Honoring Young Artists
The Congressional Art Competition was started in 1981 by former Congressman James Jeffords, the son of a Rutland art teacher. He believed student art had a place in the Capitol. Because of his vision, hundreds of student works are now displayed there each year. Each spring, high school students from every congressional district in the United States have the opportunity to showcase their talents in a visual arts contest.
A hundred and forty Vermont students representing 34 schools participated in 2015. All were invited to an awards ceremony on May 11 and their art was displayed in a gallery at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Natalie Reed of Lamoille Union High School won first place with “Chicken Scratch.” She will now be recognized at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. and it is her work that will displayed in the Capitol. Evelyn Beliveau of Essex High School took second place with “Selfie,” and Kaeden Scribner of the Green Mountain Technology and Career Center placed third with “Machine Heap” (pictured above, left). Congressman Welch chose an additional 10 pieces for the “Congressman Welch’s Choice” award and the “People’s Choice” award was selected by those in attendance. Welch praised all the students that day for their willingness to contribute. He acknowledged it takes courage to submit art to be viewed and evaluated. Chris Greene, the founding president of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, commended the young artists for expressing their truth through art.
In addition to judging the work, three eminently qualified judges also commented on the specific qualities of some of the art. Margaret Kannenstine, a renowned Vermont artist and arts advocate on the board of the Center for Cartoon Studies, pointed out particularly fine brushstroke technique. Rachel Moore, a practicing artist and assistant director at the Helen Day Art Center, drew attention to the use of unusual perspective. Ken Russack, a Burlington-area artist and adviser to the Vermont International Film Festival, spoke from experience about the difficulty of getting impressionist work to look good from fifteen feet and made mention of a work which accomplished that.
Later in the day, Congressman Welch was able to take a few minutes to answer some questions about the contest.
Q. Give us a sense of who is involved in the competition.
A. Putting on this competition involves the contributions of a large number of people. First and foremost, this competition is centered around the work of students and art teachers. It is a big undertaking by art teachers to select the works they want to submit, prepare the art for display, and drop off and pick up sometimes very large portfolios of delicate artwork. The panel of judges also plays a huge role in this competition by bringing their wide breadth of experiences in the visual arts to the table. One of my favorite parts of the Awards Ceremony is when the judges have a chance to tell the audience why they selected some of the awardees; it’s a fascinating opportunity to see new aspects of the pieces you hadn’t noticed before and appreciate even more how skilled these students are. The Vermont College of Fine Arts and the Vermont Arts Council are enormously helpful, from coordinating logistics and helping set up the gallery to providing the MC and connecting my office with judges. We’re also very grateful for the financial support of IBM in putting on this event. They’ve long been supporters of the Art Competition, and we would not be able to put it on without their help.
Q. This is a meaningful opportunity to be involved in an arts competition. Tell us about the process.
A. Every school approaches the Art Competition differently, largely depending on the size of the school’s art program and number of students. Some schools hold internal competitions to determine the five pieces that will be submitted. Students and teachers also must select work that complies with the national guidelines for the Art Competition, which narrows the field to students who have created 2-D work of a certain size. Many promising young artists have taken part in the Art Competition, and I’d like to think that recognizing their accomplishments in the Art Competition encouraged them on this path.
Q. These students are learning new skills through the arts—skills that will last a lifetime. How would you describe the benefits of being involved in the competition?
A. This is the largest annual gathering of art teachers and students in Vermont, so it is a truly unique opportunity for students to see what their peers around the state have accomplished. At the reception before the Awards Ceremony, the excitement is palpable, with students really taking the time to look and appreciate at every piece of art in the room as they discuss them with their friends. It’s a perfect opportunity for the students to get a sense of other techniques, subject matters, and materials they may want to try out in the future. The Art Competition is also a way to recognize and encourage students who are drawn to the visual arts. I hope that by putting on this competition we’re demonstrating to young Vermont artists that we value their contribution, and I hope they come away from the competition feeling inspired and encouraged.