How to run a school art show

Prepping for School Art Show


How to run a school art show

Many of you might be in the process of planning your end-of-the-year school 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

How to run a school art show: Making art display boardsLast 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!


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.

How to run a school art show: Making art portfolios

On this note, if you do see a class every week, chances are you are accumulating a great deal of artwork. 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 School Art Show 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 school 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:

How to run a school art show: recruiting volunteers

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 Stapler, artwork 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.

How to run a school art show

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

What do you think?

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  • Leah

    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!

  • Nancy

    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!

  • Jenifer

    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?

  • jenn

    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

      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

        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

      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

        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

      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 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.

  • phyl

    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

      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.

  • vivian vegter

    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

      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!