Guest post by Alliance staffer Courtney Buckland

I had just left the office after my second week at the Alliance when I received a call from one of my co-workers, “I know this is last minute, but would you be able to come to the opening reception for the ART.WRITE.NOW tour in Philadelphia?” Of course, an enthusiastic “YES!” was my immediate response, and I packed a small bag that night.

On Thursday, February 23, Katie, Jonathan and I hopped in a cab and headed straight to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Lucky for me, it was a meeting for Katie and Jonathan, so I had a good part of the afternoon to wander the rooms of a museum I had never visited. Starting with 16th century European art, I made my way through each room, with the decoration and architecture changing with each succeeding century. When at last I arrived in the 21st century at the far corner of the contemporary art wing, I found myself in, what was in my opinion, the best part of the museum – the Cy Twombly room! Not only is Twombly one of my favorite artists, he’s also a Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winner from 1948. The 10 ft. tall paintings, all electrically and physically monitored, put every computer screen thumbnail of his work that I have ever seen to shame. I still cannot stop picturing the bright, rich, and saturated reds against the white canvas and even whiter walls of my favorite piece, Fifty Days at Iliam: The Fire that Consumes All before It. This was a perfect way to end my first trip to this Philadelphia landmark!

After their meeting was over, we headed to the National Constitution Center for the ART.WRITE.NOW Philadelphia tour’s opening reception. Up the giant staircase and past the 42 life-size bronze sculptures of George Washington and the other 41 delegates, I found myself in our exhibition space. The first things I thought were, “These were done by teenagers?!” and “Monica! Teach me everything you know!” Looking at the pieces which I had only seen in the Alliance’s annual publications made me feel as though I was back in the contemporary art wing of the Philadelphia Art Museum. As people started to arrive for the reception, I noticed that they had the same reactions as I did: “I can’t believe all of this was done by such young people!”

The reception celebrated not only the best teen artists in the Philly region, but also its stellar writers.  As three students read their award-winning work, I found myself having to remember that I was representing the Alliance as I held back tears of surprise, admiration, and pride for these teenagers. Award-winning writers Courtney Swafford, Chris Barnes, and Blaise Laramee truly became the highlight of my night. It was one thing to have the opportunity to talk with the passionate adults who came out to show their support, but talking with those three was amazing! Hearing about their experiences with the process of participating in the Awards and listening to their goals for the future made me see just what we do for these teenagers – we give them a platform for their voices and visions to be heard, and show them that their talents aren’t just hobbies, but valuable assets for a successful future.

As I sat on the train heading back to Manhattan, I felt lucky to work with the people who make up this amazing program. I also felt selfishly proud of myself for finding an organization that means so much to me, and to the students it recognizes… and hopefully even the ones it hasn’t had the chance to reach just yet.

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