Planning the Perfect Art Show (Ep. 030)

March is Youth Art Month, and it’s the perfect time to start talking about art shows. In this episode, Cassie gives her very best tips for putting together the perfect art show. Listen as she talks about how to keep your work from falling off the walls (7:00), why you need parent volunteers (11:45), and how a few treats can really help bring in the crowd (18:00). Full episode transcript below.


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If you follow me on Instagram or you’ve seen my blog, you’ve seen images of my art room and I know because a lot of you all have told me how incredibly spoiled I am by my space. Trust me, I know my art room used to be the school library, so not only is it really large but it also is filled with bookshelves that were transformed into cabinets.

I also have three storage closets in an office, don’t hate. But all that to say the reason I wanted the job so badly was number one, Hello The Art Room. When I sat down at the interview, and I was asked if I would as an art teacher at this school do art shows, well of course I said yes, despite the fact that I never put on a school wide art show before. I was willing to say I would eat my own fist if it meant that I could have that space.

Fortunately, I wasn’t asked to do that but I did manage it to land the job, which then meant I had to do a school wide art show. Cold turkey, never having had done one. Well, I’ve learned a lot along the way of putting on I guess close to 15 school-wide art shows and I get asked a lot of questions about art shows.

So today’s podcast is dedicated to how I put on school-wide art shows showcasing every work of art that every one of my students has done all year. Alright, so here we go. This is Everyday Art Room and I’m Cassie Stephens.

Okay, so you did hear me correctly. I hang, well my parent volunteers hang, every work of art that every one of my students has made every year in the halls of our school. Any three-dimensional pieces I also hang onto until the end of the year art show where they’re showcased in my room. For that reason, I’m going to break this blog post down into two sections.

I’m going to talk about how I display two-dimensional artwork and then I will address how I display three-dimensional artwork. The biggest question I always get about art shows is if you hang up or keep every work of art that every kiddo has made, where on earth do you store it? Well, like I said I’m fortunate to have a large space. I am unfortunately very unorganized, and a lot of people roll their eyes at me when I say that.

But if you could see the insides of my closets then you would definitely be calling 1-800 hoarders. It’s a hot flaming mess, it’s a work in progress is what I would tell my administration, but it’s been that way for 15 years ya’ll.

Let me just share with you how I organize “my two-dimensional student artwork.” I have two ways of storing two-dimensional artwork that my students create based on the size of the artwork. Usually my students work either 12 by 18 or nine by 18. The 12 by 18 works of art once they are completed I will usually do a temporary display in the hallway to showcase what we’re working on throughout the year.

Once they are down from that hallway display I usually clamp all of the works of art for each class together, and then I have a tall wooden … I guess at one point it was probably meant to be a drying rack, but it really only has about 25 shelves. On that large wooden drying rack, I have them labeled by class and I simply slide the classes artwork onto their designated shelf.

That’s for my larger format artwork. Now, this time of the school year, those shelves are getting pretty packed. So I am starting to run out of space a little bit, but I’m just going to keep compressing the artwork down and hoping that I can keep it there until the end of the year art shows.

Since we’re now going to venture into three-dimensional pieces in my room, we should be okay as far as the nine by 12 artwork goes, I tend to keep that in a different storage bin. Those I have in like I said bins, and I have them organized outside of my art room which is also where we keep our sketchbooks. When I say outside, I mean outside of my storage closet in my actual classroom, not outside, outside. That’s how I store my artwork until the end of the year.

That being said, like I said I am not an organizational guru, so if you’re looking for tips on organization I might not be the person to talk to. However, I will say that I really do keep everything that every kid has made. Now, let me also share that I only have 350 students. Now, I told you I’m spoiled, I told you there was a reason I wanted to be at the school so badly and I’m not going anywhere.

I do have a lot smaller of population, so those of you who have a ton of students that you teach I would never expect or even suggest that any of you hang every piece of art that every student has created. That would just be a monumental task. I am coming at you with 350 students, and a lot less artwork to hang. For those of you that have a large student population, well of course you would probably want to whittle it down to maybe one to two pieces per student.

That’s how I go about storing artwork until the end of the school year. The reason I thought I’d bring up art shows today is because I know in March, a lot of you do spring art shows especially with YAM Youth Art Month coming up. However, we have always traditionally done our art show in May. In fact, we do our art show about two weeks right before school is out, and I know that sounds crazy but I absolutely love it because it gives us as much time possible to keep on creating masterpieces.

