Young Artists Are Shining Examples of Quality Arts Education

On Friday, Sept. 13, the Department was honored to host some of the nation’s most creatively accomplished middle and high school students at the Student Art Exhibit Program’s opening ceremony of the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners in Barnard Auditorium. These bright, young visual artists and writers — some of whom made the trek from as far away as Hawaii and Oregon — were celebrated by their families, their teachers, Department staff, and outside arts educators as shining examples of the importance of a strong arts education.

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners cut the ribbon to open the exhibit. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners cut the ribbon to open the exhibit. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

There are two award-winning Scholastic visual art exhibits of more than 85 original pieces on display in the LBJ headquarters lobby. A year-long, national exhibit is mounted all around the lobby walls and a special exhibit of Scholastic’s Massachusetts affiliate’s award-winning works are on display in the rotating gallery through September.

The artists and their guests arrived as early as 8 a.m. to enjoy a continental breakfast and preview the exhibits. Later, the students and their teachers broke off into separate groups and the students attended a storytelling workshop, led by Writopia Lab, while their teachers attended a professional development workshop. At this time, other guests were treated to a screening of the 2013 Scholastic National Medalists’ award-winning film and animation works.

During the opening ceremony, several special guest speakers remarked on the importance of arts education for all students. Monique Chism, ED’s director of Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs, spoke about how her experience attending a performing arts high school in Cincinnati changed her life, and told the student artists that their own work “has the power to change a nation.” Expanding on this, Chism said, “I believe that artists have the power to transform the world. Artistic expression, for me, is the canvas of life, and can spark a social movement.” She also spoke of the responsibility that all adults have to support an arts-integrated education for students in order to “stimulate and develop the imagination, develop critical thinking skills, and help refine cognitive and creative skills.” [Click here to read Chism’s ED Homeroom blog about the opening.]

Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (which concurrently opened its own display of Scholastic Awards art works in its Washington office), echoed the importance of an arts education and related her full-circle life experience in the creative arts. Goslins spoke of her early passion for the arts, which she put on hold in order to attend law school and practice law, and then returned to, both in the filmmaking industry and in her current position championing the arts.

Virginia McEnerney, executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the nonprofit organization that administers the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, spoke of the importance of creative expression for students. “Whether it’s writing poetry, creating a short film, or painting,” she said, “students tell us their stories. We learn about the world they see, and their creativity, and their hopes for the future.”

Carlos Molina, a photography teacher at his high school alma mater, the Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards alumnus, spoke personally and movingly about the power of the arts to elevate a child out of poverty. He said that, as a youth growing up in a rough neighborhood, the arts saved his life. Molina gave credit to his high school photography teacher for transforming his life by helping him see he could pursue a future and a career in the arts. Much to his surprise, that same teacher nominated Molina as his successor to lead the exceptional photography program at the school, and Molina now works to inspire his students in the same way.

To close the ceremony, Anthony DeSantis, a Scholastic Gold Portfolio award winner in writing and current American University freshman, read one of his powerful and emotional, award-winning pieces, Two Pillars of Salt. DeSantis’ honest and challenging piece about acceptance amidst family expectations shined as a living example of the result of a quality arts education.

Other examples came from visual artists Kara Buck, Kristen Longsderff, Lauren McDowell, and Roxana Santana. Buck, a ninth-grader from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Santana, a senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., used family, specifically their sisters, as inspiration for their pieces. Buck, whose work Young Lips was inspired by the work of contemporary artist Marilyn Minter, depicts her sister, Molly, putting on lipstick. Buck said that art is one of her favorite subjects and that she loves art and writing because she is “not judged and there is no criticism.”

Roxana Santana (far left), accompanied by her mother and sister, with her painting, Loss of Innocence. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Roxana Santana (far left), accompanied by her mother and sister, with her painting, “Loss of Innocence.” (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Santana’s painting, Loss of Innocence, came from a class assignment to portray the relationship between humans and animals. It features a portrait of her sister, Karen, as a young child, with a large polar bear hovering over her and “eating her innocence.” The theme of separation is depicted in two ways, according to Santana. First, the bear steals the childhood innocence away from her sister, and second, the distance between the bear and the child is a metaphor for the distance that has grown between Santana and her sister as they have gotten older.

Kristen Longsderff with her mosaic, Haitian Market, accompanied by Doug Herbert of the ED Student Art Exhibit Program. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Kristen Longsderff with her mosaic, “Haitian Market,” accompanied by Doug Herbert of the ED Student Art Exhibit Program. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Longsderff, a senior from Lancaster, Pa., and creator of the mosaic, Haitian Market, drew inspiration from a mission trip to Haiti, where she was impressed by the women she saw in the colorful and vibrant markets each day. This school assignment, which she also worked on in her free time, took her three months to complete. Longsderff poignantly said why art is important to her. “When I’m gone, there is something left of me on earth to live on.”

Lauren McDowell with  her collage, We Wear a Mask, accompanied by her family. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Lauren McDowell with her collage, “We Wear a Mask,” accompanied by her family. (Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams)

Lauren McDowell, a 10th-grader from Charlotte, N.C., said she likes creating works like her collage, We Wear a Mask, because they allow “the freedom to create what you want.”  She also said that her work in the show counteracts “what magazines say we’re supposed to look like so that people can define beauty for themselves.”

After the ceremony, the student winners in attendance assembled on stage for a group photo and moved on to the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, before visiting in the lobby with family, friends, and new-found admirers of their artistic achievements.

Nicole Carinci is a management and program analyst in the Office of Communications and Outreach and a member of the Student Art Exhibit Program team.

Click here to view additional photos from the event.