who un-staple the artwork and send it home with the artists.

Good luck to everyone who is planning an art show. Be proud of your work and celebrate with the children!

Need more details, descriptions, checklist and diagrams? Take a look at my Art Show Guidebook in the DSS Shop

37 comments

  1. Leah says:

    I always chose my student’s artwork too! For the same reasons- I could get variety, and pick that student’s best work. If I had a student who had many good pieces, I would choose the piece that I had the least of from other students. I also had one piece from every student. In order to collect all that work I started at the beginning of the year and picked the nicest pieces from each project, without repeating artists. In order to make sure everyone had a piece, my awesome school secretary printed out labels for me with each child’s name and grade. Then I just labeled the work as it was finished. Whoever still had a label on the sheet still needed a piece of work in the show. You do have to make sure you catch new students that move in after the labels are printed though, so you don’t forget to include them. You are lucky to have so many volunteers. I usually mounted all the art myself and the display was usually just myself and the music teacher!

  2. Nancy says:

    Wow, It would be nice to have volunteers. I work in an inner-city school and we do not have that luxury. I trim, mount and hand label all of the artwork at my main school (460 students.) I start saving it from the beginning of the year. I have just finished collecting the artwork. I trim, mount and label as I go, sorting into large class folders. I glue the pieces to the bulletin board paper and hang it on the tack strips/bulletin boards all along the halls. Not sure if I will do the show next year as my main school that I do the art show at (I teach in 3 schools) has become very transient and I will be be adding artwork daily to class folders for new students and pulling artwork as students move. It becomes exhausting tracking the students moves!

  3. Jenifer says:

    I’m still having a hard time trying to figure out how to pick pieces for kids. How many pieces do you pick for each student? Do you pick just one piece or more? You pick different pieces within a class so everyone has something different?

  4. jenn says:

    Wow, apparently i have been doing everything wrong! I chose 6-7 pieces of art for each students and mount and hand tag each myself. I also hang the entire show my self. It take me about a month. Does anyone else do a big art show? I do around 2500 pieces of work…..

    • Laura says:

      I do a overall thematic unit for the entire school – Every student has 4-5 pieces of artwork (12 x 18 or 18 x 24 inch projects) mounted and displayed. I have nearly 600 students. I mount every project and hang everything myself. I absolutely love and enjoy hanging artwork. It is such a pleasure to see finish projects go up on the walls.

      I do not have many repetitious projects each class has a different projects displayed but all the projects from that class are displayed.( Hope that makes sense?) It is a vast undertaking and I start in Feb., hang every day until the Art Show on March 29.

      It is a HUGE show but March is Youth Art Month why not promote art in a BIG way! :) Promote the arts because with out the PR the fine arts are being pushed aside. Happy Displaying!

      • Patty says:

        Oh, how I would love to be your helper! I love how you create your wonderful displays. You MUST do a post for me explaining the process!

    • ashley says:

      I have 430 students and I chose 3 pieces per students and I take a photograph of each student to go with their artwork (so i am hanging 1600 pieces). I mount, label and hang everything myself. The show is in May and I hang everything in the hallways. Three pieces seems to be plenty and parents and students enjoy the evening.

      • Patty says:

        It seems as though you are not alone in being a one-woman show! For my first year of art, I selected two pieces per child, but I simply didn’t have enough space in our MPR to display everything. If you have the space and ability, I think it’s wonderful to display so many pieces per student.

    • Kris Bien says:

      We had our 5TH Annual Art Night Event this year. Usually we have about 3-5 projects per class. We have 13 classes. 300 students. We have a team of about 35 volunteer art docents who teach art history with our district handbook for art lessons with projects monthly. Art Night is a great family event. This year we mixed it up and put all art in our gym. I highly recommend this. I recruited art docents to “display” and label their own art. We had 5 days to pin art. I couldn’t use staple hammers. It punched big holes in art and wouldn’t stick to our flats. We use 30 flats, like a cubical wall, double sided. I drew a map of the gym, deciding ahead of time where each class’s art would go. When volunteers came in, they went to their flat and we use straight pins. We have the flats from our school district, reserved in August, for March event. We also form a committee of art docent volunteers or parents about 2 months before event. It’s about 6-8 people. One person is in charge of signing up volunteers through school newsletter, teacher emails, room parents. This year we used Eventbrite.com to sign up and track volunteers. I made a notebook with examples of written publicity, local paper write ups, web site blurbs and have documents for each part of the night. We all pull together to do a fundraising bake sale for art supplies, we display PTA Reflection entries, we have teachers who read stories on art to the kids, and a variety of other activities for the 1.5 hour event. This year we even had music performances. I think the exchange of experience with these events is invaluable. I learned a lot this year. Recruiting volunteers is one of the biggest efforts. I started having signups at Open House in Sept., our art docent orientation, curriculum nights, PTA meetings, every opportunity I could think of. So many ways to do these things.

