As glorious and celebratory as it is, staging an elementary art show is TOUGH! Several months have passed since the student artists held their annual exhibition of their favorite pieces. The buildup to a show is intense/glorious/crazymaking/terrifying/joyful but that's always the way it feels at the end of the school year. Short artists did an amazing job on their pieces but had their usual wrenching time choosing their favorite. ("But WHY can't I put all of my cars in, Ms. J. They're ALL my best piece!") With little ones, it's frequently a case of Last In First Chosen. They love the most recent addition to their portfolios best because it's their newest work. For most children, the process of doing artwork is much more satisfying than the final project, so the most recent piece is naturally their favorite.
The incredible impact of over 500 pieces of children's art on display is hard to describe. We had some fabulous volunteers who helped put the display together as well as gathering everything at the end of the night, and it was all worth it. Our children walk the four blocks between our school and the City Hall where the exhibit is staged. The sound we heard when the first group - kindergarten and first grades - walked into the large room was a loud, collective "Woooooah!" Mission accomplished.
We learn so much from collections of children's art. Notice how they experiment with color. Watch for partnerships - when children share ideas or techniques with each other. With student-centered art, every piece represents exploration that matters to the artist. I'm in awe of their creativity and will share a selection of artists' statements, as well.
Questions for this year: Size? Venue? Timing? Invite other schools? Include art from other members of the learning community? Outreach and publicity? Chocolate?
For more pictures of our celebration of short people art, visit the Showtime! gallery.
Here is coverage of our art show in our local paper, the Shelton-Mason County Journal.
Staging an art show is an interesting exercise. It's one part celebration, one part pulling teeth, one part planning, and one part total surprise. As our choice-based studios have matured at Evergreen Elementary School, we've taken on a bit more with our end of the year exhibition. Year one was an art walk. Our current PTSO president, Donna, contacted area businesses and arranged for display space. She has considerable artistic ability in her own right and the displays were well received in coffee shops, cafes, libraries, and utility companies. Artwork was chosen on the basis of variety and pithy artists' statements and Donna did ALL the legwork involved in hanging and retrieving the displays.
Year two (last year) was our first year staging a big show in a public space. Since our gym/cafeteria is used for so many purposes during the day and is also booked for athletic and dance practices in the evening, it wasn't a good idea to display our artwork there. Our hallways have some bulletin display space, but with active, innovative teachers, they're always full of children's writing and poetry, artwork, and science and math project work. Our experience with staging the show at our local Civic Center was a positive one, so we booked the big main room again this year. Only four blocks from our school, the two story "big room" lends itself well to weddings, big meetings, community events, and elementary art shows! The city offices that are there - police, court, and water payment offices result in lots of foot traffic and their facility manager, Mark, has a crew that is adept at setup and take down.
After I looked at the attendance data from last year I realized that having the show in the evening hours, alone, resulted in fairly modest numbers of visitors. We'd also attempted to gain larger crowds by scheduling the show during our annual Dia de los Niños celebration. Instead of bolstering attendance, that split the crowd. A brainstorming session with my specialist team (PE, music, library) started the planning for walking field trips to see the show. Grade levels would make the trek in pairs (K-1, 2-3, 4-5) with lots of adult walkers to help with safety and behavior choices. Our specialist time provides planning time for teachers but after presenting the proposal to the Leadership Team, people were willing to juggle their schedules for the day so that all children and staff could see the show. To help support the goals of my library partner we scheduled a book fair for the evening of the show in the school library.
Perhaps I'll track the amount of time it takes to mount 540 pieces of artwork on black construction paper and convert oral or written artists' statements from each child someday. This year's effort began last June, when the order for 18"x24" black paper went in. The April, 2009 show taught me that gluing enough 12"x18" paper to mount the number of large paintings we had was seriously time consuming so the larger paper size worked great this year. I talked to the students about the show early in September when we decorated our portfolio covers, promising that they'd enjoy the process of choosing a favorite piece when the show came along in the spring. A few children proudly announced, "This one is for the show!" when they finished a particularly satisfying piece of artwork. Others needed to be nudged a bit. Ours is a methodology that focuses more strongly on process than product, so many children prefer to try to "just do one more picture of X" to choosing a piece from further back in the year. After much shuffling of artwork, deep consideration of everything in the portfolios, and only a little bit of BossyArtTeacherStrongArming, works are chosen.
Artists' statements are amazing things. I watch adults and children alike sink into the fascination of listening to the artist's voice in print while their eyes look at the art. Some are tidy lists that highlight process. Others are rambling stories
that beg for more print space. Still others are almost too private - windows into that artist's mind. Younger students dictate their statements and they're dropped straight into a computer template. Older students do their own first draft and submit the statement when the art is submitted for the show. A few find it difficult to talk about their art (hence the earlier reference to pulling teeth) but I politely insist. You won't be there to discuss your work with your viewers. Share just a little about what you were thinking, please. This year's format was two statements: Share something about why you created this piece. Share something about how you made it.
