Classroom Management

Getting the Art Room You Want With the Budget You Have

Imagine that you get to walk into an empty art room and make it completely your own. You get to decide which markers to buy, if you want a carpet, and how you’ll store the artwork. If this sounds like more of a nightmare than a dream, you’re not alone, especially if you’re given a tiny budget to accomplish everything. So, what’s an art teacher to do?

Today I’d love to share 10 tips to get the art room you want with the budget you have.

 1. Make 3 Lists

Before you order anything, you will need to sit down and have a major brainstorming session. I would suggest making the following three lists.

a. What supplies do you want? This is your dream list. If your budget was unlimited, what would you get?

b. What supplies do you need? This list is more realistic. What materials do you feel you absolutely could not live without in your art room?

c. What big ticket items will you need to work towards? This is a list of things like a kiln or a drying rack that may not be in the cards the first year, but may be attainable over a few years of saving or with some creative fundraising.

lists Having these lists will help you prioritize what things you need to start the year and what things can wait a bit.

2. Build Relationships

Other adults in your building can be great resources for finding materials. Knitters and quilters may be happy to donate scrap fabric and yarn. Woodworkers may be able to help you construct some bench hooks or looms. The secretary will be able to tell you which catalogs offer bulk discounts. You just never know who might be willing to help you out.

3. Consider Fundraising

We’ve talked a lot about fundraising here on AOE. It remains such a popular topic, because often, it works! Whether you go with a package deal like Artsonia or Square 1, or decide to do your own thing, fundraising can be a great way to get money to put towards big ticket items.

4. Order Multi-Purpose Materials

If you have a limited budget, it’s going to mean limiting materials, so try to choose things that are versatile. For example, heavier weight drawing paper works for both wet and dry media. Construction Paper Crayons work on both light and dark paper. Tempera cake paint can be bold and bright, or mixed with more water to create resists. You get the idea.


A kindergarten lesson done with bold tempera cake paint
A kindergarten lesson done with bold tempera cake paint
A kindergarten lesson done with watered down tempera cake paint
A kindergarten lesson done with watered down tempera cake paint

5. Build Up Quality Materials Slowly

I am a firm believer in quality over quantity. Instead of buying 30 cheap rulers that you’ll have to quickly replace, consider buying 15 quality rulers instead. Add a few more to your order each year until you have a classroom set. The same goes for items like printmaking rollers, decorative scissors and specialty brushes.

6. Go Green to Save Green

Why spend money on things you don’t have to? Easily swap out expensive supplies for those that are free. For example, swap fancy plastic palettes for egg cartons or styrofoam meat trays (washed of course!) for linoleum blocks.

Recyclables make great, free printmaking tools
Recyclables make great, free printmaking tools

7. Reach Out to the Wider Community

My mom always used to say, “It never hurts to ask, the worst someone can say is no.” So, why not try putting an announcement in the school newsletter or on your blog asking families or local businesses for donations?  You could be specific, “The art room needs packs of Classic Color Markers,” or more general, “The art room is in need of drawing supplies.” You might be surprised at what you get!

8. Have Your Librarian Buy Books For You

If you love to use books in your art room, don’t feel like you have to buy them all yourself. Many librarians are happy to take requests when they put in their orders for the year. Having art books in the library is especially nice because both you AND the students can check them out!

9. Use Similar Materials Across Grade Levels

I tend to over-buy materials to make sure I have enough for all my students, leaving me with leftovers at the end of the year. If your supply list is more limited, there’s a better chance you’ll be able to accurately gauge how much you need and avoid this problem. Although you may be using similar materials, you can tweak them to make sure students are getting a wide variety of experiences.

10. Get Creative

The biggest obstacle when dealing with a small budget is deciding how you will handle not having something you feel is essential. Try to think of it as a creativity challenge. If you don’t have a drying rack, you may have to hang a string with clips across your ceiling or plan for only one project that requires drying pieces flat per day. If you don’t have a kiln, you may have to think about handling three-dimensional work in other ways, such as using paper mache for plaster wrap.

Above all, you may want to ask other art teachers what has worked for them. You never know what tips you might pick up!

If you’ve ever had to get an art room up and running, help our readers out:

What was the best thing you purchased? Is there anything you would do differently a second time around?

Teachers who are currently in this boat, what questions do you have about placing your order?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Amanda Heyn

Amanda Heyn is AOEU’s Director of K–12 PD & Media and a former AOEU Writer and elementary art educator. She enjoys creating relevant and engaging professional development just for art teachers.

More from Amanda