  5. phyl says:

    Wow. You actually have classroom teachers who mount/label/etc?!! I select, mount, and label everything myself. No volunteers. The show goes up one day, take the whole day to set up, and then only stays up for one day, as the show is in the gym and the gym teachers need the gym back for classes. Lots of work for just one day, but great PR.

    • Patty says:

      I’m curious…would you like volunteers or is the art show something you prefer to handle alone? I totally understand the go-it-alone as it really is a wonderful feeling curating the student’s art into a spectacular show. But I am wondering if people need ideas to help generate volunteers. Just a thought.

  6. vivian vegter says:

    I loved to read this post! It interests me a lot to read how you organise it. Although an experienced teacher, I am only in my second year of exhibitions, and at my school I found it a huge undertaking te first year. We are an international school and the annual exhibition is both exam, secondary and primary work. We do lot’s of large pieces/group work with our students that are worked on collaberatively during classes the 2 months before the exhibition. This is great fun and challenging for the students. From an organisational point of view, it is a challenge! I remember classes of 29 but not enough space for them to work all on the big pieces. Then splittig the group in two and prepare an as fun and exiting activity for the other half…I really felt like a juggler! Now the corridors and halls of our school show all the effort and are full of the wunderful art works of the preceding years.
    What I am wondering is, I’ve done some succesful new projects this year that are going to be displayed in the exhibition. I would like to do these projects again next year, both because they were succesful and cover what I want to teach my students and because I have grade 1-6 and two art clubs, so it will save me lots of time. But how do you keep the exhibition interesting if you were going to show the parents, students, colleagues the same projects (of course made by other students) the next year? And most parents do have more than one kid in the school too. My colleagues in my art departement assure me I should come up with new projects every year. Of course it IS much more adventurous but it seems to me adding a lot to the workload…I would appreciate it if one of you would like to share thoughts on that….

    • Patty says:

      While I agree that new lessons and new exhibits are exciting, it sometimes feels as though you are re-inventing the wheel. I have two solutions: Repeat successful projects every second year or do the same project in terms of technique and supplies but alter the subject matter. I do this all the time. Most lessons are interesting because you used a special technique. So just alter the subject and you have a brand new project!

  7. Kristina says:

    How long do you keep your artworks up for the art show? What do you do to get parents out to see the artworks? I usually combine our art show with the spring chorus performance, but this year our music teacher did an early musical (already done) and I don’t feel that any parents will come out JUST to see the artwork.

    Also, how do you go about gaining volunteers?

    • Patty says:

      Hi Kristina,
      This year the date of my art show has moved. For the past four years the art show has been held in conjunction with the Spring Sing music recital and other end-of-the-year events. This year however, we are holding the art show during parent Open House Night. Every parent and their children attend so the art show will have many visitors. Since art is part of the children’s curriculum, I think it’s vital that the parents see it that way as well.
      In the past, the art has stayed up for about 24 hours!!! But since I have a different layout this year, I can keep it up longer. Maybe a week if I can get away with it!!
      As for volunteers, I have some great suggestions and since other people have asked as well, I intend to write a post about volunteers. Check back later today!
      Thanks for your question!

      • mrs g says:

        Why does your art show only stay up 24 hours? All that work and you take it down so quickly? Where do you have your show, in the cafeteria, gym,hallways? I guess I’m really fortunate because I can keep mine up for a month.

        • Patty says:

          My school has a Multi-purpose room. Many schools in Southern California don’t have interior hallways or gymnasiums (Kids do PE outdoors year round). Therefore, extra buildings, such as MPR’s, are often built to house PE classes, performances, etc. This is where we hold our art show. If I use just the walls, then the art can stay up for a while, but the room is too small for that. I use the floorspace as well as the stage and because of that, the art needs to be dismantled to allow for the school community to use the MPR.
          Does that help?