Let’s address hanging artwork in the hallways. I have done this a multitude of ways, and I have finally within the last three years found a system that I think is pretty foolproof. What is the biggest pain about hanging artwork for an art show? It’s falling off the walls. Ya’ll I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it would be for me every morning to come into school and have to spend 30 to 45 minutes walking up and down the halls and putting or rehanging artwork backup that had either fallen, been damaged, been bumped into or stepped on by kids.

It was just so frustrating for me. When I would do art shows that way we usually rolled tape and put tape on the back of the artwork or used blue dap or Blu sticky tack. Neither of those work fabulously neither of them really stay, and so that was a system that we did for several years and it just never really quite worked. Another system that I did that I didn’t love either was using large pieces of bulletin board paper and gluing artwork to that.

I remember one spring break, I literally spent my entire week off with a roll of bulletin board paper in my living room laying it out cutting it and gluing artwork and then rolling it back up because I knew I’d have to take it to school the following week.

It was the worst way to spend an entire spring break it was so sad. Those are two systems that I’ve tried and I don’t recommend simply because it didn’t work for me. Let me share with you my foolproof trick, and I actually have a video showing this. If you need a good strong visual you could go to my YouTube channel and it’s under Art Teacherin’ 101: Episode 2.

In that episode, I share that I use three key ingredients to hang an art show, and thing number one is dear mash. It’s looks like a really thin mash that you would put in your yard, ideally I guess to keep deer from eating your flowers. Why not let them to eat the flowers. I mean come on y’all.

Anyway, so you can find deer mesh. I always purchase it on Amazon and we buy for the 350 kids that we have and for all the artwork we hang in our school, we usually buy about four to five rolls of deer mesh. It runs about 20 bucks a roll. You get a lot of deer mesh on these rolls because it stands the role of deer mesh stands about, I would say three feet tall but it is folded over.

So you’re actually getting about six feet height of deer mesh, and that I cannot recall and I’m so sorry exactly how long, how many feet are actually on a roll of deer mesh. Deer mesh is really the key to being able to hang artwork for an art show and not have it fall off your walls.

How do you adhere the deer mesh to your wall? We have found that gaffers tape, G-A-F-F-E-R-S works the best. There are some off brands of gaffers tape. Don’t get that, you want to get the name brand stuff. It’s the same things, it’s the same kind of tape that’s used on movie sets and in recording studios to hold the chords down so people don’t trip over them. It’s really, really strong stuff. Now, the deer mesh was inexpensive. The gaffers tape is very expensive so you’ll definitely want to do a little bit of online shopping to find the best price for that.

I remember in a pinch I walked into a hardware store and dropped $40 for one role and that was just buying it off the shelf. Definitely do your homework on that. Now, the last key ingredient is clothespins. Once you have your deer mesh anchor to the wall with the gaffers tape, clothespins is how you’re going to hang your artwork.

Now clothespins dollar tree, easy. I will say that the first year we did the deer mesh and the gaffers tape instead of using clothes pins because I didn’t love the idea of having a big wooden clothespins showing. So instead we used paper clips. I strongly do not recommend using paperclips. They are the worst because they would get so completely tangled up on the mesh so much so that we had to end up throwing the mesh away because it was just a hot tangled mess with paperclips.

Instead, use the clothespins and then you can reuse the dear mesh year after year. In fact, a lot of my teachers my building just asked me if I would leave the deer mesh up on the wall because they used to hang their artwork for their kiddos throughout the year. Now, when it comes to hanging the artwork, I always recruit parent volunteers. I make it a goal for myself not to hang any artwork.

I put all of that labor back on my parents and I know that sounds really snooty, but I am usually super busy getting all of the artwork mad and reframed another job you can actually get parent volunteers to do they will gladly help you, and usually just running around making sure all artwork is accounted for, making sure that I have all artwork, all my students caught up on projects.

It’s usually a hectic time and one big stressor is getting all the artwork hang. I have this amazing group of moms that have been hanging artwork in the building or in my school building for many years and they have it down to a science. In fact, the one mom who’s been doing it for the last two years her daughter no longer attends my school.

She’s just a glutton for punishment, I guess she’s just got it down. She loves to help and I love her for it. Those are the parent volunteers you want to keep forever. Here’s how it works, they will spend the first couple of days about two weeks prior to the art show going up and down the hallways and making sure all of the teacher artwork is down of their classroom artwork, and getting ready to hang up the deer mesh.

When we have our art show, so that my students can easily find their artwork. What I always do is I have their artwork hanging outside of their classroom. I don’t have a designated place, I don’t hang in the cafeteria or just outside my room. I actually have it all hung right outside the teachers store and I love this because it keeps the kids so excited to see parents hanging up their masterpieces as they’re going in and out of their classroom.

