Opening a New Art Room: An Art Teacher’s Cheat Sheet

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Allison Krook is a K-5 art teacher in a large, growing school district in the Midwest. Because of the rapid growth, the district is opening up new schools left and right. This is exciting but also challenging. As a 4th-year art teacher, Allison was thrust into the wonderful and overwhelming task of starting an art room from scratch.

We’ve received many reader emails asking questions about the daunting process of opening a brand new art room: What do you order? How much storage do you ask for? What about a kiln? Today, I’ve asked Allison to dish about what it’s like to open a new art room. She’ll tell us about the challenges she faced, what she’d do again if she could, and the features she can’t live without. Allison jumped in with open arms and you can too!

new art room

Make Storage a Priority

Because Allison’s district is large, she didn’t have a lot of input into the design of the room itself. The layout was chosen based upon a previous school layout and budget considerations. That said, all districts are different, and you may be able to have more say. If so, make sure you ask for plenty of storage space! (Pssst. You can see a full list of suggested supplies to order right here.)

Allison says, “While it seems like a no-brainer, the amount of storage space I have compared to some of the buildings built after mine is enviable among the other art teachers.” Make it a priority!

small drawers

3 Types of Storage to Consider 

Allison told me, “There are three key types of storage that save my sanity: general storage space, storage shelving, and student work drawers.”

For general storage, Allison is lucky to have a closet that runs the length of her room, which contains 10 large, metal shelving units. Here, Allison stores paper and other supplies she wants to keep out of the way. According to Allison, it has allowed her to hoard supplies with ease!

map of room

In addition, Allison loves having student work drawers in the classroom. Allison says, “I honestly don’t know what I’d do without them!” Since Allison stores student work all year long, having enough storage for this specific purpose is important.

drawers

Other Considerations

I asked Allison, “Besides good storage, what else would you recommend for a new art room?” Here’s what she had to say.

Technology

Allison suggests getting a projector that is mounted to the wall or ceiling from the get go. Allison started out with a projector on a cart. When she switched to a wall-mounted projector thanks to a grant and funding from her PTO, the process got tricky. Allison told me, “Because everything had to be retrofitted, it was difficult to find places for everything.”

After having gone through this ordeal, Allison had a great idea: When designing your room, have your school’s tech person give you a recommendation about where things like outlets and internet connections should be placed. Make sure that any future projector will be able to easily connect to your computer. The flow of technology should make sense. Bring in an expert upfront to avoid problems down the road.

Arrangement of Space

You can have the most amazing equipment in the world, but if it isn’t arranged well, your room isn’t going to work. Make sure you designate areas for whole group teaching, small group teaching, and independent work.

One of Allison’s best purchases was her kidney table, which you can see in the image below. According to Allison, “I have always liked to demonstrate with students around a table, so I made sure to order a large table for this specific purpose. While I also have a document camera that I can use to demonstrate with, I prefer sitting down with the kids, face to face. I feel like I’m able to read their understanding and engage with them more when they are with me. The space is also great for teaching and re-teaching concepts to small groups of students. Plus, it gives me the chance to sit down once in a while!”

kidney table

Of course, your needs will be different based on your teaching style and your students. Think about how to break up the space in a way that makes sense for you. For example, in your room, it may make sense to include a few large work tables where students can collaborate or a row of tables to use for a computer station.

The Kiln Room

Don’t design an art room without an attached kiln room! Allison told me that having this storage space is imperative to her being able to teach her 750+ students. It’s nice to be able to store all of her students’ wet and in-progress clay pieces in one space. If you have the chance, make sure the room fits not only the kiln but some sturdy shelves as well. Of course, keep safety in mind! Check out these comprehensive checklists courtesy of clay guru John Post to keep yourself on track.

kiln room 2

kiln room 1

Seize the Opportunity!

Allison told me, “One of the things I was most surprised about was that none of the experienced teachers in my district at the time were interested in opening a new art room. I’m not sure if this was because they already had established rooms, schools, students and staff that they did not want to part with or if they thought the task of opening a new room would be too overwhelming.

“From my experience, the process was daunting and a bit hard at first, but over time, I’ve established the room into my own. I’ve collected enough supplies to last and transformed the space from a bare construction zone into a creative space where students feel at home.”

Thank you, Allison!

If you are lucky enough to open a brand new art room, I hope these tips are helpful to you.

Stay tuned because tomorrow we are sharing a master starter list for your room!

Have you helped to design a new art room?

Share your experience with us and add to the list of “must haves!”

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.

Related

  • Mr. Post

    The kiln room likes nice and large – but that kiln vent is the least desirable type of vent. The hood gets in the way when you want to load the kiln. It’s also not very effective at removing all of the fumes because it lets them escape into the kiln room first and then tries to suck them back out through the fan.