          • mrs g says:

            Yes, thanks for the reply. Just seems such a shame for the kids and you that the art can’t stay up longer. Do most school art show only stay up a few days? Gosh a feel really fortunate how long ours gets to stay up. The grass is not always greener is it?

            • Patty says:

              I think of our art show as a presentation…like a performance. We work hard to get it set-up, but the entire school shows up and attends the show. We do have places in our school where we do art displays so that people can view art year round. I don’t think a one-time art show is that uncommon.

  8. [...] by WP Greet Box WordPress PluginArt Show season is upon us and according to my last post on prepping for an art show, every art teacher has a different approach to their particular show. Some do it alone, mounting [...]

  9. MadelineBavli says:

    Patty,
    What is the program for your art show?
    Thanks so much.
    Madeline
    PS- I love your blog and check it out almost every day!

    • Patty says:

      hi Madeline,
      Sometimes if I have alot of time, I will make a program explaining what the grade levels have studied, but it’s rare. haven’t done one in a couple of years. Do you have a program for your show?

      • MadelineBavli says:

        I was thinking more of the sequence of events at the show. I’m planning our school’s art show at the public library. The show is opening May 1. I ‘m planning on having the principal welcome everyone and then I’ll give a little talk on why art is so important. Then I will invite everyone to enjoy the art. Is there anything else that I should be doing? (This is my first real show)
        Thanks for your help.
        Madeline

  10. Sally says:

    Do you think the show should be judged for grades 3-6? I think it might create a little excitement about the show, but it might be a bad idea since its so subjective…

    • Patty says:

      Every year our school district asks each school to participate in a district wide art show. Each school can select 25 pieces for display. I’ve used the school art show as a way to showcase the selected pieces. Actually, this will be the first year that I will do this showcasing at my current school, but I always did it at my other schools. People do get excited over this and why not; it’s okay to reward art as we do math, reading and sports.

  11. Heidi says:

    Hi Patty,

    At one of my schools we have a big art show in April. We make portfolios and organize them during a class peroid in early March. I ask the students to put their favorite piece in the front of the portfolio. I try to use that piece. However, I let them know I might pick something else. That way I can maintain the quality and cohesion of the display.

    I love your lable idea. I will have to implement it next year.

  12. [...] There’s a reason for my managing madness: Art Shows. Each spring there are a medley of opportunities to showcase the student’s art, starting with the biggest: the school art show. Each child gets to display one piece. I like to have all pieces available in individual portfolios in order to select the student’s best one. Also, this system gives me the opportunity to select a variety of artwork so the parents can see all of the projects done throughout the year. You can read more about how I prep for my art show here. [...]

  13. Lisa says:

    I have been doing art shows for 27 years. No one knows the amount of work it takes…I prep work through out the year, every time we complete a project I mount, tag, and set aside for the art show. I have artwork all over my house waiting to be mounted and taged. I try to mount onto 5-6 foot sheets of roll paper (fold the top over,glue, and insert a dowel stick) I then droop the sheets over something, Until May. . About two weeks ahead I begin hanging, I even get the school security code so I can work weekends. I hang from the drop ceilings with paperclips around the dowel, and into the ceiling Tee bar. You can also fan fold the sheets to separate the projects. I often decorate the background roll paper to make it more interesting. This is too much but that’s what I’ve done. I often create areas that exhibit the areas in a special way: Circus tent for the clowns. Black lights with strobes for the Haring pieces..etc… I have 2 schools to do this for, some years I’ve had three. I’ve often worked right through mothers day, and my children have slept in my classroom with McDonald’s and blankets. They’re now adults and show no wear from those late nites. I though have a lot of wear…and I show it…PS I also hang work through out the year…I do not think it should sit in a portfolio waiting for the 24 hour SHOW…Sometimes I hang a group of pics. and a title page SNEAK PEEK… and the title…I only hang a few, but this way the kids know they will be hung. I usually write the titles on sunglasses, or giant eyes. have fun, stress out, and enjoy…just think you could have to prove yourselves through pssa scores. ugh!!!