For the first couple of days, the parent volunteers are getting all of the deer mesh up and all of the older papers and things that the classroom teachers have hang taken down. Then what they start to do is hang the artwork class by class outside the teachers store, and it’s fabulous and you can actually hang things that are a little bit heavier like weavings, we’ve done circle and weavings even on the mesh and it will hold it pretty well.

When all of that artwork is up, we usually try to have everything up about a day and a half to two days before the art show just for my sanity. To be honest, I’m usually the biggest hang up when it comes to having the art show complete because I’m usually finding one more random stack of artwork, oops sorry moms, and they just roll their eyes and they’re like, “Oh Stephens, you’re so unorganized,” and they just go and hang it up.

That’s how we display the two-dimensional works of art. Now, let’s talk about three-dimensional. Now, my art room is transformed into the three-dimensional gallery or museum. I always take the day of the art show off. I get a substitute teacher. My sub houses the kids usually in an extra classroom, they do an easy activity with the sub there, that way my room is completely empty.

My mom usually comes to visit and the moms are there, we usually clear out my room push back the tables cover them with beautiful table cloths or painted tablecloths the kids have created and we fill them full of their sculptures, their sowings, anything that’s three-dimensional gets displayed in my room.

One thing that’s really helped me for these three-dimensional displays were usually making 3D works of art in the spring, so really close to the art show. What I like to do when I’m approaching those works of art is I’d like to think of a theme. One year, I decided I wanted the theme for a three-dimensional pieces to be a 1950s diner. All of the kids using clay created diner food.

My fourth graders made pies and cakes and pizza slices out of clay. My third graders made hamburgers and fries out of clay. My second graders made cupcakes, my first graders made coffee and donuts, my kindergartners made tacos all out of clay. We had each of these kind of displayed in a really fun way like with colorful napkins and entrees and on a little taco stand so that was really cute. But it was really fun because it got all of the kids totally excited.

I sent home a note that said, “Hey, we’re a 1950s diner in the art room. Make sure you dress 50s style,” and I had splurged and got everybody one of those soda jerk hats, one of those white paper hats. When they walked in the little fourth grade graders would hand the kids a hat. So it was just really a lot of fun. We had some 1950s music playing in a giant mural that the fourth graders had worked on depicting a diner scene.

Last year, we had an animal theme, it was actually called the Johnson Elementary Pet Shop. Each of the grades was in charge of creating a different pet for the pet shop. The fourth graders made bobblehead cats and dogs. The third graders, I am drawing a blank but it will come back to … they made chameleons, there you go. My second graders, again another bike, it was just last year. First graders made fish, oh second graders made tropical birds and kindergartners made turtles.

It was really cute and a lot of fun and I feel like having a theme really gets the kids excited about the show. That’s how we display the three-dimensional works of art. On the night of the art show usually starts around 5:00. We always have a really big turnout. I think it’s because this art show has been going on for the last 15 plus years, it’s like a staple in our community it’s the end of the year. It’s a lot of fun and here’s the key, we also have an ice cream social on the night of the art show. It’s paid for by my school and it’s free ice cream, the kids are allowed to get a scoop of ice cream add whatever toppings they like, they can only eat it in the cafeteria, that way they are not coming to the art show walking around with sticky hands and ice cream while they do have sticky hands, and then they can go and enjoy their artwork.

Having their artwork both outside of their classroom and then in my art room means that the parents really spend a lot of time walking up and down the halls, admiring all of the artwork and then spending a good amount of time in the art room. I think that’s the key. Earlier this year, we had an Artemis Art Show which is a fundraiser where every child had one piece of art on display, and it was beautiful and I really enjoyed it and we raised a good amount of money.

However, one thing that a couple of parents mentioned was is this all there is, and I thought they were so used to having a mammoth amount of artwork on display that when it came to just one piece they were a little taken back. I also by the way, at the end of the year art show it is not a fundraiser, we don’t collect any funds, it’s simply to showcase student artwork. Once the art show is over, then there’s that taking down of the art show.

I got to share that trick with you because I’m pretty proud of myself on this one. I don’t take down a single piece of artwork and neither do my parent volunteers. Once they’ve hung all the artwork, their job is done. My assistants at my school about a month before the art show they create a large paper portfolio for every student. They simply take a large piece of bulletin board paper, they folded in half, they staple the sides, and they make a class set for every teacher.

