Thursday, April 28, 2011

Art Show Madness

Today marks my return from a brief hiatus from writing, sleeping, and time to hear myself think, so that can only mean one thing: last night was our annual Arts Night. After all the blood (stapled my finger to the bulletin board - oops!), sweat (it's toasty up here on the 3rd floor and the last minute kiln firings definitely heat things up), and tears (this one's a stretch, but doing all this while wearing heels does make me wish my feet were removable), now I have the time for some peace, quiet, and reflection again.

This year's Arts Night marks our school's third art show ever. I can't comment on the first one, because I wasn't here yet, but from what I have heard, it was a spontaneous decision made sometime in April by our principal at the time, to the surprise of the art teacher, and resulted in a lot of stress. Arts night number 2 will be forever embedded in my mind as a tornado of frustration, worry, and panic. At least I knew about it in September, but as a first year teacher, something that happens all the way at the end of the year was my last concern. My day to day worries were more of the "what am I going to teach tomorrow", "what kind of fairy can I summons to make these nonexistent supplies suddenly appear?", and "how on earth am I going to get through today?" variety. In the end, I was buried in paper, every type of adhesive known to man, and was making last minute panicked calls to every friend, family member, and coworker, to please run to Home Depot for me and find something, anything, that will make this stuff actually stick to the walls! I pulled it off and drove home thinking what a relief it would be to now be able to relax and know that my first art show was behind me. We don't know what we don't know, and boy was I in for a reality check when I returned to work the next day and realized that I had a year's worth of artwork I had been hoarding, created by all 500 students at my school, now coated in layer upon layer of sticky mess, and had no idea what to do with it all or how I would return any of it to its rightful owner. I laboriously looked up the schedule and homeroom of every student I had ever had and tried to track down as many of them as I could, waving papers at them which they didn't remember creating in the first place. I'd say at least 50% of the work didn't even have names on it, and while I am still proud of the speed at which I learned all of their names clever mnemonics to recall 80% of their names, until the day they would leave my class and be replaced by a new group, but in May, I certainly wasn't able to remember which elusive artist had made the clay pineapple which way back in September, still unfired and wrapped in plastic, was now coated in mold. Much of it remained unclaimed and I couldn't bear to toss it, so it was jam-packed  filed in every crevice I could find and remained there to haunt me of art shows past this September. I think I'm just now getting over that.

That lesson resulted in this handy new filing system I implemented back in September. All finished artwork needs to have a homeroom number written on the back in order to receive full credit. When my graded work pile gets too big for me to look at and I have the time, I spread out off the folders on my classroom tables and file everything by homeroom. I pull exemplary work as I go, put it on the "art show" shelf, and check the student's name off in my grade book. Work that is extra extra awesome goes on another shelf, which helps me narrow down choices for our big huge regional art show, which I now coordinate, display in the school committee room, the principal's office, and for awards at end of year. Those names are checked off in my book too. Leading up to Arts Night, I can take a quick scan through my book, and if a name here or there never got checked off, I open up that student's homeroom folder and choose something. In June, I will just drop off the folders in each homeroom and be done with it. Easy peasy. So far. I'll get back to you when the year is done.

So back to last night's Art's Night.. I was so disappointed after last year's poor turnout after all that hard work, that I brainstormed and brainstormed how on earth I could increase attendance this year and get more people to show up. When the application for school use didn't go through until 2 days before the actual day of the event, I couldn't even announce a date for the thing until the day before (yes, you read that right - an announcement was literally made that went something along the lines of "oh, by the way - we just decided we're going to have Arts Night tomorrow - hope you can make it!") I was certain that I would be standing in the lobby alone, looking at the accumulation of a year's worth of art, but I was blown away by how many people made it this year. It was a one hour show, with short performances by the band and jazz band, an intermission to view "the art gallery", and hors d'oeuvres served by Student Council volunteers. It started at 6pm. At 5:57, as I was hanging the last painting (yeah, I live on the edge and cut it close), I literally could not move because I was surrounded by people.

So what gives?

In promoting a new product of any kind, the best advertisement is word of mouth. But it doesn't hurt to have a gimmick.

Last year's Arts Night featured a mural sized photorealistic portrait of our principal, created by the 8th grade class. I came up with it on the fly as a group activity to use for my first ever teacher evaluation. After weeks of studying line, value, and space, we did a unit on Chuck Close and his use of the grid method. I wanted students to work on self portraits, but knew that they would be intimidated and overwhelmed by the whole concept. So I had them cut up a photo of the principal into teeny tiny squares (they liked that part a little too much), and each student had one square to draw. Broken up into manageable parts, they each only needed to be concerned with line, value, shape and form of one abstract little piece, not the mammoth undertaking of "how do I draw a nose?!?!". Finished squares were glued to my giant grid, and with each new class, we added new squares. When the grid was filled, students worked from the photo to smooth out any uneven transitions from square to square, and the result was an incredibly realistic larger than life drawing of the principal. It created a bit of a buzz around the building, and was a huge hit at the art show.

This year, we had a 4 foot tall alien. Two 6th grade boys started this as part of a 5 day paper mache lesson last year, and I must have had a momentary bout of insanity when I agreed to let these two kids make their sculpture whatever size they wanted. The rotation ended soon thereafter, but they returned during studies, lunches, after school, etc., working out how to build this structure. I was not prepared for the amount of physics involved in creating a 5 foot tall creature out of household trash, newspaper, and glue. One student came back this year and kept going with it, adding an elevated plaster base and painted it. Each new crop of students wanted to know what the deal was with the alien in the corner and what I was going to do with it. I would tell them briefly that it was a 2 year venture by a couple of students and that I was saving it to show at this year's Arts Night. Between that and all the hoopla surrounding Art in the Valley, which I hosted here earlier in the month, people must have been curious to see what has transpired in the art room now.

So, what will be the big draw next year? I have no idea, but I'm certainly going to take one very long nap before even considering it.

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