  14. Jill says:

    I just had my first art show for 500 kindergatners and first graders and it was a HUGE success! A tip I would give for those trying to figure out how to display all those great pcs.of art yet you don’t have access to art panels… Try contacting a local factory that builds and ships items in your area, they often have HUGE flat sheets of cardboard! I was able to get about 24 sheets of cardboard (each the size of a classroom door) from the factory for free and then covered each board with butcher paper, it looked great. I then just ductaped three panels together and formed a trapazoid… No one even knew it was cardboard.

  15. Mandy says:

    I am working on my art fair right now. This is my 9th year in Kansas City (Olathe). This year I moved to a new school and went from having 300 to 660 students. In the past I have gone about it solo, but I think next year I will change things. Maybe parent volunteers. It is a big task and I am overwhelmed with so many students. I typically display 1-3 pieces. Each student has a 2D and a 3D. I find many viewers enjoy seeing the 3D. I like showing parents how our curriculum is more than just painting, coloring, and drawing. My 3D pieces involve building from wire or paper. I let students choose their favorite 2D pieces and then I select 1-2 to go on display. It is a great deal of work and it is nice to have other art teachers to relate to.

  16. Sally says:

    Hi Patty

    I can’t tell you how helpful your website has been to me. I have not had an art show yet but that is my goal for next year. I worked for 17 years as a Special Education teacher and was finally able to teach art starting Feb. of last year. I have a B.A. in Fine Arts and used those skills in teaching my SPED kids all the time. Now, I LOVE teaching art! I currently teach 1500 (no, that’s not a typo.) students and alternate between two elementary schools. This creates quite a challege with simple logistics, for sure! Hoping next year to be at one school which would put me at approximately 700 student, K-4. I love all the helpful hints that you give with just simple oragnizational tasks….has saved me many times! Thanks you for all you do!

  17. [...] tips in organizing an art show? Check out my post on Art Show Prep and Asking for Help: Art Show [...]

    • Kathleen Machado says:

      Well, for my first Art Show I did show a little to much of each item. However, This Club Never had an Art Program until last January 2011, So everyone was impressed with what the children did. My classes are all most like a drop in if you want type. Sometimes difficult. Plus, I am limited in space, so some child my not participate that day.

      Are there any other clubs on this site that have the same situation?

  18. Susan says:

    Patty,
    Do you have your students put their own art work in portfolios when it’s dry or do you do it yourself afterwards? I have been doing protfolios for years but we organize them on a 1/2 year basis. You sound like yours are up-to-date weekly.
    I would like to manage the organization better.
    Thanks
    Susan

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Hi Susan,
      I’ve had years when students helped put art in portfolios but mostly I do it 2 times a year in rotations. After my first rotation ends, I sort the portfolios (this usually collides with the art show) and then I do it again at the ned of the year. I am not up to date and although it seems like a great thing to have the portfolios sorted weekly, I don’t deem it necessary as the portfolios are merely a tool for selecting art.

  19. [...] you like my door display? I used the time-saving ‘Deep Space Sparkle’ method to hang these: mount the art on construction paper, then staple the art to bulletin board paper [...]

  20. Marisa says:

    Hey Patty! As a first year art teacher, I must say, your site is AMAZING! Thank you for sharing such amazing ideas. I’ve never done an art show, and my school has never had one either. (so sad!) I LOVE the panels on wheels. I spoke to the music teacher about using our grant money for making some since we both could use them, and we were wondering how you went about making these and how many you made? How expensive was it?
    Thanks!

    • Patty Palmer says:

      Hi Marisa,
      So many people have asked me. I wrote it down somewhere. I’ll try to find the instructions and re-edit the post. Stay tuned..

  21. cataylor@jisd.org says:

    I feel bad now. And I will do things differently next year, possibly. I do an art show piece. I see 6 classes of each grade and am only picking one piece for each student. example 3 kindergarten classes do one piece (like clay) and 3 kinder classes are doing a painting. Because I only see them every 8 days I have to work on fundamentals over and over and then put all we learned in this one piece. Yall are amazing doing 1600 to 6000 pieces. But hey I am learning thank you for your blog! Cara

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About Patty

Welcome to DSS. I'm an art teacher to 400 elementary kids in Goleta, California. This is where you will find a library of art lessons, handy PDF lesson plans and resources to make teaching art to kids a whole lot easier.
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