The Best Way to Fill Your Display Cases

The world of bulletin boards and cute displays has always been something foreign to me–something I’ve never been interested in spending time setting up. But my students still need a place to show their work. It is important to have the opportunity for our kids to display work outside the art room.

An authentic audience is something almost vital to our kids’ artmaking, yet we do not pay enough attention to it.

I try to develop these types of opportunities for my students, but I was incredibly lucky recently to see my students take the initiative to set up their own display case in our school. It began with a “what if?”, and ended with a student-directed and curated display that was finished about 30 minutes before parent-teacher conferences started.

The “What if?”

The process started when a few of my students asked about the display cases in the entryway of our school. They were filled with academic trophies and pictures of former valedictorians. Or, in my students’ words, “those old pictures nobody cares about.” I told them that quite a few people care about those, actually, but they decided to ask the principal about replacing those ‘relics’ with some art. To my surprise, and to my principal’s credit, he agreed immediately.

student working on art labels

Getting to Work

They were passionate about taking on jobs for something they knew was going to be theirs. They reorganized the existing photos and trophies, creating space for the art display. Then they cleaned the glass and the shelves, getting the entire display case ready to show our drawings, paintings, and sculptures.

student putting work into display case

While this was going on, students began curating the work that would hang in the display case. Is it the work I would pick? No. Does it matter what I would pick? Not really. This is the students’ display, and I felt it wasn’t my place to interfere or influence. There’s a little more of a bias toward figurative, realistic work, but that’s what appeals to my high school kids and that is what is drawing the most attention to our display.

finished student-led display

An Authentic Audience

I’m not sure exactly where we will go from here, but I’m okay with that. I think the work will rotate out fairly regularly, and we will continue to add to the display case with name tags, artist statements, project explanations and the like. Honestly, though, it’s out of my hands. My students are creating, collaborating, curating, and displaying their work for an audience that goes beyond the walls of my classroom. I can’t think of anything better.

If the idea of keeping up with bulletin boards and display cases sends you running for the hills, why not ask if any of your students want to be in charge? Letting students curate the work themselves adds to the appeal of the job. Chances are you’ll have a handful of motivated students who will find purpose in revamping unused spaces. It’s definitely worth a shot!

If you’re looking to dig even deeper into how finding an authentic audience for your students’ work can be beneficial, check out the second episode of the brand-new AOE podcast, Art Ed Radio, From Talented to Terrible, Find Success Teaching Every Student.

 

What role do your students play in your art displays?

What are some of the places you display work outside of your classroom?

Timothy Bogatz

Learning Team

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.

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