How to host a Fair Trade-themed clothesline art sale

I feel so fortunate to be at a campus with some amazingly creative students that are not afraid to step up as leaders and take on a project that I myself was overwhelmed to even think about organizing (of course, I didn’t tell them that!).

Here were our ingredients….

  • Fresh Artists – a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia dedicated to saving artmaking for all children and creating real opportunities for children to be philanthropic.
  • The Walden School – the nation’s first Fair Trade preK-8 school, recently designated a Fair Trade School in November 2011.  our students gave a Fair Trade Show-and-Tell presentation at their school, and were eager to find a way to connect and collaborate on a future project.
  • Penn State Brandywine Fair Trade TrailBlazers – led this semester by our Fair Trade intern Labanya Mookerjee, Labanya successfully coordinated and organized the communications with Fresh Artists, The Walden School, campus maintenance and facilities, and the student volunteers to make this event the success that it was.
Fair Trade Intern Labanya Mookerjee with some of the young artists from The Walden School

Fair Trade Intern Labanya Mookerjee with some of the young artists from The Walden School

Our goal – have children at a local Fair Trade School create artwork on what Fair Trade means to them, bring that artwork to Penn State Brandywine for a Fair Trade-themed clothesline art sale, share/discuss their artwork with members of the Penn State Brandywine and greater communities, collect donations for the artwork, so that art supplies can be purchased for kids in the city of Chester that do not have any art supplies in their schools.  (whew – quite a goal!)

We have reported on the events with a video in this post and an overall summary, and we encourage you to review these posts first to get a feel for what the event was and how it ran.  In addition, here are some tips we felt were important to make note of during our preparations and execution of the event.  We hope that our experience can help other campuses learn how to best host a Fair Trade-themed clothesline art sale!

The Walden School artists sitting in front of their artwork, strung for all to see

The Walden School artists sitting in front of their artwork, strung for all to see.

  1. Get permission first! We CANNOT stress this enough!  Since this event was going to involve bringing minor children to campus, we first contacted our business office, who then contacted the Office of Risk Management of the University.  Because this was a Walden School event that was hosted at our campus, there were a series of forms that had to be signed by The Walden School and submitted to us and processed at least two weeks before the event.  Warning – this process will take longer than you may think – get started EARLY on securing all the permissions/signatures you need.  If you are just doing the event on campus with artwork by/for college students, then you should still check to see what rules may apply if your event is open to the general public from outside the campus.
  2. Get the word out. We created a logo, flyer, blog post, and did a social media blast to get the word out.  We used our campus’s social media sites our own social media sites.  Our local town’s Fair Trade committee was kind enough to spread the word and promote the event in their newsletter and on their social media sites.  It worked!  Although most of the visitors to the event were campus staff and students (although, we sent a special invitation to our Chancellor to attend – and she came!), at the end of the day, all pieces of the student artwork found a home, and Fresh Artists received $375 to purchase more art supplies for students in the city of Chester.
  3. Consider the time and location for the event. The best space for us to have the event on campus was a large student lounge, surrounded by benches and railings so we could easily keep the kids all sitting in one spot in front of their artwork on the clothesline, in a building with four classrooms off the lounge.  We were originally going to have the event on an afternoon when no classes were held during the time the school kids could come and visit, but then, the date changed and we ended up with 60 preK-8th grade kids in a large lounge (where yes, the noise echoed) and classes taking place.  Despite several attempts to keep the kids quiet, the children were just so thrilled to talk about their artwork and be at our campus.  It was a struggle for me, because I wanted the kids to be excited and to be happy to be participating in the event, but I was sensitive to the classrooms and college students in their rooms.  Fortunately, the campus faculty were very understanding when I explained what was going on.  One faculty member even asked how her daughter’s school could become a Fair Trade School!
  4. Expand your volunteer base – connect with a faculty member/course. Early in the semester, we had a faculty member that teachers Introduction to Business ask if her students could help out with any of our Fair Trade events.  Her students assisted last semester with our Go Bananas for Fair Trade and Alta Gracia T-shirt Swap events, and we were thrilled to have her students assist again!  These volunteers were essential in helping hang up the artwork, helping the children get name tags when they arrived, distributing the cupcakes and beverages, etc.  We used 20 student volunteers the day of the event, and I do not think we could have pulled this off with any fewer.  This was also a great opportunity for us to spread the Fair Trade message to students in a freshman course and to grow our volunteer base.  These students have been asking more and more questions about Fair Trade, and we bet we are going to see them at our future events!
  5. Have your volunteers easily identifiable to the children.  We had all of our college volunteers wear the same Penn State t-shirt and name tags, so the children would know who was an official student helping with the event.
  6. Start the event with a short lecture/description of the event and ground rules.  We wanted to make sure the kids knew the impact of not only “selling” their artwork and sharing it with others, but what the impact would be for other kids in the region.  We showed the kids a video about Fresh Artists that also described the purpose of a clothesline art sale.  Our twist was the Fair Trade theme!  We also took the opportunity to remind the kids that they were still “in school” – no running in the halls, yelling, etc.
  7. Arrange for your mascot to stop by and visit.  What kid doesn’t like a school mascot?  We had our Nittany Lion come by at the beginning of the event.  As you can imagine, the kids were thrilled!  After doing some dance moves with the Lion, they posed for some photos, showed off their artwork, and then the Lion was on his way as our event continued.
  8. If you have young artists, have a snack.  Since the event was after lunch, we decided to keep with the artistic theme and ordered several cupcake cakes, each with their own design.  We had college student volunteers handle the cupcakes – they each wore plastic gloves (for sanitary purposes) and placed the cupcake in a bowl to catch the crumbs when the kids ate the cupcakes.  It worked!  We did not have a cupcake mess to clean up.  We also had water, iced tea, and lemonade for the kids to drink.
  9. Not all of the young artists will want you to take their artwork home!  Some of our campus staff were disappointed when they tried to “purchase” the artwork, and a child did not want to sell their creation!  Some kids were so proud of their work that they wanted to keep the pieces themselves.  The school principal promised these kids that she would take their pieces back and hang them in their school, which she has!
  10. There’s no need to put a price on the artwork – it is all priceless.  We did not put a price on the pieces of art – we only had a basket out and asked for donations for the pieces.  We figure that some college students might only be able to afford one dollar for a piece of art, while some adults could afford more.  Our strategy of not setting prices was successful beyond our dreams!  For approximately 70 pieces of art, we raised $375 – for Fresh Artists!
  11. Take lots of photos, and share the results. FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANTLY… we knew we could not take photos of minor children and post these images online, unless we had signed parental permission.  (Legally, we could use photos that had the backs of the heads of children, or the faces blurred out.)  Fortunately, we did have parental permission!  As this event was a Walden School event, their school had the permission of all of the parents for pictures to be taken of their children, which allowed us to take the photos as well.  Knowing that we had the permission in place to take photos of minors, we took pictures and tweeted them during the event and posted a collection of photos online.  It’s a great way to document what we did and to share the results with others.  We hope the conversation continues and people are inspired to try their own event after seeing and reading what we did!
Our collection of creative and artistic cupcake cakes to share with the young artists - perfect for an artistic event!

Our collection of creative and artistic cupcake cakes to share with the young artists – perfect for an artistic event!

The Nittany Lion gets to know one of the young artists from The Walden School.

The Nittany Lion gets to know one of the young artists from The Walden School.


Contributed by Dr. Laura Guertin



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