Top 10 Tips for an Amazing Art Show (Ep. 083)

Art shows are absolutely the most stressful time of the year for art teachers. How can we simplify, and how can we make the art show as effective as it can be? Cassie has some ideas, and she’s going to share her top 10 tips in this episode for your art show. Listen as she discusses what has changed in her 15 years of art shows, how to know how much you can handle with your show, and a few interactive ideas that can be implemented with simplicity.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: I don’t know what’s happening in your neck of the woods, but springtime for me usually means art show time, otherwise known as the most highly stressful time in all of art teachering times. I mean just thinking about it, and my art show is in May, my palms are already getting a little bit sweaty. My pulse is climbing a little bit and I’m already putting together a monumental to do list of all the things that I’m going to need to do before that art show.

Allow me to take a deep breath and count to 10 as my therapist instructed me and also share with you that today I will be talking to you about my top 10 tips to an amazing art show. At least that’s what I hope it’s going to end up being for me come May. But if you have yours creeping up on you, then I think I’m going to be able to help you out a little bit. I’m Cassie Stevens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

I did not attempt my first art show until I believe it was my fifth year of teaching. I just had never really thought that it was something that I could do because I had no clue where to start. However, I had gone to a fellow art teacher’s art show, saw how she made it happened. I mean it legit really was just hanging up artwork that the kids made. And I thought, you know, what? I’m going to try this out. Try it on for size.

Now for my very first art show, I hung one piece of art that every child had created and it was on the same night as our spaghetti supper so I made sure that there already were going to be people present at school. And it was fine. I remember being extremely stressed because for me at that time, just making sure every single kid had one piece of artwork up was a little bit stressful making sure everybody had finished something, had something that was looking very nice mounted, hung, and ready to be showcased with the school. It was a small art show, but it was a good way for me to ease into it.

15 years later, I’ve now put together 15 art shows. I’ve learned something with every single art show. I come at art shows at many different angles, but there is about 10 things that are pretty consistent with all of my shows. It is what I always go back to because it always seems to work, and I thought I’d share that with you guys today.

So tip number one, pick a theme for your art show. Now that doesn’t mean that your theme has to last all school year long. It simply means that for the art show, there’s going to be a theme. For example, I used to pick themes at the beginning of the year. It was usually a cultural theme and my students would learn, let’s say about Asia, and of all the countries within Asia. And as much as I could squeeze into our curriculum, learning about everything that we could about Asia. And then our art show then had an Asian theme. It sounds pretty awesome, but I can’t tell you how sick and tired I was of Asia by the end of the year. Not to mention I really felt like my curriculum had been lacking.

So now what I do is this, I do no pick a theme at the beginning of the year that I stick with throughout the year. It’s just too much for me. It becomes too monotonous for me. And if it’s kind of boring for me, then I’m not going to be a really great salesman for it when I’m teaching it to my kids. So, for that reason, I pick a theme for the art show and for our clay projects. It’s in the spring actually right after spring break that we dive right in to clay weeks. It usually takes us a good two weeks to get through about 350 kids making one to two clay projects. It’s easier for me to come up with clay project ideas if we all have a theme.

My themes in the past have been a 1950s diner, so all of the kids made food out of clay. We had a pet shop theme so all of the kids made different kind of pets, birds, fish, cats, and dogs. And then this year, our theme is pirates. So we’re going to be making a lot of clay pirate ships and treasure chests and parrots and sea creatures and little bitty islands with castles and mermaids. You can tell I’m really in the mix of being excited and brainstorming it.

The reason I like to pick a theme for clay, like I said, it just helps me sort it all out. When I display clay projects, those clay projects are displayed in my art room on the night of the art show. If there is a theme, then my art room looks very cohesive so everybody understands, oh this is a ’50s dinner. Oh got it, look at all the cute clay food the kids made. It just makes the art show in my art room look really pretty stinking awesome. And of course we decorate around that theme, creating a very large mural that look like you were inside of a diner. All of the kids had a chance to wear little soda jerk hats. They could dress ’50s style if they wanted to. So I really made it very exciting for the kids. And with the possibility of having a theme, then the kids have the chance to maybe dress up.

I live for dress up days. Have you met me? Kids do also. So if you have an art show that has a theme to it, then they can dress the kind of part as well. And with a theme, it helps me give the kids more opportunities to decorate more for the art show. Meaning this year when we’re doing our pirate theme, I’ve already been working on these extremely large banners that I just sketch out pirate things. Think of it like a giant coloring sheet. I do it on bulletin board paper. I use my trusty bingo dauber. I draw all of these little designs, ships, and parrots and pirates. And the kids who finish early have been painting on this banner. Having a theme really does build the anticipation and the excitement. So that’s my first tip, pick a theme.

