PORTLAND, MAINE — This month, the Portland Museum of Art is exhibiting what could only be described as "early works" by masters. In collaboration with the Maine Art Educators Association, the museum is displaying works by more than 100 students K-12 from all over Maine in its galleries - under the same roof with Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer, Monet, Picasso, and Degas.
The occasion: National Youth Art Month.
Across the country, schools and communities are celebrating Youth Art Month (YAM) in various ways - from exhibitions to competitions to mentoring programs.
In Kentucky, student works are on view at local arts centers as well as in the capital's Department of Education and in congressional offices. "As an art educator I really appreciate the opportunity," says Kentucky YAM chairwoman Susan Webb. "We do a lot of recognition of sports; it's nice to have something going for arts."
In Maryland, Michell Salamony reports that schools are setting up their own mini-museums, and numerous libraries and malls are hosting YAM exhibits. In Annapolis, the statehouse is displaying student works. "It builds self-worth and self-esteem. So many times, children who may be struggling academically are looking for recognition. This has been an amazing opportunity to get the recognition that they might not get in school," Ms. Salamony says.
Fifteen states have participated in YAM's "School Flags Across the US ... Flying High" program, where student-designed flags are flying in Washington's Postal Square building. Youth Art Month was created in 1961; its purpose is to draw attention to the value of art education and to encourage support for quality school-art programs.
"Some of the states do incredibly creative things and as a result get government support," notes Deborah Gustafson, national coordinator for YAM with the Council for Art Education Inc. in Boston. "Art programs and teachers' jobs are being saved because they're getting more recognition."
Back at the Portland Museum of Art, a group of young children makes its way around the Sweat Galleries. "Here's a Grade 1 [drawing]," exclaims a teacher, motioning her charges to take a look.
Such scenes are exactly what museum administrators love. Wes LaFountain, outreach coordinator in the museum's education department, says, "When students can come in and see work done by someone at their grade level, it makes a whole different connection."
The exhibit creates a welcome symbiotic relationship between art educators and the museum, Mr. LaFountain adds.
For the artists, having their work chosen and then exhibited is a thrill no matter what grade. (Each teacher is permitted to select one artwork - not an easy task.) "It's a validation, not only for the kids but for their teachers," LaFountain points out.
Clint Fulkerson, a senior at Portland High School, and Raechel Wulfing, a junior, each have a piece in the show. "I like the fact that it's different ages. Some of the young kids are quite amazing," says Clint, who plans to attend art school in the fall.
Tory Tyler-Millar, a longtime art teacher at Portland High School, says it is her hope that this show will motivate other teachers and museums to reach out and support one another. "Art education is an integral part of all education," she says. "It's all about problem-solving. It helps develop critical and creative thinking we need for the future."