The Changing Face of Student Art

By: Jane Weinke, curator of collections/registrar on February 16th, 2011

It seems like yesterday. In reality it was April 1979, when I came to the Woodson Art Museum for a job interview. During a tour of the facility we entered a room filled with colorful artworks piled on sawhorses covered with boards. It was definitely not an exhibition space but a storage area where the recently ended Student Art Exhibition was being sorted for return to teachers. To think there was a large space dedicated solely to the artwork is, itself, amazing especially in light of how we currently use every inch of this facility.
There was something fateful about walking into that room in 1979. Ever since, many aspects of the Student Art Exhibition have been my responsibility. As with all long-running projects, we’ve made minor adjustments to the Student Art Exhibition. I checked the archives for some interesting facts.
The first exhibition was in 1978. Teachers within a 45-mile radius of Wausau were invited to enter ten artworks. A panel of two state art educators juried the exhibition. The entries were from students in grades 4-12. Of the 500 artworks received, 160 were on view March 4-19, just two weeks.
By 1984 the exhibition had grown quite a bit. Of the 719 works entered, the final exhibition included 262 works. This represented students from 56 schools; certainly a record number of entries.
Who could predict that the next year, 1985, would so soon shatter the previous record.  Teachers from 71 schools presented 971 works to the judges who chose 311 artworks – an amazing number. The paintings, sculptures, weavings, pottery, and jewelry overfilled the galleries. We had reached our capacity. Some changes were necessary to continue offering the best regional Student Art Exhibition.
First we limited the number of artworks each teacher could enter. That brought the numbers down, but we were still overwhelmed. Eligible grade levels were changed to 5-12.
Next, we divided the region (which had grown to encompass a ninety-mile radius of Wausau) into three groups. Each regional group would alternate participation on a three-year rotation. That solution worked for about 20 years.
In 2006 the exhibition again was modified. The three-year rotation was changed to bi-yearly by grade level. The first year focused on grades 9-12; the alternating year on grades 5-8. Each art teacher was invited to enter three artworks, thus eliminating the jury process. Teachers and students were encouraged to choose the works to represent their classrooms in the exhibition. This model has worked well.
One minor change was made in 2011. Each teacher was invited to enter four artworks instead of three.
The 34th Student Art Exhibition opens on March 5. This year, 192 works are included entered from 45 schools, representing students in grades 5-8.
This year we’re hosting two receptions to view the exhibition and meet the student artists, Thursday, March 3, 4-6 pm, and March 5, 1-3 pm. The exhibition is on view during regular hours and closes March 27.

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