    The best kiln vents are downdraft kiln vents that pull the air directly out from the bottom of the kiln. Either one of these models is a much better choice…
    https://www.baileypottery.com/kilns/kilnventsys.htm
    https://www.baileypottery.com/kilns/fumeventsys.htm

    If schools were smart (which they are not) they would do what potters do and mount a fan directly through the wall. This would pull all of the fumes from the room directly to the outside. I run a downdraft vent on my electric kiln and have a fan through the wall to pull all of the fumes out of my working spaces.

    You only get one set of lungs and the one exposed to kiln fumes the most is the art teacher.

    • allison

      Yes, Mr. Post!! I couldn’t agree more! I am surprised at the shortcuts schools will go to to save costs. At the new building in our district it would have voided the building warranty to cut a vent to the outside so they gave her what looks like a commercial kitchen vent for a few years until they can install a proper venting system! I believe they do a better job for the ceramics teachers at the high school.

  • Mrs Rodenbaugh

    I’m JUST starting up 2 BRAND new art rooms, in a district that didn’t have elementary art. The storage is amazing, but one thing I’ve noticed in both of my rooms is they didn’t provide area to display work. I didn’t have any tack strips and I didn’t have bulletin boards outside the room (or really inside..I had 1 small one in one room, 2 in the other). Also, allowing and finding space for free activities (early finishers).
    As the old buildings brought over what few art supplies and construction paper they had, I insisted that went to the teacher work rooms to avoid teachers coming in the art room as a supply store.
    Also, establishing with the teachers “rules”. I already had a teacher say to me — oh, I heard we can use your room for science experiments and stuff when you’re not here. I have so little time running around the district, I will set up my classroom for the next time I teach when I leave — no my room is not an extra room.

    • allison

      Definitely stick to your guns on the supplies and your room! Teachers are always trying to use the art room and supplies – not because they’re jerks but because they are either short in supplies/don’t have the $ or because they’re oblivious!! We don’t have a lot of tack strips either and have been told it’s against Fire code to add more (really? Then why do the other schools have double??) so I just use A LOT of sticky tack. Good luck this year!!

    • Dawn Kruger

      Regarding room use:
      The truth is administrators can assign space however they please. I would clear this up with them before an incident makes it a sticky situation.

  • ElizTownsend

    Allison…You’re like the rich kid on the block that has all the toys we
    want, but will never have! I’m speaking from an art cart and tiny
    storage room. Wow! I loved your storage space–especially those big
    beautiful drawers! It was inspirational to read about your new room. When you teach that many students, I say you deserve
    every square foot you can get! Have fun!

    • allison

      Thanks! It did feel pretty surreal for me coming from a tiny district before this one! My budget at the previous school was $250 for 300 kids so I scraped and scrounged all I could. I don’t know how you do art on a cart! I think it takes a very passionate and devoted kind of person to do what you do!

  • http://www.artencounters.com.au/ Art Encounters

    It’s a really nice cheat sheet of yours. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Pingback: A Complete List of Supplies for Your New Art Room | The Art of Ed()

  • Michelle LaCombe

    Hi, I just love those cabinets that are behind the kidney table in your room. Where did you order those from? They are exactly what I have been looking for!

    • allison

      I really don’t know where m school got them – I’m sure it was something that was bid on during construction. Maybe you can check with your school’s head of maintenance or facilities person?? Good luck!!

  • Lela June

    SINKS!!! Lots and lots of sinks. 4 is a good number, my best art room had 4 sinks. 3 is also okay, but it can get tight. But as many as they let you!

    • Lela June

      And spread them out around the room.

    • Dawn Kruger

      Mine are peninsula sinks so 3-4 kids can stand around them at once.

  • artisan k

    I created a 2000 sq. ft art room this summer with lots of windows and 14 ft ceilings. Our school expanded to a 3rd floor and we have 700 students pre-k to 8. It was daunting! I met with 8 local art teachers who were generous and incredibly insightful for tips. As a graphic designer, I chose to do large installations. I created paint chip (free squares of Ralph Lauren from Home Depot works best) color wheels on large 9 foot board, mobiles from IKEA, graphic fabric stapled to pine, and large format printed artist quotes for cabinet numbering as well as wall inspiration. Donated flat files are indispensable and serve as a cutting board surface. I use the book shelves as a library, a staged area for still life resources and class artwork. I have a movable white board that I created a chalkboard for the flip side, fun for daily quotes and sketching. One sink! But i manage! I have 3 closets for storage, shelves to be added 2016. I also chose an Apple Mac work station over a kiln. We did not have the venting or dedicated space for a kiln. I love pottery and we do self dry. The Mac station was half the price of a kiln and will provide multiple opportunities for our 6, 7, 8th graders, especially for those interested in photography and digital media. So far its been a great set up but I welcome any suggestions!