Art Teacher Talk

“It’s Showtime!”: Time for an Art Show

Here we are.

The end of the school year and it’s time for an Art Show.

Covid killed the art show for sure. (reminds me of “Video Killed the Radio Star” – this will only truly resonate with my early MTV people).

Well, it killed the in person art show, anyway.

2020 was the year of virtual art shows.I have seen some brilliant ideas out there for getting kids’ work seen virtually. (Check out my friend Glitter Meets Glue for fabulous virtual show templates).

This post will be dedicated to preparing for and hosting an in person show in gallery space.

If you are in the early stages of teaching art or the early stages of growing a program, hosting a student art show out in the community is a sure fire way to get noticed. Hosting a show at school is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but getting the work out into the community brings a whole new set of eyes on your program. It is much the same effect as participating in regional and national competitions instead of just local venues but that is a whole other blog post.

There is something very special about seeing student work in real professional gallery space. It brings a new level of credibility to the student show experience. Kids who are on the fence about taking AP Art have told me that getting to show their work in the gallery was the final motivation to sign up.

My AP Studio Art Class hosts an end of year exhibition in a gorgeous local art gallery – Four Corners Framing & Gallery – in downtown Mooresville, NC. My fabulous friend Kim Saragoni owns it and she graciously offers it to us every year to showcase the kids’ work. Thankfully, she also donates an endless amount of excess museum quality mat board to our program and the artwork looks amazing.

Fox’s Tips for Hosting and In Person Art Show:

Find a nice “gallery space” in your community. If you’re thinking you don’t have options, trust me you do. We started at a beautiful gallery (that is no longer in business) 11 years ago. I packed up some student work, made an appointment, walked in and said, “You need to show my kids’ work, not only because it’s amazing, but because each student has parents (and extended family) who are potential gallery customers.” We all know how parents and grandparents love to come to see student work. An art show is a big draw. Communities love to support kids. It’s a win for the kids and the gallery owner.

Side Note: If you don’t have a gallery, I bet you have a coffee shop, or a library, or even a fire hall. We spent 15 years in Western Pennsylvania and most of the local school activities and events took place at fire halls. They are great spaces to hold events.

2. Frame the work. This is unquestionably the biggest hurdle. I frame the work gradually as the year progresses. The first year I waited till the end of the year to frame right before th show. DON’T do that . I worked for 5 days straight framing 100 pieces of art…..never again.” Now I take an afternoon about every two weeks and frame work. I have a “gallery wall” in my room covered in ½ inch foam board and I use push pins to display the work – this is a great motivator for my lower level classes. They always ask if their work will go up on the wall if they take AP.

Side Note: Check your local frame shop for mat board donations. If this is not an option, Crescent Brand Mat Board – two sided option white/black – from Dick Blick Art Materials is an economical option. Use your Blick Representative for best pricing – it runs about $6 for a 32 x 40 sheet.

3. I do all of the framing with my base model Logan Mat Cutter. I purchased it at Michaels about 11 years ago for 120 bucks. Best money I ever spent. If you are considering purchasing a mat cutter and are short on funds, this is a great buy and will last forever. I purchase replacement blades from Dick Blick Art Materials.

If possible, have each student bring in one roll of masking tape (not painters tape) at the start of the school year. You will use every inch of it. I promise.

4. How many pieces to display at the show depends of course on space available. We have 11 students in my AP class this year, and each student chose their best 10 works for the show. I always keep that number the same for all students, no matter how big or small their work is.

 5. Tags: I send everyone specifics on tag layout (font, font size, order of info) and they create a Google Doc and email to me. I print on white card stock, cut, and boom, we’re done. (Link to free PDF Tag Instructions)

Side Note: I typed and printed all the tags myself the first year. DON’T do that. Unless you just like stress. I’m a bit of a micro-manager (gee, ya think????) but once I came up with the google doc idea and released the work to the kids, life became a LOT easier lolol.

6. Hanging tip: We use masking tape (not blue painters tape) for hanging. The kids each roll about 150 pieces of tape and fix the rolls to a board. They bring the board to the hanging and there is no wasted time rolling tape. Works like a charm.

Two Side Notes: 1. Kids don’t know the difference between painters tape and masking tape (learned this one the hard way). Make sure you specify beige masking tape. Painters tape will not stick to the wall for more than five minutes. 2. Apply the masking tape roll sideways to the back of the work – at least 5 pieces across the top and the bottom and middle if it’s humid where you live – if not the artwork will literally “roll” down the wall and fall off – learned this the hard way too (LOLOL). Had to re-hang 100 fallen pieces that first year!

7. Let the kids hang the show. It’s valuable experience for them and it’s great collaboration. I am a fierce micro-manager but I think it’s important for them to learn how to arrange the work and work together. The only direction I give them is to “mix it up.” Show the work as a group, not as individuals each with their own section of wall space. This ensures that everyone’s work is seen and appreciated.

8. Invitations. There are several options for designing an invitation. I use the free App Picture Collage Maker 3 Lite. It has an easy drag and drop system and you can create a collage of artwork images in less than 15 minutes. This is our invitation from this year below. You can also create the backside with your information (if you are planning on printing them). For printing I use Vistaprint. Their website is easy to use and their prices are resonable. I’m old school and like hard copies. You could always create your invitation and just share digitally as well.

9. Food. Here’s something I learned the hard way. The more food you have the longer people linger and the more you will have to “man” the food table and clean up during and after the show. Unless you just want lots of lingering, manning and cleaning up, I would keep it simple. There are years when we have had 400 plus people attend our show. It can be overwhelming, and it can be exhausting. We decided a few years ago to stick to cookies. Each student brings 1-2 dozen. We provide water and lemonade. Done. This year we are not doing refreshments due to Covid. Even simpler.

10. Contact your local newspaper for event coverage. Most newspapers have an online edition these days, and papers have a ‘local attractions’ section. Once your yearly show is established, people will look forward to the coverage.

 Share your invitation on every social media platform imaginable. If you don’t have a classroom Instagram I highly suggest setting on up. You wanna talk about motivation…kids love to be featured on your Instagram feed. I had no idea how much until I started doing this on our feed @mrs_tfox and then I had kids tell me their sole goal was to get on the feed instead of the story. I laughed so hard…who knew?

Well, that’s about it. Art Show 101. If you are reading this and thinking that I forgot to mention something regarding the art show planning or set up, please comment below and I will be happy to reply. Our show is this evening so all of this is fresh in my mind, hence the blog post topic for this week.

Please follow our Instagram @mrs_tfoxresources for story for show highlights. This year’s AP Studio Art class was 99% virtual, 10 out of 11 students worked from home the entire year. But we made it and the kids did a phenomenal job under these bizarre circumstances.

I look forward to seeing the submit to College Board in the next week or so. They make me proud. 🙂

Have a wonderful day and thanks for stopping in to read my thoughts. I truly appreciate it.

Tiffany 🙂

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