My second tip would be to create invitations. So many times now with the way things are, I know in my school we send out a school newsletter but a lot of it is just electronic. Or we do a phone call home about this kinds of things, about events at school. And there’s a little bit magic lost there. There’s nothing like getting a little piece of mail, especially if it’s an invitation that the kids have helped create. That they’ve done a little bit of writing in. That they designed the cover for. That they’re excited about and excited to give to their parents when they get home.

So what I’ve usually done before, is I print out on a sheet of paper, on a piece of copy paper, the information about our art show. I usually tri-fold it so that it opens out twice. And inside I have a little area where the kids can write about themselves, little quote meet the artist. Years past I’ve had a little areas where the kids can draw a self portrait to show that they are the artist. Write about some things that they’re excited to share at the art show. One year, we had extra clay on hand and I had all of my students make little pins, a little clay flower pin. I believe that year our them was kind of like Monet’s garden.

They made a little flower pin and that was placed inside the card. And then on the day of the art show, parents showed up wearing all of these beautiful clay pins. And that was really fun too. So basically, putting as much as you can in the kids’ hands. Meaning having them make the invitations. Have them decorate just about every surface. Just get them excited about it because it’s their art show. So they should have as much to do with it. They should have all there is to do with it. And that’s going to help them get excited about their art show.

The third tip I’d like to share is one that is stolen directly from Art-a-May. I did my first Art-a-May art show, which is a fundraiser on the day of the art show, they suggest having the kids wear stickers. And they sent a bunch of the stickers. And it says, ask me about my artwork. Or tonight is my art show. And I thought, holy cats, that’s genius. Simply because you’ve called home, you’ve sent an email, you had the kids give invitations, doesn’t mean in the busy lives of the parents, they’re going to remember, oh snap tonight is the art show. They might very well forget. But if their kiddo hops off the bus wearing a sticker that reminds them, it’s so much more helpful.

I would want to say to take it a little bit further, and have the kids decorate their own stickers. So you could simply do that by printing a little bit of information on labels, the bigger labels. And then giving each kid their own label and letting them color it or decorate it. If you’re like me, a couple of days before the art show, all of the artwork is hung up. Everything is pretty much ready to go. The last thing you want to do is start brand new messy projects for the kids. So what do you do? You have them work on things that are low mess and work on things that are about the art show. So that’s why have them work on those invitations. Have them decorate those little ask me about my art show labels. Have them work on banners that you’re going to hang throughout the school. Those things are still going to build that excitement, but make it so that you can save your sanity during those last couple of days before your big show.

My fourth tip would be to make the art show interactive. Now I know some art teachers take this to the extreme, meaning that they have a lot going on at their art show. They have a lot of stations where the kids can go and create. They have a lot of just things happening. You got to know what you can handle. I know myself. I know that would stress me out to the max. In my mind, now this is just me talking, in my mind it’s an art show, and the kids are showing their artwork. It doesn’t also have to be an art night. Or an interactive art night. I mean unless you want it to be, but for me that would just be a whole another ballgame. If I were going to do that, I think I would do it a separate night. So that’s just me.

So when I say make your art show interactive, do what you are comfortable with. I clearly know my limitations. So here’s kind of how I make our art show interactive. I’ve in the past had post-it note stations out where parents, family, and friends can write notes to the artist and stick them either on the artwork, near the artwork, or somewhere completely separate. I have had a large banner piece of paper laid out on a table before that just says leave a comment. What I do then the following day with this banner that has all of these wonderful comments from grandma and grandpa and mom and dad, I hang that outside of the art room so the kids can stop and read it and see all of those warm fuzzies that were left behind for them.

I’ve also done, as far as interactive things goes, I’ve had a face painting station before. When we had our animal themed or our pet shop themed, art show, I had some 4th grade girls painting little animal faces on the kids, cats and dogs. I have done some demo stations in the past where again, I usually pick my older students, my 4th graders. They’ll demonstrate this is how we did print making. This is how we did scratch art. Just so parents can kind of see, oh this artwork didn’t make itself. There’s actually a process to it. I don’t necessarily make those completely interactive. Simply because I don’t want to have to get out all of the supplies, but it’s a great way for kids to be able to speak intelligently about how their artwork was created.

