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2018 YoungArts Student Art Exhibit

The art exhibit “Total Tolerance,” featuring 2018 YoungArts winners in design, photography, visual arts and writing, recently opened at the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The first YoungArts exhibit at ED, it features a collection of work from 21 student artists and celebrates religious, cultural, gender and racial diversity. The works reflect the artists’ personal views on inequality and social justice and, in some cases, are directly rooted in their lived experiences.

YoungArts has been the sole nominating organization for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts since 1979. That year, the program was extended to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, creative and performing arts. Evan Plummer, senior director of education for the National YoungArts Foundation, remarked, “For 37 years, YoungArts has identified and nurtured the most promising artists in the United States across 10 arts disciplines. The winners come from all 50 states and with a passion for their artistic practice.” Two of the artists featured in the exhibit, Ameya Okamoto of Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon, and Aidan Forester of South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, were selected as 2018 U.S. Presidential Scholars.

The arts give all students the opportunity to experience a well-rounded education and an outlet to express issues that are affecting them in their daily lives. Jason Botel, principal deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, opened the program by stating the importance of the arts in allowing for this type of dialogue. He said, “Through arts … we gain a better understanding of one another and positively influence human lives in ways that no other academic discipline can possibly duplicate.”

The audience enjoyed a performance from 2018 YoungArts winner in spoken word, TiKa Wallace. An 11th-grader at George Mason High School in Falls Church, Virginia, she shared her view of the world — a result of her experiencing different communities and schools, and finding her voice within them. Performing her award-winning piece, “Death Jokes,” she asked the audience to “consider what you say before you say it” as in “When someone says ‘I feel like I’m going to die,’ You take them seriously” because “You had no idea what it means to be so powerless until you are … Watching someone self-destruct.”

A photo of TiKa Wallace standing at the microphone delivering her spoken word performance.

TiKa Wallace delivers a spoken word performance of “Death Jokes.”

Wallace’s mother, Katherine Williams, sent her from five to 10 years of age to the Shakespeare in the Park camp where she acted in and directed plays. Williams said “TiKa’s art gives a voice to other teens. … it is good that adults, as well, are hearing what teens are saying, thinking and feeling about the world.” Wallace said that, after she graduates, she would like to study American Sign Language interpretation and explore a career in theatre.

Amal Haddad, a senior at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland, took her first visual arts classes in high school. Her winning YoungArts piece, “United in Anger,” is an artwork series she created about the 1980s AIDS epidemic, inspired by the Gran Fury activist artist collective in New York City that was determined to use the power of art to resolve the AIDS crisis. Haddad explained that she wrote a paper on AIDS that had to be devoid of emotion. Since she didn’t have a way to express her feelings in the writing assignment, she decided to put her piece back in the printer and superimpose the slogan “United in Anger” on it. This became an award-winning piece of art. Haddad’s experience in YoungArts resulted in a phenomenal success for her: “The first time I submitted work to an arts competition,” she said, “it was accepted.” This fall, she will attend Swarthmore College to study English.

Prior to the ceremonial ribbon-cutting that formally opened the exhibit, Jacquelyn Zimmermann, director of ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program, invited the audience to speak to the artists during the viewing to help advance an understanding and tolerance of other viewpoints. She said, “The performing and the visual arts are honest, courageous revelations from various experiences and personal views of the artists on issues of inequality, social justice and intolerance. … these demonstrations of problem solving represent the value and power of the arts, and why every student should have the opportunity to learn them in school.”

A picture of a display containing the Total Tolerance exhibit statement in the center and artwork from the exhibit to the left.

Works (on left) by Presidential Scholar in the Arts Ameya Okamoto and the Total Tolerance exhibit statement.

The exhibit is on display until June 30, 2018.  You are invited to view the work and join the conversation on “total tolerance.”

Click here for photos of this exhibit opening.


Chareese Ross is in the Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

All photos are by ED photographer Leslie Williams.

ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers with an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors it as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at [email protected]  or visit

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