Thank you notes have gone out to the volunteers who gave us their afternoon to help hang the show, to the maintenance men who transported the livestock panels for my display kiosks, and to the facilitator of the room, for being such a pro in how he deals with our wandering art hordes. Data from the surveys I distributed to staff are being collected to help in next year's planning, and the artwork from the 2009-2010 art show is safely posted on refrigerators all over town. Life is good.
It's not our art, but our heart that's on display. - Gary Holland
Things I've learned about elementary art shows:
- Start early. No - earlier than that.
- Keep a rich collection in children's portfolios. Don't depend on fabulous work to return once it's escaped to the refrigerator or Grandma's house.
- Estimate the amount of time you'll need to mount the artwork. Now, double it. That's about half the time you'll need to make sure everything is perfect.
- Invite everyone you know. Celebrate the people who came and don't worry about those who couldn't make it. Offer art-related door prizes, drawn from the names of students who attended with their families. Celebrate the class with the most visitors with a colorful ice cream party.
- Take good care of your friends, lovers, and volunteers. You'll need all of their help setting up and tearing down the show.
- Write thank you notes to everyone - the facility manager of the venue you used, the webmaster of the radio outlet who added your show to the community calendar, the newspaper staffer who added your press release to the weekly paper, every volunteer who helped, and every colleague who attended.
- Take lots of pictures.
- Don't get the flu. If you DO decide to get the flu, don't stage it during a swine flu pandemic. (See #4 - double and triple your be good to everyone close habits. All those sweet people will come in handy when Public Health and the school district nurse forbid anyone with flu symptoms from contact with normal [non-art show stagers] until further notice.)
Enjoy. Children's art is glorious, but the collective effect of 500 pieces of kid art will give you goosebumps. Or tears. Or both.
For all grand and glorious efforts, there must be a "this is the first time I've tried this" time. I decided to stage a whole-school show to showcase our kids' art about when started enjoying the collective impact of our hallway displays last year. I started a file with ideas and suggestions before that school year ended and added to it through the summer. The challenge of a venue is tough. Encumbering our gym/cafeteria for two or three days isn't a good choice. My PE partner already has lots of interruptions that take his classroom away and April weather in western Washington is usually too rainy for him to teach comfortably outside. Commandeering the hallways in my school is problematic, too. An important part of instruction at my school is a program called, GLAD (Guided Language Acquisition Development.) Bulletin boards in the hallways are filled with colorful examples of children's writings and drawings about their lessons. The school is fairly new so the halls aren't wide enough to accommodate vertical displays and the three "pods" that cap the three hallways, while roomy, are always in use with small groups of children in special interest or intervention groups.
Hmmmm. On the other hand, there's a great space at our small town's city hall. It's an easy walk from our school - about 4 1/2 blocks. I reserved the main room the second week at school and began "talking up" the show to the kids. An art show like this one is a great chance for students to choose a favorite piece of artwork from all the work they've completed throughout the year. The stage was set - if you'll forgive the cliche - and the artmaking continued throughout the year.
The impact of all that child art in one place was amazing. I'd spent a year and a half researching display methods and settled on a combo approach. Some of the work was mounted on the walls, some laid out on long tables, and some was hung on livestock panels that we hooked together in sets of three to stand like vertical kiosks of sorts. It was an crazymaking amount of work and probably contributed to how hard the flu hit me that week. It was interesting in another way, too. We'd rented the whole room but found, when we came to set up, that one wall was covered with Arts Council pieces from professionals and that black curtains carved out a 20 foot, entire width of the room section for the Peninsula Art Association's annual spring show and sale. As it turned out, there was plenty of room for all of us, and the adults were interesting. We had everything from sniffing, look down my nose at children's paltry offerings to smiles on quiet faces that looked at every single piece, reading the artists' statements as the artwork was savored. We didn't have enough attendance from the school but I'll figure out another way to make a run at it next year. The people who did come loved it and the kids who were there were proud to see their work on display. I put together a guest book for people to share comments and left it on the entry table. The written comments were fun to read and supportive, but my favorite adult comment was from my principal, who said, "I loved the artwork, of course, but I lost myself in the artist statements that were attached to each piece. I read those for a solid hour - they're windows into those kids' souls."
My favorite child response was from a brother and sister (K and 4th grade, respectively) who brought every relative in town - totaling 14 people - to stake out their claim to the ice cream party prize for most guests. They didn't win that contest but the special art supplies they won pleased them even more.
As grand first efforts go, I think all of us did a great job.