Wearing a coral cowboy hat and pearls, Rep. Frederica Wilson walked into the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Education Room and was astounded by the works of art hanging on the wall.
The artwork –– 139 pieces in total, the medium ranging from oils to photography–– delved into both the abstract and realism, with each piece giving a glimpse into the teenage minds that produced them.
“No one would believe that this is the work of teenage children,” said Wilson, who was the former principal at Skyway Elementary School in Miami Gardens before her career in government. “They would think that this is the work of a renowned artist in Paris, France!”
Each spring, the Congressional Institute sponsors a nationwide visual art competition to recognize teenagers from each congressional district. Wilson, a Democrat from Miami Gardens, represents District 24, which goes from downtown Miami up through Miramar in southern Broward County.
This year, 97 high school students from the district submitted artwork; the winning piece will be on display in the Cannon Tunnel, at the U.S. Capitol, for a year. The first place winner will receive two airline tickets to Washington D.C., for an installation ceremony on June 25.
“I know how important it is for children to be well rounded and to expose them to the finer things in life,” said Wilson, a former school teacher. “We know how important art is in our community.”
Jairo Ontiveros, director of education and community engagement at the Arsht Center, agreed.
“Not only, on a daily basis, are you going to school and doing homework,” said Ontiveros, 32, addressing the students at the Arsht center last Thursday night. “But you’re setting aside time to create your own art and your own voice as an artist. Here, we encourage that.”
Ashney Murray, an 11th-grader at Northwestern Senior High, used watercolors to paint a portrait of a nameless woman seen in a mug shot she found on Google Images. Ashney didn’t want to recreate the woman’s grim disposition; instead, she repainted her with softer, lighter colors.
“I needed to show a different side of people,” said Ashney, 17, whose painting titled “Destiny” placed second in the competition. “I asked myself, ‘How can I interpret her innocence?’ ”
Ruth Admire, Ashney’s art teacher at Northwestern, is a strong supporter of restoring the arts back into the school curriculum. After Northwestern became an A school last year, she noticed a “renaissance” taking place in the school’s art department. She’s especially proud of how Ashney has continued to develop her talent.
“Every piece she does speaks to you with such passion,” said Admire.
Raphael Glover, an 11th grader at Design Architecture Senior High in the Design District, used acrylic paint to create a portrait of his brothers. Depicting a scene at the basketball court, Raphael says his portrait has a deeper meaning: his family being his “starting five on and off the court.”
“I’m a fan of figure painting,” said Raphael, 17, who won first place in the competition. “One thing that I always try to do is capture the soul of people. With this, I really wanted to capture the soul of my brothers.”
Every day, Raphael rides the Metrorail from his Miami Gardens home to D.A.S.H.
“I want to pursue a career in architecture,” he said. “I love art but I’m looking for a way to combine art with architecture.”
Wilson says stories such as these inspire her to keep the arts on the front lines of public education.
“I make sure that every year, this event is a profile on the students,” Wilson said.