I have had giant coloring sheets before and collaging kind of stations. So I have done like some interactive, but I keep it very simple. So think about what you are going for. What’s your angle? Like I said, this year for me, ours is pirate themed. So for us, we will definitely have a dress up day. My students are definitely going to have a face painting station. We’re going to have a photo op opportunity where the kids will stand in front of a banner that they will have previously painted, fingers crossed, knock on wood. And then they can wear costumes to dress like a pirate. And moms and dads can take pictures. And then we are also going to have, and this is something that my music teacher came up with. So I’m super stoked. A treasure map/scavenger hunt.

So the moment the parents walk in the school, with their artists, they’re going to be give a “treasure map” and on the map there’s going to be little X’s all over the map of all the places they can go to see student artwork. If you’ve ever done an art show, then you know the first thing the kids do when they see you is they walk up to you and they say, “Where’s my art? Where’s my art at?” Even though you’ve already talked about it for weeks. You walked by it in the hallway, you showed it to them 20 times and you’ve reminded them over and over again. It’s like they go through that Men in Black brain eraser thing. And their parents of course are just staring at them like well I guess this is what we do. We ask the art teacher where is the art. Because she’s going to know where 350 kids’ artwork is. And no.

But if you give them a little scavenger hunt or a treasure map that reminds them don’t forget you have two dimensional artwork here. You have a collaborative piece in the office. You have clay projects in the art room. You have artwork in the ceiling tile. Because we do a lot of collaborative projects throughout the year that are permanently on display. So there’s actually a lot of places where my students are going to go to find their artwork. Not just my room or not just the displays in the hall. So that’s another way to make it interactive.

When you make your art show interactive, what you’re doing is you’re slowing everybody down. And you’re getting them to stop, look, and really appreciate the art show instead of just running up to the artwork, taking a picture of their kid next to their artwork and then leaving. If you slow them down and you really give them an experience, then not only are they going to come back here after a year, but they’re going to understand, hey this art program is the bomb dot com. And it’s so important in my child’s life and in this school.

My next tip, tip number five would be, have your kids do a gallery walk before the art show. And this ties in to what I was saying just a moment ago. If all of your kids know exactly where their artwork is before the night of the art show, it’s going to save a lot of stress for you and for the artist and for their parents. Especially if you are going around with the kids and you realize, oh wait, so and so is self portrait isn’t hanging up. That’s always good to know a little bit before the art show, not the day of. So have the kids go around, maybe they can even write notes to friends, write down what they’re excited about, include that in their invitation. That way they know exactly where all of their two dimensional artwork is, their collaborative pieces are, and their clay work is too.

Number six, what’s the trick to getting that artwork up and keeping it up? If you are like me and you are at a school with cinder block walls. The cinder block walls are the bane of an art teacher’s existence. Because nothing sticks to them, especially this time of year with the temperature changing. I cannot express my frustration more. I’m like rubbing my temples right now. Walking into school on any given morning and seeing artwork on the floor. Why art teacher gods do you hate me so? Is what I want to scream.

So let’s talk about getting that artwork up and keeping it up. I’ve got three suggestions for you. First one, I have an entire video on this. If you go to my Youtube channel, it’s I believe my very first art teacher in 101. And it’s titled Art Shows. And I share with you something that we have used in years past that works beautifully. It’s called deer mesh. You can buy it on Amazon. It looks like a very thin black, plastic grid. If you tape it to the wall at the top and at the bottom using gaffer’s tape, because this tape is the bomb. It’s the only thing that’s going to stick extremely well. It’s what they use on sets and music videos and studios to tape cords down so that cords aren’t flying all over the floor. So you know it’s got to really work.

Tape the deer mesh up to the wall and then use clothespins to clip the artwork to the mesh. Hanging the mesh does take a little bit of time, but then hanging the artwork is as simple as opening and closing a clothespin. So that’s one thing that we’ve done in the past and it works great. You could of course, hot glue artwork to the wall. It’s definitely going to stick. To prevent damage to both the walls and to the artwork, I’ve seen art teacher friends share this a lot on Instagram. Put a little bit of tape in the corners, just a flat piece of masking tape in the corners on the back of the artwork. Run a little bit of tape on the wall. And just add a little dot of hot glue on those corners and put it onto the tape.

The reason you want to have it be on tape is because when you pull it off of the wall, it’s not going to take paint off of the wall. When you pull it off the artwork, it’s not going to damage or tear the artwork, as opposed to just putting hot glue on the back of the artwork, if you’ve ever done that and then tried to pull it off the wall. Sometimes you’re going to end up tearing your artwork doing that. This process takes a little bit longer. It will make it so your artwork stays on the wall.

