Our Regional Affiliate in Portland, Oregon and full-time art teacher Shannon McBride likens the development of young artists to training a little league baseball team. “If we develop a strong little league team, we are going to have an amazing baseball team in the future,” she says. “Junior and high school students are just beginning to create a sense of self. I want them to believe in their creative selves, to cultivate their inner artists. I told the jurors this year that these students represent our ‘little league team.’ ”
Since Shannon and the volunteer-run Oregon Art Education Association took over the local Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program five years ago, it’s seen incredible growth: from 300 submissions in its first year to over 3,000 submissions from over 1,180 students in 59 different schools this year. Oh, and did we mention Shannon is also an amateur axe thrower?
As a Regional Affiliate with the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, Shannon is responsible for processing student submissions, organizing panels of professional artists to judge the work, supporting her fellow teachers and coordinating exhibitions and ceremonies for the Award-winning students in her region. The exhibition of Award-winning student art is hosted annually at the Pacific Northwest College of Art , and they report that it’s one of their most popular events of the year. Student artwork tackles a range of themes from identity, current events, imagination and real-life experience. Shannon recalls a simple but powerful concept piece she saw during this year’s adjudication – a piece of white paper ripped out of a spiral notebook. “At first glance, it was nothing special, until you realize that the student had documented their experience with a grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. The piece represented 30 days of writing, erased one day at a time, then gessoed over and started again - very powerful.”
Though the demands of administering a local awards program as a volunteer can be challenging, Shannon says, “When I get discouraged I think about all the student artists. I think about the moms that ride three buses to come to the reception to see their child's art work, and the tears of joy when a student receives a scholarship that will allow them to pursue their artistic dreams, and the students’ faces the night of the reception, the pride, the excitement.”
In addition to support from the Alliance and Oregon Art Education Association, the program has also been able to grow with support from corporate sponsors. “Ovation TV was a huge part of our success this year. We received 12 $200 gift cards to give to our teachers. To know that there are companies out there that ‘get it’ and then show that appreciation to teachers and students is a blessing.”
Past students from Shannon’s region have gone on to pursue degrees and creative careers in the arts, and one is even a back-up dancer with pop star Lady Gaga. So what does the future look like for this year’s students? “The recognition they receive from The Awards is immeasurable and most of the time intangible. I've been teaching for 21 years. I believe in the power of this program, and it’s made a profound impact on the way I teach and what I teach; it challenges me as an educator to raise the bar, work harder.”
To see more artwork from Portland, Oregon, visit their online gallery.
Though the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers is a nonprofit organization based in New York City, we work with 96 Regional Affiliates around the country to run The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards state by state. These affiliates include newspapers, libraries, nonprofit organizations and art centers.