A.J. Outlaw, grade 6, Thomas Jefferson Middle School
If the “Young at Art” show is any indication, Madison public schools are packed with budding artistic talent. The biennial show in the State Street Gallery of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, open through April 23, features 170 pieces of original visual art from K-12 students enrolled the Madison Metropolitan School District.
This year’s show spans a wide array of media: sketches, paintings, video, sculpture and metalwork. The entries are displayed, salon-style, in MMoCA’s first-floor gallery, and organized thematically.
Each of the district’s art instructors was invited to choose up to three pieces for submission. “We almost always have 100 percent participation from schools,” says the museum’s education coordinator, Sheri Castelnuovo, who organizes the event.
It’s not easy for art teachers to choose among hundreds of talented students. “It has to be the hardest thing,” says Madison West art teacher Jennifer Englebart. Her longtime student Megan Rae Dwyer, a senior, created “Red Boot.” The nearly six-foot-tall re-creation of Dwyer’s signature footwear, adorned with marker and colored pencil detail, is eye-catching.
“When I think about my own identity, one of the first thing that comes to mind is my red boots,” says Dwyer, who will be attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the fall.
Another impressive, large-scale painting is Midvale Elementary student Atavia Johnson’s “Sandhill Cranes.” The vibrant acrylic depicts a mother bird surrounded by several chicks in a lush, outdoor setting. Johnson’s art teacher, Meri Lau, says the second-grader demonstrates talent in a number of visual mediums. “She’s very focused, and sets her hopes high,” says Lau. “I like paintings the most,” Johnson says, “I love the colors.”
Wisconsin birds are also the subject of Claire Pietruszka’s sculpture, “Family of Cranes.” The Midvale student’s ceramic work shows a pair of adult birds surrounding by several eggs. “It represents a whole family that loves each other,” says Pietruszka, adding the cranes are stand-ins for her parents, and the eggs represent the sculptor and her siblings.
Mariana Sambou, grade 3, Herbert Schenk Elementary
“Young at Art” holds a particular importance for Pietruszka’s art teacher, Nate Kirley. Ten years ago, Kirley held an IT job in Madison, one he wasn’t entirely passionate about. Kirley says wandering into a “Young at Art” exhibit at MMoCA was nothing short of career defining. “Seeing that show was one of the reasons I went into art education,” Kirley says, who left his office job shortly thereafter to become certified in art education.
According to Castelnuovo, more than 800 patrons attended the event’s jam-packed opening reception on Feb. 26. This large-scale exposure creates an important sense of community within the local arts scene, and points toward an important but often overlooked resource. “We’re lucky to have a very strong art education curriculum in Madison,” Castelnuovo says, “We hope to not only showcase the talent of young people, but also the importance of art education by our skilled teachers.”