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.