Alex Tapnio has been with the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers since 2003 as part of the programs team and over the years has become a maven of sorts for the Awards. Now, as the Senior Manager of National Programs, he collaborates with a team of dedicated staff to create recognition, exhibition, publication and scholarship opportunities for national Scholastic Awards winners. His favorite part of his job is working with scholarship partners to provide national winners with tuition support for their achievements in the Awards.
Alex has vast knowledge in how to taxidermy animals! While struggling to find a career that could suit both his art history and biology majors, he worked in natural history museums preserving animals for scientific study and exhibition displays. No, not the deer or moose heads you’ll find on a hunter’s wall or at a tacky restaurant—fresh out of college, he played with dead snails, birds, fishes and even dinosaur bones. For snails, he recommends fixing in formalin and then switching to methyl hydrate. Kids, don’t do this at home without consulting a scientist!
The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are largely to blame for my love of the arts. In high school, I got A’s in math and science classes, but my art teacher discovered that I had talent, so he encouraged me to enter my drawings and paintings into the Scholastic Awards. My first year, I earned a Silver Key as a sophomore, and then I won Gold Keys my junior and senior years. In ‘94, I managed to get a National Portfolio Silver Medal. With a relatively newfound passion for art, I tried to major in Studio Art at Indiana University, but I wasn’t ready for the long hours spent in the studio. Instead I did pre-med. My course load consisted of biology, chemistry, physics, laboratories and other scientific this and that. It wasn’t until I took an art history course that I was swept back into my old high school interest of art. I found myself taking classes on classical archeology, the Renaissance, 19th Century European painting, Dada and Surrealism and more. I couldn’t ignore my interest in art again, so I finished both biology and art history Bachelors.
After undergrad college, I volunteered in every art gallery you can imagine in Philadelphia. I finally landed a job at the Academy of Natural Sciences, cataloging snails in the Malocology department. It was at this museum that I learned that James Bond was actually the name of a famous ornithologist and not just the international man of mystery. I found this out by data-entering historical journals of James Bond gathering seashells in South America.
After a year of playing with slugs and snails, I applied to New York University for the Visual Arts Administration Master’s Degree program. There I focused my studies at the intersection of the corporate world and nonprofit arts. Eventually I managed to obtain internships at some of the nation’s most prestigious museums—the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the U.S. National Gallery of Art. I eventually landed my first job at the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation assisting in multi-million dollar sponsorships for museums and performing arts centers. In 2003, I got my job at the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, utilizing all of the skill sets from my previous jobs—perhaps minus the taxidermy skills!
I’m not currently involved in my own projects outside of work, but I do keep up with art history as best as I can by reading books and articles on new perspectives and discoveries in art and archaeology.
Advice to Artists/Writers:
See as much artwork as possible. Go to your local museum, take classes at a local community center, and aspire to travel the world to see what art has done for civilization! Oh, and keep a great sketchbook.