How to Prep for Art Shows Without Losing Sleep

Springtime is art show time, and it seems most teachers participate in some type of art show. Some have school-wide shows with themes and a piece of artwork from every student. Some have major competitions with students working on specific pieces for weeks.

My students have artwork in 4 different shows. The first show up is the city-wide all school show. Then it is the Youth Art Month show at the State Capital.  Next, is the K-12 NPS show at Norfolk’s Art Center. Finally, it is the ESU 8 show in Neligh. Every show has different deadlines and requirements. Keeping it all straight can be overwhelming.
what time
After spending many LATE nights going through hundreds of projects trying to find “that one” for an art show, I have figured out a few things that make participating in multiple art shows a little easier.

Here’s how to prep for art shows without losing sleep.

1. Save Artwork
When I grade projects, I save about 15-20% of the projects to photograph and upload to Artsonia. These are also the projects that I display in the hallway. Before I prepare my hallway display, I take the top 10-12 pieces and store them in my art show box.

art show 1
2. Save Rules and Regulations
I have a designated folder for art show information. As soon as that information comes in, it goes into the folder. It makes it so much easier to keep all of the different rules and regulations straight. Some shows want hanging tabs, some do not. Some shows want certain types of tags or certain information on the tags. This folder keeps me sane!
3. Sort Artwork by Show
When February hits and the art show season starts to heat up, I put two tables together, set out a sign for each show and start sorting. You will want to think about the unique characteristics and “feel” of each show while you sort. For example, I send my best pieces to the YAM show and send a variety to the All City Show because the judging is hit or miss.

art show 2
4. Check Names
Each teacher has different opinions, but I will only send one image, per student, per show. Hypothetically, a student could be in all 4 shows, but he or she would have one piece in each show. I use a spreadsheet like the example below to help keep track of everything.

art show checklist
5. Attack all the Mats at Once
Presentation is so important when it comes to art shows. Regardless of which show I am sending work to, each piece is matted neatly and bordered with a colored paper.  Since I do them all the same way, I precut a lot of the mats and work on getting all of the pieces matted at the same time.

art show 3
6. Store the Show
After I have pieces ready to go, I store them by show. When the time comes to mail off the artwork or deliver it, I don’t have to search all over for it.
7. Relax
You have the hard work done. Now you can continue on with your grading, lesson planning, room cleaning, hallway displaying, technology integration, and more!
Regardless of how you choose to do your art show or how many art shows your students participate in, remember that the art show is the equivalent of our music concert or state tournament. The art show is the opportunity for your students to show what they have accomplished. The students will appreciate all the work you put into showcasing their creations.

What is your favorite part of art show season?

What tricks do you have for making your art show prep easier?


Jennifer Carlisle

Jen is a middle school art teacher from Norfolk, NE who loves exploring and teaching art through traditional and digital art mediums.


  • Christine

    I label all of my artwork WHILE the kids are working on it in my room. I have a bunch of pre-cut and printed labels that have a place to put in the student’s name, grade, and teacher (I teach elementary). As a student is working on their artwork, if I notice a lot of effort going into a piece of work, I will have them fill out a label and attach it to their artwork with a paperclip at the end of the day. Then it goes in a pile to be matted when it is finished.

    I think the added incentive of knowing that it’s looking good enough to go into an artshow keeps their quality of work high as they finish a piece, and the rest of the class gets excited celebrating a classmate’s accomplishment.

    It also makes it easy to ask if they’ve already been featured in an art show.

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      that is a great idea… and it would help make sure their name is spelled correctly (one of my biggest fears)

    • Ellen K

      Just to add-the Avery Label website is awesome. If you have your students listed in a spreadsheet with name, media, grade, etc, you can format all of your labels and simply press a button to populate and print. I’ve used this for several shows as well as name tags for the Faculty Holiday Party and it works like a charm. All you do is search for the format using the style number for the printable labels. I like to use the ones that are easy to remove so I don’t have to chisel the name tags off the wall later.

  • ashley

    what kind of mat paper do you use? please help!

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      I just mat to white and black oak tag boards. If they have a colored border it is plain construction paper. Our elementary teachers mat to multiple colors of oak tag. Our high school teachers use real mat board.

    • Lisa

      I use 4 ply railroad board for my 4th and 5th grade art work. Mat board for high school work if it’s going to be in a show.

