In 1961, the Arkansas Arts Center held the first statewide Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition. Now in its sixth decade, this annual children’s art exhibition showcases artwork by students in kindergarten through 12th grade from across the state.

The Arkansas Arts Center does a lot to honor and enrich children’s lives with art, but the Young Artists Exhibition is the highlight of the year for the Art Center and the talented children who work so hard.

Elevating and Inspiring

Arkansas art teachers work with students to submit art for possible selection to be displayed as part of this temporary exhibit. A favorite among art teachers and art patrons, the competition and pool of talent continues to wow every year.

Noel E. Cole, the long-time art teacher at Norfork High School says she sends at least three works from her students every year. “I believe that competitions do motivate students to do their best as long as you instill in them that it’s not the product that matters, but the process and how they are connected to their work,” says Cole.

“This exhibition brings awareness to how important art is in the classrooms,” says Jessica Wright, senior education specialist state services. “It reinforces the hard work the teachers are putting into forming their curriculum and the hard work the students put into their work. It can even help inspire other teachers who maybe don’t have as strong of a program to elevate their own.”

The juried competition is judged by a panel of art professionals from around the state. This year 124 schools participated and selections were chosen from 58. “We have the most participation from the Little Rock and Pulaski County area, but really we get submissions from all over,” says Wright. They received a total of 495 submissions.

Making a Difference

“The students work so hard on their artwork throughout the year and Wright believes that the show helps reinforce that hard work is important.

“It’s really amazing to see the kids when they come in and see their art displayed in the gallery,” says Wright, who helped plan an awards ceremony for the students and their families on May 20. “We get to honor them and give out awards and it gives them the opportunity to see what their peers are doing.”

The awards handed out at the ceremony include “Best of Class” and two “Honorable Mentions” for each grade. Monetary awards are provided to each winner’s school.

“I know I would have enjoyed, if I were in that position, to see my work displayed in a museum in the gallery next door to works by Monet, Cezanne, Rivera and to think this is really an honor and something I will remember,” says Wright.

Not to mention it really is a crowd pleaser. “We have so many people who say ‘this is my favorite exhibition at the Arts Center,” says Wright. Regular patrons come in every year just to see the student art.

This year Cole had two students selected for the Young Arkansas Artists award. Ninth-grader Hannah Bradbury, was selected for her fabric-art batik, “Keel-billed Toucan” and received an honorable mention. Eleventh-grade student Sydney Lawhorn was awarded the Teachers Choice Award for her batik, “Moored Adventure.”

“Both girls were surprised and delighted to receive this award and I could tell they were filled with pride in this accomplishment,” says Cole.

“When I found out I got accepted into the show I felt extremely honored; and to know that some of Arkansas best art teachers chose my work is very motivational,” says Lawhorn.

Bradbury added, “I was very ecstatic to receive this award. It is such an honor to have my work displayed at the Arkansas Art Center, just like a real artist!”

This year’s exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center starts May 16 and runs through July 24.

Art on the Road

Can’t make it to the Arts Center to see this year’s exhibit? Catch it on the road. “Right now, we’ve got several of the Young Artist pieces exhibited at the Clinton National Airport and in other galleries around the state,” says Wright.

The Artmobile tour is another way to expose less populated areas of the state to art. “We have four mobile regional tours and we typically display 19 pieces from the Young Artists,” says Wright.