Then two days after the art show I kind of like the art show to stay up for a little bit. Two days after the art show, the teachers and sometimes the teachers have the students especially if they’re older do this. They take the artwork down while the kids are decorating their portfolios. I’ve never had a teacher complain at least not to my face about having to do this extra step or a little bit of work, it’s usually the end of the year everybody’s packing things up anyway, and it’s pretty stinking amazing that they take it all down.

The kids pack it up neatly inside those homemade portfolios that they’ve carefully decorated, and then they take it home. As far as the artwork in my room, I usually need my art room back so the day after the art show during my planned time, I call my classes down with their teacher class-by-class, and the teacher usually brings a stack full of newspapers and I have an arm full of those lunch sacks.

What me and the teacher do is we wrap the artwork, we stick it in the lunch bag, we staple it close with their little label that was sitting next to their artwork right on top. Then the kids march out of my room with their bag wrapped up carefully filled with their clay treasure. There you have it. That’s how I do art shows. It’s worked for me very well the last three years, I feel like I really kind of dialed it in if I could just get my life together organization wise it probably be even better, but let’s be honest it’s probably not going to happen.

But like I said, I can’t recommend gaffers tape, deer mesh, clothespins and parent volunteers as well as taking that day off enough. Thank you for letting me share all my art show tips and tricks with you guys.

Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz the host of Art Ed Radio. Thank you for tuning into Everyday Art Room. If you’re looking for graduate credits in the next few months make sure you check out under the courses tab. We offer over 20 online courses designed to help our teachers at every stage of their professional career.

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Again, you can check out everything related to these courses at Now, let’s turn it back over to Cassie as she finishes the show.

Now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. The first question comes from Barbara and I’m going to backtrack a little bit because this is kind of a follow up question, she is wondering about what I have been sharing a lot on both my blog and my Instagram, which are bingo daubers, D-A-U-B-E-R-S. I discovered these in the back of my cupboard about a month ago. I remember placing an order for them from some Art Supply catalog and when I got them I didn’t know what to do with them, so I threw them in a cupboard.

The other day I got a wild hair for Romero Britto project for my first graders and I thought, “I wonder if those bingo daubers would work,” but bingo daubers are, it’s a little tube with a tap or a cap that’s felt, almost like an enlarged marker like a felt tip marker. What I did was I simply used a pair of pliers pulled the top off and I filled the dauber with India ink. I diluted it just a tiny bit because I was running out of India ink, then I put the felt tip top back on, and it comes with a little white cap.

When my students, my first grade students use them they were immediately sold, it’s like using a giant sharpie marker that never runs out of ink. It makes a beautiful thick line, it’s definitely easy and simple to use and my kids enjoy it. In fact, so much so that I’ve now done projects with the daubers with my kindergartners and my 3rd grade students.

Barbara’s question is saying that she’s seen the daubers on Amazon but they look rather large, she’s asking for an alternative place to buy them. If you just Google searched in quotes, Bingo Dauber or Bingo Dotters D-O-T-T-E-R-S, you should be able to find some empty ones. I have seen the large ones that you’re talking about, but I really do like those smaller ones. It’s perfect for my students hands and I’ve also seen them sold on Oriental Trading.

I was recently asked, what kind of ink do I use? I don’t have a specific kind of ink that I feel one way or the other about. I just use permanent India ink. If you’re worried about it getting on student clothing, I have not had a single incident yet simply because the daubers don’t splatter the ink everywhere, it’s pretty self-contained. They are pretty stinking amazing. Once you use them you won’t go back, they are great especially for pre-K kids and for those kindergarten kids. Barbara, I do hope that helps.

If you have a question for me, please feel free to send it my way. You can find me at

You know as a school district, we do a kind of an art show with our local art museum, where we are to pick two works of art per grade level, and while I love joining forces with a local art museum and showcasing my students work, it breaks my heart just a little bit because I can only share two works of art per grade level from my students. When I know that all of my students need a little lifting up, they need to know that their artwork is value, that they’re valued.

While I love doing that show, I actually don’t advertise it to all of the kids all that much, because I don’t ever want my students to think that I prefer one young artist over another artist. Doing an art show, where every child has at least one piece of artwork that’s on display, where somebody took the time and effort to hang it and to showcase it and say, “Look, you really are valued, you really are amazing so much so that I decided to hang up your masterpiece.” I think that’s pretty invaluable.

So you don’t have to blow it out of the water and make a huge production and hang everything that every kiddo was made to start with one, start small but make sure that every kid knows that they are valued by having every kid’s artwork featured in an art show.

Thank you so much guys for joining me. This has been Everyday Art Room and I’m Cassie Stephens.

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