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Library Program: Art Contest


This past April, I held an art contest for students in grades 6-12. This is a great program to try. First of all, it is pretty easy to put together. The work you have to do is minimal. It takes a little longer if you want to make those extras that will make it special for the teens, which of course you do. Once you have your materials made, you can continue to use them again every year. Another thing that's good about an art contest is that it gives teens a real feeling of accomplishment. They can put something like this on their resume. So parents will really dig it. Also, this is a great way to advocate for teens. You can have the exhibit at your library, and library patrons will get a chance to look at the artwork and be impressed. This is a way we can show all ages how talented teens can be. This is a way to counter attack those negative stereotypes of teens that adults sometimes hold. The last thing is that your community will get into it. Local businesses will likely be willing to donate prizes. You can find judges at local schools or local art studios.


This is the first year I tried an art contest at my local library, and we had about 40 entries. At the last library I worked at, we had an art contest several years in a row so the number of entries grew every year. If you do this as an annual contest, your local art teachers will remember it and have it on the brain when they are talking to their students throughout the year.

AdvertisingTo get started, I created an informational pamphlet. It was a double-sided trifold affair with information on the left and middle panels and a tear-off entry form on the right panel. The pamphlet had all of the rules and guidelines. I recommend this format because this way you are combining your entry forms and flyers into one item. I put the entry forms throughout the library and also had our web author link the Word document on our website.

I emailed entry forms to the local media specialists. Next I drove to the schools and put a cover letter and 10 entry forms into the art teachers' mailboxes. I also wrote short blurbs for our local papers.

Cataloging the EntriesI started advertising about a month before I started accepting entries and accepted entries for a month and a half. As the entries rolled in, I used the entry forms to make a database with all the information on it and identified each entry with a number. This was so that each entry was anonymous for the judging process. Art was judged in 5 categories: photography, painting, drawing, multimedia, and computer graphics. Originally, I called the multimedia category "3D." But I did not anticipate that I would receive collages. I wasn't sure where to put them so I turned that category into multimedia. I think next year, I will have a category for 3D and 2D multimedia.

JudgingI had 3 judges: one was a professional photographer, one was a professional painter, and one was a co-worker of mine who makes recycled crafts and jewelry all the time. Each of the judges came in twice: once by themselves and once as a group. They gave a first and second place in each category. We also had an optional theme of Go Green so there was a best in theme award. One problem that arose was that I did not anticipate the large number of entries we would have. Students were judges regardless of grade. Although we had one winner that was in middle school, most of them were in high school. I think some of the parent thought their middle school student should not be competing against a high school student. I did not have enough prizes to award by grade level. But this is something I will consider for next year.

Getting PrizesThe hardest part was getting prizes donated from local businesses. The problem was what type of prize to ask for. I wanted to get a relevant prize, depending on the category. The first place I tried was a local art supply store I had worked with before. She was willing to donate prizes but most of her supplies were for painting and drawing. I could not find a prize there for the multimedia or photography award. I ended up finding a prize for multimedia from a store that sells things like scrapbook supplies and jewelry supplies. The photography was the most difficult. Most businesses are willing to donate a prize that is $30 or less. I knew that photographers' supplies are expensive. One of my judges ended up donating a photo album and a photography book.

Once the judges made their decisions, I used very thin ribbon to make little bows and put them on the first and second place winners: blue for first, red for second, and green for the Go Green award.

Hanging the ArtworkI hung the artwork up a few hours before the exhibition opened. A local photography group let me borrow their art rack. It was a folding wire rack. On the rack I put a sign acknowledging our donors, judges, and the photography society. The 3D artwork was put into a lobby display case with a similar sign. I used the database I made in Microsoft Excel with a Mail Merge in Microsoft Word to make name plates on large labels. Each label had the artist name, title of the work, school name, and grade. I mounted the self-sticking labels to cut black poster board. I also made each artist a certificate that I would hand to them at the ceremony so that everyone would get something.

A week before they event, I emailed the artists a printed invitation they could hand to friends and family (like a graduation). If I can plan better next year, I think it is nice to mail them several invitations so they don't have to print them off themselves. Besides, not all of my artists had an email address.

The Opening ReceptionNow it was time for the opening reception. I gave parents about 15 minutes to browse the entries. I handed parents programs I had made in advance with the names of all the artists and the categories they entered. We had cookies, grapes, pretzels, and lemonade for them. Then I made a short speech in which I thanked all the people who made the afternoon possible and congratulated the artists for taking this bold step. I downplayed the competition, in other words. You want to bolster your teens. Then I announced the winners, although the ribbons were already on the art, and handed out the prizes. Then everyone received their certificate.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the reception. One of our judges came, and everyone seemed to enjoy that. Not all the artists attended, but those that did brought parents, relatives, and even their art teachers.

I left the art up for a couple weeks with the programs on the rack so that our patrons would know who made the art.

All in all, I enjoyed this program and hope to do it again next year.

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