Brush off: 3 artists vying for Artist of the Year

Published 7:01 am Sunday, May 28, 2017

Once again, Austin High School students will witness the crowning of another Artist of the Year when the annual art show is held at 1:30 p.m. this Wednesday in Knowlton Auditorium.

Three students are up for the coveted award and accompanying scholarship included Maddie Mullenbach, Hannah Perez and Ngadhi Awow.

“It just means that I’ve put in enough effort to do something important in art,” Perez said. “It validates me in doing this as a career.”

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The three-candidate slate holds the fewest number of those vying for the award and the associative scholarship in recent years, but they are no less deserving said AHS art teacher Jake Levisen.

“These three have shown the commitment and drive in the art world since we’ve seen them as freshman and sophomores,” he said. “They are challenging themselves and taking new courses.”

The show

The show, one of the most highly anticipated events each year at the high school, and has become more than simply picking the Artist of the Year.

On the heels of two separate and smaller shows held during the year, this larger show recognizes the candidates as well as all the award winners from those two earlier shows.

“It’s truly a way to show the talent of the students of the high school,” Levisen said. “It’s a way to acknowledge the work they’ve put in. It’s amazing to see the support from fellow students, staff members and the community who come in and vote. It’s a highlight of my year.”

All three shows are an all-encompassing example of the art program at the high school. It’s also representative of the arts in Austin as a whole and how well it’s supported community-wide.

“That’s what’s so great about the art shows,” Levisen pointed out. “The basic level as well as the advanced — all compete in the show in different categories.”

To Levisen’s knowledge, the Artist of the Year program itself is the only one held in a school that’s he’s aware of and that level of excitement for the arts is demonstrated at the assembly itself where students in the audience take an active role by cheering and applauding as each one of the artist videos are displayed or when their friends walk across the stage.

And many who walk across the stage aren’t as serious artistically as those up for Artist of the Year. In that way, Levisen said, artistic talent of all ranges is displayed across the board.

“I think it just shows that anybody can have the talent if they work for it,” Levisen said. “We have those individuals that take just one year of art. You don’t have to be in art for three years.”

The candidates

To be a candidate isn’t a matter of simple choice: Waking up one day and just deciding you’re a candidate.

Proclaiming to be hopeful is just the first step.

Each candidate must write an artist statement and come up with a display. The art department will then discuss and critique the display along with the statement.

Once selected things really take off. It’s then up to the candidates to come up with sponsors, create Artist of the Year videos, create an intro video and on top of that determine the theme of the show with past themes including Harry Potter and “Star Wars.”

“It’s a blast,” Levisen said. “They love every aspect of the show in making it the best.”

Not that these three shy from hard work.

All three have specialized in drawing and painting during their time and have come to step up to each challenge willingly.

“They are prime examples,” Levisen said. “A few artists didn’t want to paint portraits again and they’ve painted five of them. Their internal drive to get better is fun to watch.”

What’s also special about this year’s candidates is that all three of them show interest in making art a career in some fashion or another.

Awow is even looking to take her talents into the medical profession as a medical illustrator after discovering that the physical aspect of medicine wasn’t her cup of tea.

“I wanted something in the medical field where I can still do art,” Awow explained. “It’s a diverse field that infuses science and art — two things I love.”

And while Mullenbach’s ideas of what she wants to do after graduation have shifted somewhat from being an art teacher, she still wants to do something that leaves the door open to art down the road.

“I wanted to be an art teacher but then I balanced by strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “I like really being involved in nature and the environment and I like painting people and nature.”

The importance of art

The Artist of the Year assembly has the feeling of a one-of-a-kind event with a lot more implication than maybe it lets on.

By it’s popularity alone, the event highlights the importance placed on art, but the school that places that importance and sees the value of art.

It’s an idea Levisen and fellow art teachers Barry Brobeck and and Robin Brown stress every moment of their classes.

Art is important.

“It’s the concept of creative, critical thinking that delves deep in problem solving,” Levisen said. “It’s that ability to be creative and to be different and knowing there isn’t a correct answer, knowing you can create your own technique. It’s tremendous and very high in importance.”