A school-wide art show is an essential part of the school year. This is your department’s time to shine. Although it’s a massive project, it has the most payoff of anything else you will do that year. The art exhibit brings your amazing student artists, parents, siblings, administrators, and other departments together for a night to celebrate the arts. Don’t skip it!
In this post, I will share how I schedule marketing, set up, parent volunteers, and more. It’s no easy task putting on a school art show for elementary, middle or high school students, and it starts months in advance, which for some of you means now. Read below for more!
ART SHOW OVERVIEW
I have worked at a public high school and private K-12 school. At both places, I put on successful, well-attended art shows. All you need is space to display work and bodies to view it. You don’t need to look further than the walls of your school.
In both schools, we would host an opening night. This included food and festivities for the attendants to enjoy. After opening night the students’ work would be on display anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month after the opening. This allows time for those who can’t attend the art opening to see the outstanding artwork on display.
Although my budget was much larger and displays were much fancier at the private school, I could still pull together beautiful art shows at the public school. At the public school, I displayed works of art in the lobby and nearby halls, a “photo booth” with props borrowed from drama and an iPad on a stand was popular, and food was brought in by students, parents, and myself. It is a wonderful night and seeing students beaming with pride is priceless.
The best time to have an art show is at the end of the school year. This allows all students to participate who took art that year. It also allows students in advanced-level courses or year-long courses to display their best work.
The best way to bring bodies into your exhibit is to display work from every student that year. Yes, it is a lot of artwork, but every student who participated in art deserves a place in the exhibit. If you have students in semester-long classes, select a work of art from each student to keep until spring.
2 MONTHS FROM OPENING NIGHT
Yes, I’m serious. Start prepping for your art show two months in advance. Setting up a proper exhibit takes a lot of coordinating and you need to get organized early on. To start, you need to photograph artwork if you haven’t yet. If you work with multiple art teachers, request images of student artwork to use to promote the exhibit.
Set up folders for each class, and organize pictures of the best examples in each folder. Use these images in your marketing materials.
If you don’t already have parent helpers enlisted, get started now. See if you can get 2-3 parents to sign up to help you mat and display artwork in the week leading up to the art show.
1 MONTH FROM OPENING NIGHT
5-6 weeks out start designing your poster. Pull the images you’ve been gathering for the last month and lay them out in a poster design. The above posters are 3 of the 11 years of posters I designed. Every year I changed it up but tried to maintain focus on the student work and details such as the date and time.
1 month out from opening night start sharing this poster digitally. Your department’s Instagram page, school website, and parent emails are great ways to digitally advertise. If you have the budget, print the posters and hang them around your school.
Send out a Sign-Up Genius or similar to get parents to donate food, drinks, and paper goods for opening night. Set the drop-off date before 4 pm on the day of the exhibit.
3 WEEKS FROM OPENING NIGHT
If you have the budget, this was reserved for my fancy private school job, format your poster to a postcard design. Print the design and mail them to all the families of students whose work will be in the exhibit. This is more work, but the extra attention to detail helps get parents and students excited for the art show.
TIP: If you can’t easily print addresses on the postcards, have students fill out their home addresses in class, collect them to stamp and mail.
Send out weekly email reminders to the school, admin, and parents of students in the art show with the digital poster design attached.
2 WEEKS FROM OPENING NIGHT
Things will ramp up from here on out. Two weeks out from the art show you need to start planning the placement of artwork. At the private school, we had work displayed from every middle and high school student between 5 art teachers. That was a lot of work. Because of this, we used a map printout to reference in this planning stage. We loosely marked out where things would be placed, then made final map adjustments before the exhibit opened. This map is also printed the night of the show to help families find their child’s artwork more easily.
This is also the time to recruit judges if you want to pass out art show awards. We always enlisted three of the administrators and our fine arts department chair. Each judge would pick their top 3 choices for an award, and the art teachers would select the final winner. It was a great way to involve the admin with the art show. Although the judging isn’t completed until the day of the show, you need to email ahead of time to see who is available to help.
Start prepping any signage needed for the art show. This includes welcome signs, arrows pointing to artwork locations, art show maps, class labels, and student labels.
1 WEEK FROM OPENING NIGHT
Things are starting to get real! This week you are focusing on matting artwork, printing labels and signs, updating the show map, sending food sign-up reminders, and getting mentally prepared for the art show.
Parent volunteers should start coming in a few days before opening night to mat, mount, and hang artwork. I would follow behind volunteers to alter layouts as needed and add class/student labels to the work.
THE DAY OF THE ART SHOW
On the day of the show you are making final teaks, hanging up signs, and sending final blasts reminding the school the art show opening is that night!
When judges arrive have a clipboard with the art show map and their judging sheet attached. Tally their votes and select final winners. Mark the winners with labels before the art show opens.
Hopefully, food drop-offs will be rolling in all day. Set food out on tables in the main area of the exhibit.
Print off copies of the art show map. We also included a viewer’s choice award, asking attendants to vote for their favorite work of art. These ballots were placed next to the welcome table with a sign-in book.
ART SHOW OPENING
Enjoy the fruits of your labor from pulling off this outstanding annual art show! Absorb all of the ooohhhs and aahhhs and compliments from the attendees. You did it!
THE NEXT DAY
Give yourself a break. Hand out critique sheets to every class. Have them walk the exhibit, fill out the critique sheet, and turn it in as a participation grade. You sit and chill the entire class period.
Thanks for checking out my elementary, middle and high school art show timeline for this incredible annual event! Check out a nice pre-designed, editable art show packet on my TPT here and here. Read tips on displaying work to help you get ready here. Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and TikTok for weekly visual arts journal demos. Until next time!