Or hang, as the case may be. In the four previous years at Evergreen Elementary, I've tried several different methods of displaying kids' artwork. One major challenge is the wall surface. Instead of a bulletin-board style surface, the long walls on both sides of the hallway outside our studios are a regular sheet-rocked surface. The building is relatively new and is still beautiful because careful care has been taken and because our custodial partners, Sue and Porfirio, are fanatics about their jobs. Thumbtacks, push pins, or staples? I think not.
In other years, therefore, I tried large swaths of colorful butcher paper, suspended by a short million dots of "sticky blue stuff." Depending on the brand, SBS is either sticky or not. It responds to temperature and humidity changes by letting go at inopportune times. To remain pliable, it has a high oil content, so when it's time to change out the displays, smudgy spots remain from previous pieces.
Another issue is balance. I surprise myself when elements of severe control freakitis show up in my personality, but there I'd be, trying to pretend that measuring each piece with a yardstick and double checking placement with a carpenter's level is normal behavior.
The last challenge is climbing. After three hip replacements, step-stools aren't my favorite toys. It's not impossible to clamber up and down, but it's not fun, and the need to be careful resulted in fewer changes to displays.
As I pondered the challenge and had fun imagining some kind of revolutionary display system that was both cheap and easy, I thought about how we display artwork during our annual show. There, large metal livestock panels in groups of three support artwork that's suspended by unfolded paper clips through punched holes. My first idea, chicken wire, was rejected because of its weight and the problem of child-poking wires on the ends of the display. I went to the hardware store and wandered through the gardening department. There was my solution, masquerading as bird netting for fruit trees! It met all the requirements - light weight plastic, safe for inquisitive fingers, and its composition - one inch squares, would be perfect for suspending artwork. One quick check to get permission to use picture hangers for suspension (and promising to fill the tiny holes left by the nails when it all comes down) and we were on our way.
I'm happy and the kids are happy. When they have a completed piece of work they choose to display, it's an easy task to get it mounted, punched, and hung outside. I think we'll get lots more work hung for public enjoyment this year. Stay tuned!
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.