And then the last thing I would suggest considering doing, I did this one of my first art show. This to me I have stopped doing because for me was way too time consuming and it took me a long time to also then take the artwork down. But I used paper banners, bulletin board sheets that I would hot glue the kids’ or use blue sticky tack. Hot glue or add the tack to the back of the artwork and attach it to the large banners that way. And then hang those banners up. That took me way too long. It did look very nice and I know a lot of art teachers do that. So my suggestion would be, try a couple of different things. Talk to your art teacher friends. Definitely go visit their school art shows and see how they’re getting that artwork up and keeping it up.

The next tip I would say is to let everybody in their mother know about your art show. Your kids have worked so hard all year. You have busted your butt to get all of that artwork up. Everybody should be at your art show. You need to let admin know, you need to let your superintendent know. You need to call everybody in your central office. If you have a person who is in charge of the art program in your district, you need to let them know. Call the local newspapers, they are always looking for stuff that’s happening in schools. Definitely let your social media person in your district or your school know. Have them take tons of photos. If you want to go big, call the local news station. They love good news and nobody hears it enough. It’s not bragging about you, it’s bragging about your kids. And that’s super important. So scream it from the mountaintops and invite everybody.

Now this next tip might not be doable. But if you can make this happen you’re going to love your life. Take the day of the art show off. Cancel your classes. I mean my classes aren’t canceled, I actually get a sub. The sub does not meet in my room. They meet in a separate location, a spare classroom in my school and they either work on their invitations, they can work on banners. They can go on gallery walks with the sub. Frankly, I don’t know what they do and I don’t care. I don’t mean to be ugly. But the day of the art show, that’s your day to make sure that you got everything hanging up. In my room, the day of the art show means my entire art room is transformed into our theme.

I chip away at it for a good two weeks beforehand hanging up the big giant mural the kids have painted, slowly decorating the room to transform it into whatever space it’s going to become. But let’s be honest, you cannot lay projects and label them and get them beautifully displayed if you got kids in your room that you’re also trying to teach. So years ago, my principal agreed to let me have that day off. I actually learned about this at an art conference. And it was the best advice ever. Think about it, give it a shot.

Next tip I would say is to definitely recruit parent volunteers. Never, ever feel bad about asking for help. I’m at a school where we don’t have a lot of volunteers. But the volunteers I have are fabulous. In fact I have two parents, they hang my entire art show. They’ve done it for years. I don’t even teach their kids anymore, y’all. They still come back and do it. That’s how amazing they are. The more volunteers you can get the better.

And then when it comes time to taking the artwork down, that can be another job onto itself. That can be just as time consuming if you let it be as the actual art show. Let me tell you how we take our artwork down. See if this can work for you. My parent volunteers hand up all of the artwork that every child has made all year outside the classroom teacher’s door.

For example, Mrs. Baker’s kindergarten kids know exactly where their artwork is. Because all of the artwork that all of the kids have made all year is hanging right outside her door. All three dimensional projects are on display in my room. The day after, the days after, like a week after the art show, the teachers are asked to take the artwork down. Because my art show is at the end of the year, it’s usually that time of year where there’s a lot of relaxing happening in the classrooms we’ll say. They TAs at my school have made paper portfolios by simply folding a piece of bulletin board paper in half and stapling it on the sides for every kid.

While the teachers are in the hallway or having students take down artwork, whatever they choose to do, the kids are in the classrooms decorating their portfolios. And then the teachers slide their artwork in the portfolios and that’s how they take the artwork home. I do not lay hands on any of the artwork being hung up. I do not lay hands on any of the artwork being taken down.

 If you don’t have parent volunteers, I would suggest asking teachers to help you hang artwork. You could ask PTO if they could possible provide funds for pizza. What would take the classroom teachers an hour to hang artwork, would take you one hour times the amount of classes you have, right? So if you have 22 classes, that’s 22 hours. If you let teachers know that and you give them enough time to do this and enough warning in advance that you’re going to need some help, I think that they would be pretty understanding. My teachers have never said anything to me when it comes time to take artwork down.

