By Sahara Lyon
On Friday, November 18th, the opening reception of the Winter Festival Youth Art Exhibition occurred at City Hall – the first reception for the yearly exhibition since 2019. The excitement and anticipation had been building all month. Over 80 student works adorned the walls, turning City Hall into a beautiful display of the importance of arts education.
The Winter Festival Youth Art Exhibition is an art show comprised of K-12 student work from the public, private, and charter schools in Leon County. The Arts Education Manager for the Council on Culture & Arts (COCA), Sahara Lyon, and the Public Arts Manager, Sarah Painter, organized, curated, and installed the exhibition with the assistance of interns Paloma Rambana and Camryn Castellano. Over 30 schools were represented in the exhibition, and the excellence of Leon County art teachers was present in every work.
Awards were presented at the opening reception for first, second, and third place for both Middle and High School, three honorable mentions, the Mayor’s Award, and a new award introduced this year, Amanda’s Choice Award. The new award honors previous COCA employee Amanda Karioth Thompson who worked at COCA for over a decade and is greatly admired by all arts teachers for her work for arts education in Leon County. This year’s juror for the awards was Debi Barrett-Hayes, a retired Art Education Professor from Florida State University who taught visual art for over four decades. She has won numerous teaching awards and continues a studio practice centering around mixed media painting.
Kendall Sampson, the first-place winner in the High School category, is a senior at Leon High School and takes art with art teacher Sarah Raulerson. When asked why arts education is important to her, Kendall responded, “Art education allows for self-expression and gives students the chance to better their creative thinking. For me personally, I can’t imagine not having art classes in school. It gives me a much-needed break during the day to relax and do something I enjoy.” The Winter Fest Exhibit is an incredible example of the importance of arts education in expanding a student’s creativity and abilities. In addition, events such as the Winter Festival Youth Art Exhibition provide students with a public platform to showcase their talents while encouraging them to take pride in their hard work.
Sarah Raulerson had another student represented in the exhibition, 12th grader Siena Bond, who Mayor John Dailey awarded the Mayor’s Award. In response to the question of art education’s importance, Siena stated, “Art class has provided me a safe space to express myself creatively throughout the years. Being able to create art at school has always been a comfort for me during stressful times.” In addition to being a beautiful display of students’ creativity, the Winter Festival Youth Art Exhibition is also a space where students can see their work displayed alongside their peers. Entry into the exhibition is something to be proud of in and of itself, as teachers were tasked with choosing only two student artworks for submission from the hundreds of works they receive from their students.
Before working at COCA, Sarah Painter was an art teacher at Maclay School. In addition, Sarah is a practicing artist so she has witnessed, from various angles, the importance of arts education. Painter stated, “A robust arts education is a key component of a well-rounded curriculum. As an arts educator myself, I’ve seen the positive impact the arts have on building identity, improving mental health, and boosting inclusivity in schools. The creative problem-solving mindsets that are born in the art room foster students’ educational success as a whole, regardless of the topic.” Painter’s pedagogy is reflected in the curation of the Winter Festival Youth Art Exhibition.
Those at COCA thank the students and their families, the outstanding art teachers in Leon County, and everyone who came out for the Winter Fest opening reception. Shows like the Winter Festival Youth Art Exhibition are so crucial that they’re only possible because of the community’s support. The show is currently up at City Hall and will remain up until January 30th, 2023, in addition to being on the online gallery on COCA’s website.