Scholastic Award-winning work from the Art.Write.Now.2012 National Exhibition

This edited post originally appeared on Scholastic’s On Our Minds blog on June 6, 2012. Post by Lia Zneimer.

I’ve never been much of an artist (let’s be honest — I can hardly draw stick figures), but I have so much respect for people who are able to express themselves through art. Whether he or she uses paints or charcoals, colored pencils or a camera, I’m always amazed by an artist’s ability to interpret everyday life and translate it into a beautiful and thought-provoking piece of work. Living in New York City means I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by tons of art museums, gallery openings, exhibits and installations, but the ART. WRITE. NOW National Exhibition* is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. (And I’m not just saying that because I work at Scholastic!)

There were 1,600 students in grades 7 through 12 who were recognized with national medals in this year’s Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and from the pool of incredible winning works, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers selected more than 500 pieces to appear in a special exhibit at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design in Manhattan, which is free and open to the public through June 16.

As I explored the exhibition this weekend, I was surrounded by murmurs of, “I can’t believe this artist is only sixteen!” and “Did you read this line of poetry? The writer is in eighth grade!” I think it’s safe to say everyone’s jaws hit the floor at one point or another. Plus, the layout of the exhibit is really cool: there are bean bag chairs available so people can relax while reading winning writing on Kindles, certain works have accompanying narrations (you can enter a code using your cell phone to access an audio tour!), and iPads are installed on the walls of the gallery space so people can view the Award-winning films, video games, and animations. I was completely blown away by the caliber of the work, but just as powerful as seeing the amazing art and writing was seeing firsthand how much of a difference the Awards has made in the lives of students.

When Scholastic’s founder, Maurice R. Robinson, began the Art & Writing Awards in 1923, he wanted “to give those high school students who demonstrate superior talent and achievement in things of the spirit and of the mind at least a fraction of the honors and rewards accorded to their athletic classmates for demonstrating their bodily skills.” Almost 90 years later, Mr. Robinson’s vision is still going strong.

Hundreds of students visited the National Exhibition this past weekend to celebrate their artistic accomplishments and support their peers, and the excitement was almost tangible. After spending the past few months speaking with the 15 Portfolio Gold Medalists over the phone, it was great to meet them in person, see their work up close, and know that each of them was leaving New York with a $10,000 cash scholarship. It was also amazing to watch students who may otherwise come across as shy or quiet come to life as they talked about their art, read their poetry aloud, and introduced themselves to fellow Award winners.

Knowing a program like this exists — one that recognizes teens for being imaginative and expressing the world around them through art and writing — gives me so much hope that creative students across the country will, like their athletic classmates, be appreciated and celebrated for their skills.

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*The 2012 National Exhibition and accompanying public programs are co-sponsored by the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design.

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