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Young artists paint hopeful future

Pictured are two works by Brianna Collins and a view of the Mahady Gallery at Marywood University.

PHOTOS BY MARK WEBBER

Pictured are two works by Brianna Collins and a view of the Mahady Gallery at Marywood University.

PHOTOS BY MARK WEBBER

Pictured are two works by Brianna Collins and a view of the Mahady Gallery at Marywood University.

PHOTOS BY MARK WEBBER

Everyone, I trust, is still smiling. Hope has moved into the White House and brought with it optimism and vigor. Those of us invested in the arts somehow feel a little more secure. I don’t know why. But somehow the future looks brighter.

Let’s talk about democracy, shall we? We know that while all men and women are entitled to equal rights, it is a bit misleading to state that they are all created equal — especially if we think of little items like intelligence and talent. You can parse it as you like and define the terms as you will, but we aren’t all equal in skills or abilities or capacities. Along with a nearly national obsession for denouncing notions of quality as elitist (one is allowed to say a movie is great, or even a cheeseburger, but not a painting) comes a related concern for award giving. It might hurt the feelings of the less inventive or creative if someone brilliant wins a prize. A desperate need to justify one’s own mediocre level of appreciation may be what’s behind it — it’s hard to identify the cause of something so pathetic and so clearly at odds with excellence.

But art isn’t democratic. It’s a meritocracy, and merit needs to be bestowed. And it should be done so early to promote talent and assist in momentum. Since many schools nationwide are struggling to keep the arts represented within curriculums, this seems a particularly good time to draw attention to one production that does much good.

The Northeast Area Scholastic Art Awards Exhibit for 2009, held in Marywood University’s Mahady Gallery, is up until Feb. 1, and this huge show is a rewarding example of what happens when the arts are nurtured in young people.

A wealth of admirable work by artists in junior and senior high schools from five counties in Northeastern Pa. adorns the walls of the gallery, salon-style. The list of entrants is long, too long to fit here, but they should all be proud of their efforts and inclusion. There are many works that rise above the level one might be accustomed to seeing, and even the obligatory surrealist fantasies and portraits of Lennon seem above par.

Before going further, let us congratulate the many art teachers who’ve managed to instill important concerns and help sustain the passion for creativity. Also worthy of our gratitude are the many jurors, preparators, gallery assistants and specifically, Sandra Povse, director of the galleries at Marywood, who seem to find the energy, year after year, to organize such a huge undertaking in such laudable fashion.

Among the stellar achievements to be seen are the photographs of Kayla Candrilli, a recipient of a Gold Key Photography Award and a senior at Tunkhannock Area High School. One work in particular, an untitled photograph of a child splashing water amidst blue and orange plastic and metal containers, has a precision and offbeat color balance of such luminosity that it alone makes a visit to the gallery worthwhile. Candrilli’s high school art teacher is Barbara Sick, who also deserves recognition.

A Portfolio Award was also given to Lauren Padavano, a senior at Scranton High School, whose instructor is Nancy Yamin. Padavano’s work is enormously sophisticated given her age, and her piece entitled “You Only Like Him Cause He’s Sexually Appealing” is a balanced, evocative essay in monochromatic imagery, and her “Native Americans” reveals some pretty confident, lyrical line.

To my mind, and to many others, most impressive of all is the work of Brianna Collins, a senior at Western Wayne in Lake Ariel, and working under the tutelage of Marie Ostrowski. Collins garnered the Gold Key Portfolio Award in mixed media for a series of works wedding photography and other techniques and media resulting in the astonishingly steady-handed “Joey” and “Wednesday.” These pieces feel more like the work of a mature artist, and one who moved from Williamsburg to Chelsea a few years ago. Her paintings, particularly “Accident Prone” and “Shane,” are beautifully felt compositions.

In addition to expressing gratitude to the many participating art instructors who cultivate the interest and talent, select work and coordinate its drop-off and pickup, Povse says that a program called Arts Alive has proven to be instrumental in the shaping of some of the best of these young artists. Arts Alive, sponsored by NEIU 19, a regional cultural concern, makes all kinds of art contact available to young students across the region. My understanding is that Collins worked extensively with Liz Parry-Faist, an extremely interesting artist who has exhibited at AFA and Marquis over the years. Very fortunate for Collins that Parry-Faist was good enough to be available. Very good for all of us.

Along with the much-deserved recognition comes an opportunity for many of these kids to compete at the national level in New York later this year. Try to catch the show before it comes down, because it’s better than they usually are. Maybe a sign of change.

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