Displaying student art throughout the year, and not only at your end-of-the-year art show, pays dividends in so many ways. From promoting your program to building student pride and self-esteem, it’s worth the time and effort it takes to show off the wonderful art that your students are creating!
Look for spaces to display student work not only in classrooms, hallways, and the school office or lobby, but also in the less obvious places around your community. From offices to banks to local coffee shops, opportunities for hanging art abound if you keep your eyes open! Notice the settings you frequent that may already be exhibiting art or have empty walls in need of dressing up!
Here are 7 tips for creating successful displays with your students’ artwork:
1. Enlist help. Talk to parents who’ve expressed interest in volunteering but have to work during the school day. This can be a great way to connect and build rapport. Friends and family members enjoy seeing what you’ve been teaching your students and may be willing to help, too. Displaying student work throughout the year might go beyond what’s expected of you, but it won’t go unnoticed. It’s worth the extra time and effort. Just remember, you don’t have to do it alone… many hands make light work!
2. Include work from all students, not just the most successful examples. This is really important! The one time I made an exception to this, I had to face a very tearful 5 year old who couldn’t understand why his work wasn’t chosen for the display. Never again! You can break up a class into multiple exhibit areas, or plan ahead and have students work smaller so the pieces all fit in one display space, or take a sampling from a variety of projects and choose each student’s best work, but don’t leave anyone out!
3. Plan the composition of your display, just like you would a drawing or painting. Keep in mind the Elements of Art (line, shape, form, color, value, texture, and space) and Principles of Design (balance, movement, rhythm, contrast, emphasis, pattern, and unity) as you lay out your arrangement of student work. You’ll probably be moving things around a bit, so a couple of tape rolls at the top of each piece (made with *low-tack tape, like Blue Painter’s Tape) will allow you to make adjustments quickly and easily as you work out the final placement of everything. To help you keep edges straight and parallel, use the horizontal and vertical lines of the wall (where it meets the ceiling and corners) as your guide.
4. Consider your audience. If most of your viewers will be parents or other adults, hang the display at their eye level. For students, hang it a bit lower. If the general public will be viewing your display, it’s probably best to use students’ first names only.
5. Include a title and brief explanation. A descriptive title and a short comment on the artist, concept, or technique that students learned about will give viewers a better understanding and appreciation for what they’re looking at. Remember to keep it brief. If you say too much, they probably won’t take the time to read it. Give them just enough so they will read it and think, “Oh, now I get it!”
6. Take care not to damage artwork. Student work can be mounted onto individual backing papers with a glue stick (use a good one like the Avery Permanent Glue Stic), or mounted all together onto a large butcher paper background using low-tack tape rolls. If you’re stapling or pinning onto a cork board, make sure you glue each piece of artwork onto a separate backing paper and then staple or pin into that, and not into the artwork. The Avery Glue Stic will hold well yet still release later when you need it to. Avoid using the purple glue sticks, as they have very little holding power, causing artwork to pop off its backing without warning!
7. Take care not to damage walls. Hey, you want to get invited back, right??! Displays are temporary, but you don’t want them coming down before you take them down – or taking the paint off the wall along with them! With that in mind, it’s important to use the right mounting materials.
If you’re mounting directly onto painted walls, use the sandwich method. Place a piece of low-tack tape, like Blue Painter’s Tape, onto the back of your artwork, then place a piece of 3M Double-Sided Foam Mounting Tape on top of that, then another piece of Blue Painter’s Tape on top with the sticky side up. The low-tack tape releases easily from the artwork and the wall, but the foam tape holds everything together in the mean time. For an even stronger (yet still removable) bond, substitute White Artist Tape for the Blue Painter’s Tape.
* You can also make regular masking tape “low-tack” by pressing it against your clothing a few times. The fibers it picks up will prevent it from making complete contact with any surface, thereby decreasing its “tackiness”.
Do you display student art work throughout the year?
Have you found a place in your community to display student work?