Art exhibitions are an integral and exciting part of the art-making process. There’s something special about seeing your drawing framed, your painting glazed, or your sculpture displayed in a professional manner. Your students will be pleasantly surprised at the positive affirmations they receive from teachers and parents who may or may not have realised their artistic skills!
However, exhibitions can be very overwhelming events to organise. They are particularly daunting if you haven’t had any experience planning events or hanging artworks. So how can we as high school teachers present professional-looking exhibitions on a smaller scale without losing our minds? Here are 8 tips to help.
Plan and prepare ahead.
Start collecting work at the beginning of the academic year. Ensure that student names and year groups are either written on the back of works on paper or logged on a digital list. Speaking of digital lists, begin typing names on to a table spreadsheet for name tags. You can print them out, laminate, and blu-tac or velcro the names on to your boards. Whenever you have a spare moment, begin the laborious work of mounting and framing student work. If you tackle this job periodically over the year, you’ll be pleasantly surprised come exhibition time that you’re more than halfway there with most work ready for presentation.
Invest in good quality frames.
I know we’re all trying to make magic with minimal budgets, but consider investing in some good quality black and/or white frames in generic paper sizes. If you store them with care, these frames can be used and re-used each year and save you in the long-run.
Hire display boards early.
Whether it’s cheaper galvanised steel fencing, or professional quality display boards, research and book your boards as soon as you work out the date for your exhibition. Consider whether you will use velcro dots on the back of paper works for fabric boards, or whether you will use rail hooks for framed works or paintings on canvas. Push pins, bulldog clips or pegs may be useful for a more rustic look.
Design the layout of your display boards in advance.
You may want to map it out to scale on grid paper, or just do a loose sketch, but either way, you will save yourself a headache when the display boards are delivered and you can rest assured that you have a plan and can instruct those helpers where you’d like the boards.
Speaking of helpers…ENLIST SOME HELP!
Running a school art exhibition is hard work. We all chip in for sports carnivals or drama productions, it’s time to call in the return favours of our colleagues! It’s also a great experience for senior students to get involved. From designing invitations to moving artworks in and out of the art room, to matching name tags to artworks, students can be very helpful. Many hands make light work!
Invite key people in your school’s area.
I have made an effort to email past art students, parents of current students, and the local members of parliament in the local area to invite them to our Art Exhibitions. Dignitaries like Mayors or Parliamentarians often enjoy being asked to officially open the exhibition, and it adds to the professional feel of the evening. You may even want to invite a local artist to speak or present an award as well.
Involve other school Departments.
To lighten my preparation load, I like to invite our school’s Hospitality teachers and students to design the menu, prepare the canapès and serve on the night. I also like to invite a small group of Music students to play some atmospheric music while guests view the artworks. I have also joined forces with our Textiles department, and they run a fashion parade during the evening. Not only does this strengthen cross-curricular ties, but it also attracts a wider audience and brings more excitement to your evening.
Try to piggy-back on another school event.
I time my annual Art Exhibition to run in the few days before our school-wide Open Day. I am usually asked to provide some sort of exhibition for this anyway, so rather than set everything up twice, I run the opening night on the Thursday night, and leave the exhibition up and running through until the Saturday Open Day event. This saves double handling and widens the viewership of your students’ work.
Our Art Exhibitions really showcase what we get up to in the art room, and often shed light on the fantastic programs we run. We often become a little bit numb to the wonderful creativity we nurture during the academic year, and it’s a lovely reminder that we’re doing a great job when parents and teachers alike offer encouragement and appreciation for our students’ creations. Hopefully, these 8 tips for running a school art exhibition will help you as you prepare for your own Art Exhibition.
If you have some helpful advice for art teachers about running a school art exhibition, please comment below.