The next time you visit the nation’s capitol, add the art exhibition in the Cannon Tunnel to the list of things to see.
by Daniel Grant
The next time you visit the nation’s capitol, add the art exhibition
in the Cannon Tunnel to the list of things to see. The Cannon Tunnel is
the walkway inside the U.S. Capitol building through which members of
Congress, congressional staff, lobbyists, and the general public enter
the building. Every year, members of the House of Representatives
sponsor “An Artistic Discovery,” an art competition open to all
high-school students in their respective legislative districts, and the
winning entries are displayed in the Cannon Tunnel.
1982, “An Artistic Discovery” is organized by the Congressional Arts
Caucus, which is composed of members of the House of Representatives
who have aligned themselves with the cause of federal-arts support.
Since that time, more than 650,000 high-school students throughout the
United States have submitted their work for judging. There could be as
many as 435 winners each year if every representative took part in the
competition. At present, approximately 400 members of the House of
Each participating House of Representatives member solicits entries
from high-school students for the event and establishes a method of
judging the submissions. The top prize is uniform: The winners’ artwork
is displayed in the Cannon Tunnel for a year, and the young artists are
invited to attend the opening of the exhibition in June. Additionally,
all district winners are eligible for a $5,000 scholarship, which may
be renewed annually to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD),
in Georgia. (Admission is also based on a 3.0 high-school grade point
average.) Eighteen winning students from around the country applied to
SCAD’s freshman class of 2007.
Almost every other aspect of the competition is determined on the
local level, such as who makes the selections and whether or not there
are additional winners and honorable mentions (and what their prizes
are). Participating members of Congress often arrange for round-trip
transportation to the opening. In some cases, entries are placed in the
Washington, DC, and district offices of each participating member of
congress for one year.
Some participating members of the House of Representatives have
partnered with local schools and businesses to augment the prizes. For
instance, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky has arranged for the first-place
winner to receive a scholarship to the High School Summer Institute at
Columbia College Chicago as well as round-trip airfare to the capitol
for the opening. Second-, third-, and fourth-place winners receive gift
certificates in varying amounts to local art-supply stores and a $75
family membership to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art.
In the third congressional district of Arizona, which is represented
by John Shadegg, the overall winner receives a Best of Show award that
includes round-trip airfare for three to Washington, DC, hotel
accommodations, a $30,000 scholarship to the Art Institute of Phoenix,
and $200 in cash. Winners are also chosen in four different categories,
and they receive a $5,000 scholarship to the Art Institute of Phoenix
and $300 in cash. In addition, 10 merit award winners receive $100
each. The amount of cash awards can vary each year, depending on the
corporate sponsorship. In addition to providing the scholarships, the
Art Institute of Phoenix holds an awards reception for the winners and
hangs their art in its gallery for a month.
of $10,000, $5,000, and $2,000 are awarded by the Art Institute of
Atlanta to first-, second-, and third-place winners of the competition
in Georgia’s 13th congressional district, which is represented by U.S.
Rep. David Scott. Scott’s district office runs the contest, but Arts
Clayton, a nonprofit arts organization in Jonesboro, Georgia, selects
the judges from its board of directors and hosts a monthlong exhibition
of the artwork.
Perhaps the longest ongoing partnership between a congressional
office and a private organization is found in the 15th district of
Pennsylvania and the Baum School of Art, in Allentown. This
relationship dates back to the early 1980s and has spanned the terms of
four different members of congress. A nondegree-granting community art
school, Baum hosts the competition, promoting the event to area high
schools, arranging the judging process, and displaying the artwork in
its gallery. The school also sponsors all the prizes, including a full
year’s tuition for the winner, tuition for one term to the next four
runners-up, and a half-term tuition for the next five.
The nature of the judging is likely to vary widely from one
congressional district to another. Schools of art may judge artwork
differently than area artists or the staff of an arts center. U.S. Rep.
Schakowsky charges the jurors her staff picks from the local arts
community to evaluate submissions based on a list of criteria (overall
quality of work, sense of purpose or function, originality and
individuality, completion of work) on a one-to-five scale.
There is no entry fee for the competition, and all
entrants—including the winners—are permitted to enter the contest for
more than one year as long as they remain high-school students. The
entry—one two-dimensional artwork no larger than 30" x 30" framed—must
be accompanied by a one-page application signed by both the student and
his or her art teacher. Entries are accepted in the following
categories: collage, computer-generated art, drawing, mixed media,
painting, photography, or graphic prints. The application can be
downloaded from the website of each participating member of congress.
Deadlines vary from district to district.
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