Now when it comes time to taking clay projects home, that’s on me. So the day after the art show, I have a little schedule where teachers come in during my plan time for 5 to 10 to 15 minutes. They bring their class. The kids sit on the floor. The teachers and I bag and tag the artwork. Meaning we have stacks of newspaper, we wrap the clay projects up. We put them in a lunch bag that I pick up at Kroger, those like munch sacks, you can buy 100. And then we staple their label to the top. All clay projects are bagged and tagged. The kids are instructed not to open their clay projects until they get home. So that is a little laborious. That takes us about a day. The day after the art show is when I do that. That way all the clay projects, all those 3D things are on their way out of my room and that’s it. Art show over. I really did not intend to talk for as long as I have, but I just had so many things I wanted to share.

I hope that you at least find a couple of these tips helpful and good luck y’all. Art show are a beast but so stinking worth it.

Tim: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. Now we want to invite you if you’re going to the NAEA Conference in Boston this week to stop by the AOEU booth and stay hello. Saturday morning, we are going to be having a podcast meet-up, 10:00 AM at the booth with me. And more importantly, Miss Cassie Stevens, so if you are there, we hope to see you for a little conversation, a little podcast meet-up.

Also, before we go, we have an opportunity for a few listeners. If you went to the Art Ed Now Conference, you saw a great presentation from Maggie Maggio and Leslie Barnum on on teaching color theory. And they are asking you to fill out a short survey on color theory and how you teach it. I will put a link to the survey in the show notes, and if you were part of the Art Ed Now Conference, you can check it out on the after pass page and get the link there to fill out the survey when you are checking on your conference videos or taking a look at the resources. So thank you as always for listening and let me get it back to Cassie so she can finish up the show.

Alright, let’s take a couple of questions from that mailbag, shall we? This one comes from Susan. Susan says, “I watched your video on the love prints.” It’s a printing project I recently done with my 2nd graders. The full lesson with video is on my blog. She said, “I was wondering what printing plates you used. I have some styrofoam ones from meat trays, but yours look thinner and nicer. I would appreciate knowing what you have purchased and where you purchased them.”

Alright Susan, I don’t know use styrofoam meat trays just because yuck. I remember when I first started teaching, that was what you used. You just had to let people know I’m collecting these and I remember getting some really stinky, stinky trays thinking there’s got to be a better way. Any art supply catalog sells styrofoam printing plates. They sell them in a variety of sizes. They’re extremely cheap, the styrofoam is nice and thin, which is great for the kind of printing that the kids are doing. I don’t know that there’s necessarily a brand name. But I know that if you just flip to the index of your favorite art teacher and supply catalog, look at printing. Look for printing plates, you’ll find it there. Thanks Susan, I know, that’s something I wish would have been invented a long time ago when I first started teaching and was having to clean those disgusting meat trays.

This next question comes from Shawna, she says, “Hi Cassie, I’m about to start your Heather Gallor, Flower Bouquets with my 2nd graders. And I’m nervous about the ink bingo daubers. Any tips for using them with students?”

Yeah, so bingo daubers and I understand your nervousness, you’re filling them with ink. The ink is permanent and bingo daubers are a little bit tricky. Because sometimes if you squeeze them, a huge puddle of ink will come out. Some of them leak. So I start bingo daubers with my kids as young as kindergarten. And I tell them I have three rules when it comes to bingo daubers. You don’t ever squeeze them. We actually in my room call them paint markers. Calling them a marker really helps because I pick up a marker and I say, “Would I squeeze a marker to get it to work?” And they say no. And then I tell them okay, my second rule is don’t shake the bingo dauber. Why would I do that? I wouldn’t shake a regular marker to get it to work, would I? No.

And then my third rule is don’t press so hard. All three of these rules is to keep it so that there’s not a big blob of ink on their artwork. And I tell them if you pressed super hard with a regular marker, you’re going to damage the tip. So if you just remind them and let them know that that’s permanent ink inside that bingo dauber and strap an apron on them. Don’t shake it, don’t press too hard, don’t squeeze it, you’ll be good. And I tell them if you get one that’s not working, if it’s coming out too fast and you didn’t squeeze it, bring it to me, and I’ll get you a different one.

Thanks for the questions guys. If you have a question for me, send it my way. You can find me at the Everyday Art Room at the

Putting together an art show is like a really daunting task. If you start early enough, which I never do, you really just can’t start early enough. But if you start early enough, for me, right now what that looks like is matting artwork, making sure kids have finished projects. And you just kind of take it slow. Thinking it all through. If you get a really great idea the last minute, just save it for next year. However you do your art show, it’s going to be amazing. It’s about the kids and their artwork. And getting that on display so that they have something to be excited and proud about. You do that and you are golden. Y’all have an awesome week and I’ll talk to you soon.

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.