Student artists whose works focused on the theme “What Is Your Story?” gathered at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on Jan. 16, 2018, to be celebrated for their awards in the 2018 National PTA Reflections® Student Arts Showcase program.
Since 1969, the program has annually recognized elementary through high school students from around the country for artistic ingenuity as expressed in film, dance, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. Each year competitors are asked to bring a different theme to life in a way that is personal and meaningful. This is the 11th year ED has partnered with the National PTA to host a ceremony and art exhibit to honor award-winners.
“People who read and see and witness your work performed will create meaning from it, understand the human story, and understand the context in which you created it,” Jacquelyn Zimmermann, director of the Student Art Exhibit Program at ED, noted at the gathering. It drew students from about 25 states, from Alaska to Florida, as well as their families and teachers, arts educators and advocates, and ED staff.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke about the importance of the arts in education by noting the national focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and articulating the importance of another view, which includes the arts. “I happen to think that art is pretty important too,” she said. “So I like those who really embrace STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) education.” Following DeVos, Jim Accomando, the new president of the National PTA, expressed similar sentiments: “National PTA has long recognized the arts as an essential part of a great education.” As reflected by the top leaders of both organizations, access to and participation in the arts are at the core of an excellent education.
Demonstrating the value of the arts for themselves, the student artists shared their stories and reflections.
Demi Adetona, a ninth-grader from Alabama, wrote a musical piece during a plane ride from Nigeria back to the United States. Asserting that the arts have helped her in math, she explained that “[t]he arts and math complement each other because every rhythm is a math problem.”
Nikolus Linnenkugel, a first-grader from Texas and blind in one eye, created the short film “My View.” The film begins as he engages in normal childhood activities until his partial blindness is revealed. “The most important thing that I learned from my challenge is that the thing that makes me different from other people is just normal for me,” says Nikolus. “Which makes me think, if what’s different to me is normal to other people, we all have our own normal.”
Acacia Wright, a second-grader from Virginia, wrote a short story about her frustration at not finding crayons of an appropriate shade to draw a picture of herself. Acacia typically uses crayons labelled “peach” and “brown” to color her dad and mom. But Acacia’s skin is somewhere in between. “One day when I was coloring a picture of my family I had a big tantrum because I could not find a right color for me,” she wrote. “Why is there no color of me in the crayon box? My mom tells me that I am a very special color. I am the color of love. The color of love is any color I want to be. I like being the color of love.” [NOTE: Much to her delight, soon after receiving an award for this story, Acacia received a box of Crayola’s Multicultural Crayons from a neighbor.]
Caleb Dowden from Louisiana and now a first-year student at SUNY-Purchase, and Ari Jazz Hope, a fifth-grader from Alaska, each performed her winning work. Caleb’s dance was inspired by an internal urgency that is “always desiring something else” and in need of fulfillment. Ari’s music composition, “Release Your Feelings,” was motivated by her love of pop and hip-hop music.
When students were asked what inspires them to pursue the arts, their responses varied from family to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Misty Copeland, nature, Hamilton, pets, and favorite shoes. All of these and more are reflected in their artwork, encouraging their audiences to try their hands at their own stories. So, What Is Your Story? We look forward to reading it!
Click here for photos of this exhibit opening.
Photo at the top: Acacia Wright reads her winning essay, “My Color in the Crayon Box.”
Chareese Ross is a student art exhibit program associate, writer and editor in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.
Nancy Paulu is a writer and editor in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.
All photos are by ED photographer Joshua Hoover.
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 https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit.