On Friday, Oct. 12, the U.S. Department of Education was fortunate to host the ninth annual Student Art Exhibit opening of works by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers (AYAW) 2012 Scholastic Award winners. Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for Innovation and Improvement, welcomed hundreds of guests—students, teachers, parents, policymakers, leaders from both public and private arts and education organizations, and other stakeholders—to celebrate in person the more than 50 young artists and writers whose works are in the exhibit.

Featured speakers (l. to r.) at the art exhibit opening, Jim Shelton, Martha Kanter, Rachel Goslins, Virginia McEnerney, and Deborah Reeve, join the Scholastic Award winners prior to the ribbon-cutting.

Featured speakers (l. to r.) at the art exhibit opening, Jim Shelton, Martha Kanter, Rachel Goslins, Virginia McEnerney, and Deborah Reeve, join the Scholastic Award winners prior to the ribbon-cutting.

Jim Shelton acknowledged not only the students who won Scholastic Awards but also their art and writing teachers and their parents, many of whom traveled from across the country, for the tremendous and necessary support they provide the young artists. The exhibit of winners of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards is displayed on the walls, in sculpture boxes, on a TV monitor, and on Kindles in the headquarters’ lobby. Shelton also reminded everyone that a recent federal survey of K-12 arts education revealed that many students lack access to arts instruction and particularly the quality of instruction that could help to prepare them for the Scholastic Awards competition. “Let’s celebrate today what we see here is possible when schools combine opportunity to learn at high levels with excellent teachers of the arts, and regularity of instruction, “ Shelton concluded, “but let us also leave here committed to make these opportunities available to all students.”

Education’s Under Secretary Martha Kanter assured the student artists and writers present that their futures, as well as the future of America, will be well served by the arts education they receive. Both Daniel Pink and Thomas Friedman, she noted, recognize that it is the combination of critical thinking, creativity, and innovation that enables students to be successful. Pink, in A Whole New Mind, and Friedman, in The World Is Flat, advocate for an essential role for the arts in schools. It is right-brain thinking and qualities like empathy, inventiveness, and seeing the “big picture” that will enable us to solve the non-routine problems that are becoming common place as we move into the “Conceptual Age,” according to Pink. And the integration of art, music, and literature with the hard sciences, according to Friedman, is the “secret sauce” for ensuring that America competes well in the global economy. Science and math are important, he contends, but “what stimulates innovative thinking is a liberal arts education that encompasses music, drama, and literature.”

Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), which also exhibits works by Scholastic Art Award winners and combines its annual opening with the Department’s event, reminded the audience of the research that points to the ways in which arts-rich schools bolster students’ academic achievement and motivation. PCAH’s Turnaround Arts Initiative, which began this past summer in eight underperforming elementary and middle schools nationwide, is testing the hypothesis that the arts can be integral to changing the learning environments of turnaround schools from failure to success.

Developing creative problem-solving skills benefits not only the more than 200,000 young people who annually compete in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards but also our society and culture, Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, told the audience. To illustrate her point, McEnerney shared a message she received from Kevin Bales, internationally recognized expert on modern slavery and a Scholastic Writing Award alumnus from Oklahoma. While he was helping Russians to open up free expression and religious opportunities in the early 1990s, the subject turned to Russian poetry. Bales was asked if he had ever written poetry; he replied “yes” and proudly shared that he had won an award for it in high school. That, according to Bales, showed he had duesha (soul) and opened doors for him culturally.

Deborah Reeve, executive director of the National Art Education Association, concluded the formal remarks by honoring the nation’s next generation of artists with these words: “What we see gives us great hope for America’s artistic voices of the future.” She spoke about the multiple things “we don’t see” when looking at student art. Among them are the thoughtful judgments made by students about qualitative relationships; the multiple versus single solutions to a problem; and the importance of subtleties, learning that “small differences can have large effects.” She had a much longer list that gave all of us in the audience pause to consider that arts are a necessary condition for uncovering and developing the tremendous talent of our youths – and, for that matter, all Americans! That is why we must do all that we can to ensure that every student has the opportunity to participate in the arts as they move from cradle to career!

National Student Poet Luisa Banchoff

National Student Poet Luisa Banchoff

Before we were introduced to each of the Scholastic Award Winning artists and before they cut the ribbon to officially open the new exhibit, Luisa Banchoff, a high school senior from Arlington, Va.,who is a 2012-13 National Student Poet, addressed the significance to students of writing poetry and recited one of her poems, “American Zodiac.“ Luisa and four other National Student Poets will serve as literary ambassadors for poetry through readings and workshops at libraries, museums, and schools in their respective geographic regions until next September.

What a privilege for all of us to witness the talents of so many young people who have bright futures ahead of them. Click here to learn more about the award winners. This is an exhibition you can’t miss! Come see it for yourself at the U.S. Department of Education!

Martha Kanter is the Under Secretary of Education.


The Student Art Exhibit Program, sponsored by the Offices of Communications and Outreach and Innovation and Improvement, is open to the public by appointment. Contact Jackye Zimmermann at 202-401-0762 or at to visit the exhibits and for information about exhibiting.