  • Amber

    I am doing my first ever art show at the end of our school year at the end of May. I feel overwhelmed, but this article did help. My question is how to organize them, should one 2nd grade class be all one theme, while the other 2nd grade class be a different theme or should everyone be all mixed up? Does that make sense? Haha. I have so many questions!

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      There isn’t really a wrong way to do an art show. It comes down to personal choice. Some people take the 2-3 best images from each project. Some people make a specific project and every student has that some project in the show. Some people do large theme with every student making an image that that relates. For your first show I would choose one way and go. – girl – go!

    • Sara Elmore

      I let the students choose. I then mount all their artwork on bulletin board paper (one color per grade). Last, we hang them from the ceiling using binder clips. Parents love the variety of artwork shown.

  • One piece of the new visual art standards focuses on Presenting. Allowing students to choose their work could help fulfill this new national standard, and take some of the pressure off the teacher.

  • Anne Fry

    I just finished my last art show since I am retiring in May after 35 years teaching 7-12 art. Woo-hoo! I love that the community gets to see what fabulous projects the students have created and that their teachers are proficient and accomplished. I have always said that it has always been obvious in the performing and visual arts who is accomplished since the public always can see what is going on.
    For me, the most difficult thing about getting ready for shows is selecting work to be matted and entered.
    Two “must have” items especially for secondary art shows are the Alto E-Z mat cutter and a little clear plastic ruler called the “Matline”. 35 years ago I did not have these items and getting ready for shows was a greater effort.

    Are there any other teachers who are retiring? Do you have any tips about getting your room cleared of personal items?

    • Jennifer Carlisle

      I am a long way from retiring but I would say bit by bit for clearing your room. If you have a box that you can haul home say once a week with your “personal stuff” in it then it will be done by the end of the year and you won’t end up with a HUGE pile of stuff to deal with at home.

      • Anne Fry

        Great idea! I do plan on purchasing storage bins and filling one at a time. I also will give away many of mt “treasures” to colleagues.

    • Tarzan

      I retired 2 years ago and as I sorted thru school vs personal stuff, I found 1st or 2nd year teachers that wanted to go thru boxes of materials, books, I would no longer use. It felt good to offer it to someone who needed to shore up their supplies.

  • Anne Fry

    Here is a picture of my 2 favorite pieces of matting equipment.

  • These are some great tips! It can be so
    difficult to prep for anything, especially an art show without being completely
    exhausted. This is excellent and informative. Thanks so much!

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  • Ellie Jones

    I teach K-5 Art. I have do and photograph every piece of student artwork and upload them throughout the year for viewing. Then I have 3 art shows in April. One for K-4 during our elem. Spring concert, one for 5th grade on during 5th grade night in the Middle School, and last the Regional art show/competition, which is all surrounding schools. For my personal school art show I usually hang 2-3 pieces for every student in every grade. Last year I downsized to 1-2 per student. Every student had at least one of their best hanging. I had to downsize because we just do not have the parent art club helpers in our small town. It’s usually me and about 2 or 3 relatives who label and hang every night for at least a week and a half till early hours in the morning like 2, 3, 4 am. With kids of my own that’s just hard and my help is older relatives who 5 years ago could hang in there, but time keeps going and they are getting older and can not help as late anymore. I felt bad last year downsizing to 1-2 pieces per student, but I had to make a change. I also used to do ribbons for places on every project and well an art award ribbons on all projects that did not make a placed ribbon. Last year for the show I did not hang ribbons. So my principal has challenged me to find a way to do an art show and kind of keep to tradition so parents know what to expect. Of course ribbons are very expensive and time consuming to hang on every piece of art. Any suggestions about ribbons for my own school art show? Yes or no? I had thought perhaps doing ribbons for each project 1st, 2nd, 3rd and making one wall an art show ribbon winner wall for my K-5. Or do most art teachers do display only? Any kind of certificates? I know all teachers are different, but trying to find a happy medium without upsetting elem. kiddos or families when they do not receive a ribbon on art show night. All suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!!!

  • Ellie Jones

    Here are just a few walls from my K-4 art show. I made a personal investment of a giant roll of burlap, tons of binder clips with paper clips as my newest method of hanging and no more tape. As you see no ribbons. I personally liked no ribbons. Mainly because overall everyone was happy to see their best up on the walls. Again, I am looking for a long term decision with making it a “display only” show or having competition with a ribbon winner wall. Again, any suggestions would be awesome because I have many years to go!!! Thanks everyone!

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