How to Run an Art Show (Bellevue East Edition)

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My students are fortunate enough to do a huge number of art shows throughout the year–Scholastic Awards, the Omaha Summer Arts Festival, a city show sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club, among others–but our best, and most important, show is our end-of-the-year show that takes place in the art room every May. We fill our room with art, invite the entire school to see the show, nominate students and present awards, and have an evening reception to tie it all together.

We put classes on hold for about a week in order to put the show together (an exception is made for the Intro kids, because I don’t really trust them to set up things correctly just yet). Everything is taken off the walls, and we put up hundreds and hundreds of artworks, covering pretty much the entire room. I tell kids that if they want to show the work, I will find room for it.  We haven’t covered the ceiling, but I can’t think of anyplace else in the room we haven’t utilized at least once throughout the years.

Kids are responsible for the tags for their work–we identify them with Artist Name, Title, Grade, and Media. A preformatted sheet of tags is on my laptop–kids type, print, cut out, and glue on black backing paper before they hang it next to their work. Our best students get their own section–a window, part of a wall, a doorway, whatever works best; there are a lot of odd nooks and crannies and my room that we need to fill. It’s a good problem-solving exercise to arrange and display work within that specific space, and good to give kids that responsibility.

Our most important works fill our most important section–the Project of the Year wall. We select the best 6 works that have been made throughout the year, and they are the Nominees for project of the year. Here’s a picture of the 2012 wall:


Art Show Day

The day of the show, we open up the room to anyone and everyone in the school. Advanced art students (and their teachers) dress up, because we’re representing what we do on our biggest day of the year.

Teachers are invited to come during their plan period, or bring their class to stay for part or all of the period. Administrators, paras, custodians, and office staff all make their way up to see the work when they can. It can get crowded; if there are the two art teachers’ classes, then you add in 4 or 5 more teachers’ classes, we’re pretty full. Luckily, we have a large room that can handle the spectators.

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English and Spanish teachers have come up with critiques aligned with their curricula, and their students complete those when looking at their work. It’s a great situation, and we have so much appreciation for the support we’re given. We also encourage everyone to vote on the Project of the Year, and we have a comment box for everyone to leave comments for their friends and compliment the works that most impress them.

Art classes have a specific critique that they do during class–analyzing, ranking, evaluating, understanding the work they’re viewing. All that good higher-order thinking stuff. Toss in a couple sketches they need to do, leave comments for their 5 favorite artworks, and it’s a pretty complete art viewing experience.

The Evening Reception and Awards

After school, a few more teachers generally stop up to the room if they weren’t able to do so during the day. Then, later in the evening, the art room becomes a gallery once again as we open it up to the community. Families, school board members, and (my personal favorite) former students come back to see the work and support our students. Or, in the case of former students, comment about how the work used to be so much better and how it’s all gone downhill since they left East :)

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2011 Alum, art superstar Nicole Henderson, made an appearance and spent all her time lamenting the overall decline in the quality of the work compared to her senior year. You can’t see it, but she’s also wearing her Kansas City Art Institute shirt; she wants you to know that she’s a better artist than you. (I’m kidding, Nicole–I love you and thanks for coming.)

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Josh Collison (left), also a 2011 Alum and art superstar, shows his brother Tim how it’s done. This year, Tim was the first-ever sophomore to win the student choice award.

After the room is open for an hour, we take over the school auditorium and present our awards for the year–the auditorium gives an official feel to the proceedings. Each of our awards has 5 or 6 nominees–a way to honor a large number of our outstanding students–and myself and my partner-in-crime choose the most outstanding of the nominees to win each award. We recognize each of the nominees, then announce the winner. They come up to the stage, shake hands, smile, receive their certificate, and it’s on to the next one of the list. It’s a long list, but I figure I’ll put up the full rundown of what we award.

Honorable Mention Awards

We have 4 people from around the building select works that they feel really stand out from the crowd. Two are English teachers who know a lot about art, one is an art teacher that I invite to select one (a different teacher every year), and one is a para in our building that has a studio in the Hot Shops in downtown Omaha. Nothing of particular importance–just something that really catches their eye, whether it be because of concept, execution, use of color, technical skill, originality, or whatever.

Principal’s Choice Award

Our principal chooses his favorite work from the entire show. Done and done.

Art Club Award

Goes to the student most involved and active in Art Club throughout the year.

Freshman of the Year

Goes to our most outstanding freshman–good at drawing, painting, ceramics, and sculpture.

Newcomer of the Year

Goes to our most outstanding non-freshman who is new to the art department this year.

Most Improved

Goes to the student who makes the biggest jump from one year to the next. I always tell the nominees that this doesn’t mean they sucked last year; it just means they are way better this year than they were last year.

Art Thesis Award

Our seniors take a year-long class called Art Thesis, and this award goes to the best of the group–they need to be at least proficient, if not excellent, in all areas of their study: Drawing, Painting, Ceramics, Sculpture, Printmaking, and Art History.

2D Artist of the Year

Goes to the student who most excels in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Photography, and/or whatever other Two-Dimensional art they may be creating.

3D Artist of the Year

Like the 2D award, but for 3-D work. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?


Student Choice Award/Student Choice Runner-Up


Determined by the number of votes from the art show attendees. They vote on the six nominees for project of the year, and the top two vote-getters are recognized.

Project of the Year

The “official” version of the award, as determined by the two art teachers. It sometimes matches with the student vote (as it did last year with our full-size functional couch made completely out of cardboard), other times the Project of the Year is the one that finished fourth in the voting (like this year). This year, it went to Shara Yumul’s Watermelon drawing.

Art Student of the Year

Simply stated, our best artist. The person who, five years from now, you will look back and remember their personality, their influence, and their artwork. Though I’m not opposed to awarding it to a junior, it’s gone to a senior every year it’s been given. This year, it belongs to Rob Meyers. A flying ninja kick probably best represents Rob’s personality, so here he is:


The next day, we take down everything as fast as possible. Artwork goes home, the room is clean, and the room is ready for our last few days of school. It’s a good way to end the year.

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