Easy Tips For Creating A Legacy Installation: The Gift That Keeps On Giving!

One of my favorite ideas for creating collaborative, meaningful, 3D work is the Legacy Installation. Like all great ideas, it is one that I’ve adapted from other teachers I respect and adore. The Legacy Installation is a collaborative piece of art created by the oldest grade level in your building and gifted to the school at the end of the school year. It is student-centered and student-driven, making it loved by everyone. Here are some practical tips for creating legacy installations…

1. Ask the students to create the message.

What do they want to say about their experience at your school? Have them participate in a number of brainstorming or ideation activities to get them thinking about what their art will say or look like.

decorated ceiling tiles
decorating ceiling tiles is a fun, low-cost way to start

2. Try anything once!

One class may want to make a book, another may want to create an outdoor piece. The sky is the limit when it comes to materials. Look to parents for building material donations.

3. Build to last.

These installations will need to stand the test of time in your building. Think about the space and traffic around them. Polyurethane is your new best friend! By planning ahead, you can make your students’ legacy last a long, long time.

hanging metal stars
ask about hanging regulations before you begin

4. Talk to your building and district maintenance and operations staff.

They often have the best ideas when it comes to hanging or displaying these kinds of installations. In many districts, they will do it at no cost to your building.

Legacy Installations can create and maintain a lasting connection between students and their schools, even after they’ve gone on to other things. Over time, your school will become a colorful, arts-rich, inviting space that students and families love being a part of. Students will look forward to their own installation projects as they grow in your school, making it a great motivation for hard work and positive behavior.

Have you ever done a legacy project? What was it? How did it go?

 Share your ideas in the comments section!

Sarah Dougherty


My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • Adry

    I’m working on that ;)

  • Lisa R.

    I love the stars in the photo! Are they foil wrapped cardboard or cut tin or??What’s the story behind that? Some students, parents, and I painted a jungle scene on the huge rockwall in our school gym.

    • ArtCLassWithLMJ.wordpress.com

      The image of the stars is from a school within our district – from what I recall of the conversation/information from the educator involved, it was tin cut, someone came in and worked with the students. But at another school, I have seen the heavy duty foil wrapped around objects/cardboard/itself to create similar effects!

  • Last year, I ventured into creating a tile mural with my fourth-graders and art club as a legacy project. While it was a ton of work, the impact has been tremendous! The installation in our front lobby and has been a great representation of our school and community. Within our tile mural, “Our City, Indianapolis”, students discussed famous landmarks and architecture around Indianapolis, made interdisciplinary connections (language arts, social studies, math, geography) and then had to work collaboratively with their “tile mates” to make the mural look cohesive. We ended up doing one mural to highlight some of the general landmarks around Indianapolis and a second mural to highlight Indianapolis’ and our community’s cultural diversity. A great experience!

  • Maggie Thompson

    For the past 14 years my 5th graders have been left their mark on the ceiling tiles in the main foyer of the school. They create a sponge to go along with the school theme of the year. Using acryllic paints, they stamp their sponge in an appropriate arrangement. They sign their name with sharpies. This year the theme is owls and they will be placed on tree branches in the style of Klimt. Can’t wait to start this annual project!

    • Maggie Thompson

      Depending on the size of the class and design, 4-6 cieling tiles are replacing the older tiles.
      Returning alumni can and do immediately find their artwork!

  • Margaret S.

    My fifth grade will do a legacy project for the first time this year. We’ll probably go with the tile idea. Suggestions for other media would be appreciated. I love the hanging stars and welcome details on that. With tiles, do you provide unglazed tiles or did the kids create the tiles too?

  • Cheri

    Here in our small school in upstate New York, we have TWO installations! We have worked with a local willow artist to create both a living structure and a sculpture of our mascot, the eagle. I highly recommend taking advantage of any opportunity you have to work with an artist, BUT – know your and your students limitations! Many artists have wonderful ideas that might be much more than your students can cope with. Make sure your input is heard. And then – HAVE FUN!

  • jimmic

    I began a legacy project for our graduating class about 7 years ago. Students who are graduating have a chance to create a decorate ceiling tile to be installed in the cafeteria ceiling. Students must submit a proposal with their design along with a message to future students. It has become one of the highlights of the students final weeks of school. You can read an article on it here:


  • ArtCLassWithLMJ.wordpress.com

    After a presentation from a veteran teacher in the district, Sally McKenzie of DMPS (she is PHENOMENAL) and a personal one-on-one conversation with her, I dove into the idea of legacy projects. My fifth graders are creating one this year that I have given them full control over. I told them to dream big and I would make it happen. They came up with an interactive reading center that resembles a small playhouse that will be placed in our library. It’s gone something like this: they brainstorm a large set of ideas, condense the ideas into a few,
    revisit and refine and then as a class, move forward with the most
    appreciate idea. We do this for each step of the project; the structure, the design, the materials. I’ve had them work in groups to come up with a realistic timeline, list materials and map out task groups (who will do what, how many for each task, etc). It’s been a great way to work on 21st century skills and collaboration. My role is facilitator and supplier. In terms of Art Standards, they learn about purposeful art, themes in art, different materials, using the elements and principals, communicating ideas techniques with different materials, 3D concepts and more. It is a self-made curriculum by the students and the ownership is 100% in their hands, the creativity and originality is 100% theirs! You can follow along at artclasswithlmj.wordpress.com and Twitter: @artclasswithlmj

  • don masse

    I have done legacy murals with our 5th graders for the past 5 years. I love it! We have the buy in from our administration and district. The subject/inspiration varies from year to year- i planned a couple, one was based on a student drawing, and our last one was inspired by James Rizzi’s work and the work of student art projects throughout the year. 5th graders are always asking me when they are going to get their turn… and I tell them it will be during the hottest week of the school year:) We usually paint at the end of the school year in the middle of July. We have also done school wide mosaic legacy projects, which were a lot of fun and look awesome, but are so time consuming. We can crank out a mural in a week, when a mosaic would take months…


  • I love hearing about all of the legacy projects! Keep sharing!

  • The photo is courtesy of Kathy Marek, an elementary teacher in Des Moines, Iowa and a Legacy Installation guru!

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