Above: Photos of the Pinellas Art Region’s 2012 Scholastic Awards Ceremony and Exhibition

Susan Castleman is the art supervisor for Pinellas County Schools. She has also been running the Pinellas Art Region of The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for over 15 years (thank you, Sue, for your dedication to the Awards program!). In the following interview, Susan shares her experience managing the Alliance’s Pinellas County Affiliate in St. Petersburg, Florida.

What’s been the most rewarding experience running a regional affiliate? The most rewarding part has been recognizing creative teens during our regional ceremony each year and seeing the winners’ faces. I also enjoy hearing parents, teachers, and others who attend the ceremony reflect on the time that they received a Gold Key, Silver Key, or Honorable Mention when they were in high school and how important it was to them.

And the most challenging? The challenges are finding good jurors and making sure that the judging process is valid and sound.

How do you choose the jurors you work with? I look for local artists (especially those who have won a Scholastic Art & Writing Award in the past), teachers whose students have participated in the Scholastic Awards competition, art supervisors and teachers from other counties, and faculty from art colleges and institutions. I always incorporate a few artists who have judged for us in the past.

What’s the best/strangest/most unique piece of artwork that you recall seeing during the judging process? In 1999, I bought the Scholastic Award winning artwork of LaMont Russ, a student at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. Lamont won an American Visions Medal in 1999 and was featured in Scholastic Art Magazine that same year. I still have his original Award-winning piece hanging in my office. Lamont is now producing artwork for television, web, and theater. Some of his major clients include Cartoon Network, FX Networks, and MTV (go, Lamont!).

Tell us about the history of the Pinellas Art Region. Burdines, a former leading department store chain in Florida that has now merged with Macy’s, used to be the home of the Alliance’s Pinellas County, Florida regional affiliate. When Burdines was no longer able to support the program, Marshall Rousseau, the store manager then, along with Scholastic Awards alumnus Christopher Still, reached out to Suncoasters, a civic organization that donates time and resources to produce events that celebrate the City of St. Petersburg, in hopes of saving the affiliate. Their efforts were successful, and for the last fifteen years, I have been administering the Pinellas Art Region after its rebirth.

Can you share a surprising fact about you, your organization or your region that readers might not know? Until recently, our awards ceremony and exhibition was located at the Dali Museum, where former Burdines store manager Marshall Rousseau was the Executive Director. They have now moved to Pinellas County Center for the Arts, an art magnet school where we show all of the regional winning artwork and hold a ceremony in the school’s 800-seat theater. The teachers of award-winning students are also honored, and their pictures and names are displayed on a big projector in the theater along with the winning pieces. The students call it “The Academy Awards of the Visual Arts”!

How would you describe the program’s impact on the local community? Significant! St. Petersburg has a very strong arts community. We are home to the Dali museum, which houses the largest collection outside Europe of works by artist Salvador Dalí. We also have the Chihuly Collection, the Morean Arts Center for Clay (the largest pottery in the Southeast), the Museum of Fine Arts, and many more! Everyone sees the impact that arts education has on our society and our students. There has been a continual increase in the number of entries and award winners as well as an increased interest in the Scholastic Awards program from the art and political communities. We have a great partner in Suncoasters – one of the Chair’s of the organization even hosted a VIP Ceremony for potential funders to preview the regional winning works prior to the actual ceremony.

It has been a great year for the Pinellas Art Region and I hope that the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program continues in this area for many years to come.

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