From Christmas and the birth of Jesus Christ to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Years and more, the holiday season holds a special meaning for many, with diverse backgrounds and beliefs creating a unique cultural experience each winter.
To celebrate those personal beliefs and differences, the Springville Museum of Art is offering up a new take on a decades-old tradition, and transitioning from 2016’s 31st annual Christmas Lamb exhibit to this year’s annual "Spiritual and Religious Youth Art Competition," which wraps up at the museum this weekend.
For over 30 years, the museum has been offering a special gift to young artists each holiday season in the form of an opportunity to display their artwork on a professional level as a part of the juried Christmas Lamb exhibit. Tied to a short story called “The Christmas Lamb,” the exhibit focused in on Jesus Christ and the true meaning of the holiday season, and was open to artistic entries from school children in kindergarten through 10th grade.
“This year, to make it a more interfaith competition and not just Christian-based, we’ve given it a new name in conjunction with our 'Spiritual and Religious Show,' ” said Ali Royal Pack, who serves as the museum educator over school and family programs.
“This show has been going on for the same amount of time, and is an invitation to all Utah artists to show their own spiritual traditions and beliefs. ('The Spiritual and Religious Youth Art Competition') is the children’s component of that — to allow them to share their own spiritual convictions around the season.”
According to Pack, the change was inspired by efforts to expand artistic opportunities during the holidays to an even broader range of youth with diverse backgrounds and experiences.
“If anything, we’re really just trying to be more inclusive and diverse and make sure everyone has a voice and everyone is included,” Pack said.
Entrants were encouraged to ponder how they celebrate the holiday season, what symbols hold special meaning to them, and what their favorite seasonal family traditions are, then work from there to create art for submission into the competition. According to Pack, the museum received 268 student entries, of which they were able to accept 124, just under half of those submitted.
“It’s a hard job because all the work is so lovely,” Pack said of the jurying process. “This year definitely felt more competitive. The talent and quality of submissions were really great to see.”
Beyond just well-executed art, Pack said she was impressed by the varied mediums students used to create their work.
“We definitely have a diverse inclusion,” Pack said of the accepted artwork. “There is some sculpture, clay, seashells, a pillow with embroidery, even some photography this year with watercolor, pencil, collage and charcoal.”
According to Pack, some of the accepted entries that stood out most to those judging were a detailed seashell nativity presented by a third grader named Haley, an incredibly detailed cityscape collage centered around the infant Christ by a seventh grader named Holland and a black-and-white image of a family gathered around a fireplace titled “Love at Home … Around the Fireplace” by a ninth grader named Esther.
“These students are very creative and that’s something we’re looking for in the show — kind of a creative expression that shows originality,” Pack said. “I think it says a lot about the art teachers in the schools and (the students’) parents, encouraging them to experiment with new media and to stretch themselves a little bit.”
Having to narrow entries down to the final show was a difficult process that was orchestrated by a panel which compared artwork by age group.
“It’s a very hard show to jury because the work is all so heartfelt, and you can really see that,” Pack said. It’s a hard job, but you also get to focus on the dreams that you’re making come true.”
Along those lines, Pack explained how the opening reception for the show, which took place early in December, is one of her favorite things about working with the youth.
“The opening reception for this show is one of my favorites just because we have our young artists come,” she said. “This is a chance for them to have their art displayed in a professional art museum which is a rare opportunity. They come dressed up and excited, their families are there and (the event) has really great energy and youthful feeling to it. There’s an energy, you can feel it in the air. It’s just amazing.”
Emily Larson Booth, who works as curatorial assistant and collections manager at the Springville Museum of Art also helped with the artwork selection process.
“It’s really hard, especially because you’re jurying the art of kids, and you just kind of want to encourage everyone, and wish there was a way to include everything submitted,” Booth said. “You can tell the kids put a lot of thought and hard work into the things they’re doing. … It’s definitely exciting to see all the cool things the kids are making.”
Though rebranding of the competition is still in its first year, Booth said she did see a slight change in entry themes, and it’s something she hopes to see continue and grow as the contest continues.
“We saw a little bit more diversity in the entries than before and I think we’re hoping that that will continue — that we’ll see more symbols of the season,” Booth said. “We still got a lot of cute lambs, so the Christmas Lamb is not totally forgotten, but it’s nice to see other interpretations about what this time of year and season means for everyone.”
Another special aspect of the annual "Spiritual and Religious Youth Art Competition," according to Booth, is the fact it’s the only one of its kind at the museum each year.
“We do a lot of programming for kids throughout the year but we don’t do a lot of exhibitions that focus on these young artists,” she said. “It’s really neat to give them the opportunity to show their work. It leads up to the "All-State High School Art Show," which showcases the work of high school students across the state, and also connects well with our annual 'Spiritual and Religious Art' competition. It hangs at the same time. It shows the kids’ interpretation of spirituality, religion and this season alongside the adults.”
Selected artwork from the annual "and Religious Youth Art Competition" will be on display through Saturday, with the "All-State High School Art Show" set to begin Feb. 3.
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