As any teacher will tell you, students learn better when they are actively engaged, drawing personal relevance and meaning from their subject matter. Art teachers spend a lot of time on technique. What if they could integrate that technical knowledge into an emotional, reflective, and exciting discovery process that emphasizes visual storytelling and community engagement? The ArtEffect Project, an initiative of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes (LMC), does just that.
An international student art competition with financial prizes up to $7,500, The ArtEffect Project teaches students the power they have to create positive change in their classrooms, communities and the world through art. In the competition’s inaugural year (2015–16), over 300 students submitted art projects celebrating Unsung Heroes: positive role models from history who took extraordinary actions to benefit others and have yet to be recognized. From 41 finalists, LMC selected five winners.
Liran Hu, a ninth-grader at Chattahoochee High in Johns Creek, Ga., won the $7,500 grand prize. His stunning 30″ x 40″ painting depicts environmental activist Jacob Valentine, who saved the Mississippi sandhill crane from extinction when construction of Interstate 10 threatened its natural habitat during the 1970s. The extensive research skills and imagination Hu utilized in bringing a largely unknown story to life taught him the importance of deeply connecting with the subject matter of his art: “I learned that an artist must find out more about an individual before putting one’s brush on the canvas in order to work on the piece with serious intention and commitment,” he said.
While he acknowledges that winning the competition has given him greater confidence in his artistic skills, his main takeaway was more universal: “The ArtEffect Project has solidified my belief that an individual who made a tremendous sacrifice to deliver something beneficial and inspirational to humanity should never be ignored or go unrecognized.”
The $3,500 second-place prize went to 12th-grader Mollie Probst of Northlake Christian School in Covington, La., for her project “Bound Together.” Probst’s mixed-media piece visually interprets the legacy of Meva Mikusz, a 15-year-old Polish teenager who rescued a 2-year-old Jewish girl, Inka, from the Czortkow Ghetto during World War II.
Probst personally related to Mikusz’s story, as she has spent much time caring for her young niece due to complicated family circumstances. Probst says she chose to work with mixed media because she felt it would help her include more symbolism and better convey the idea that although Mikusz’s and Inka’s circumstances were difficult and messy, Mikusz was able to make a life of hope for the young girl. “The more I researched Mikusz and her incredible bravery and compassion, the more connected I felt to her,” says Probst. “The lessons I learned from her story are ones that I believe will last a lifetime.”
Eighth-grader Maia Castro-Santos of Stoneleigh Burnham School in Greenfield, Mass., won the $2,000 junior division prize for her paper collage on civil rights pioneer Sylvia Mendez. The collage portrays a young Mendez surrounded by words that defined the racism and discrimination of her time. Castro-Santos says it was “really eye-opening” to learn about Mendez’s critical role in advancing school de-segregation efforts in the U.S., and “shocking” to realize that more people do not know her legacy.
While she feels the experience would have been rewarding regardless of whether she won, Castro-Santos is happy to know that more people will hear of Mendez’s unsung heroism because of her art. “This project got me thinking more about the subject matter of my art and how I can actually use it to tell people’s stories and share my opinions,” says Castro-Santos. “I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
These three student art projects, along with the other two winning projects (by John Crittendon of Delcambre, La., for the senior division and a student group in Poland for the international prize), are being displayed in LMC’s Hall of Unsung Heroes, a state-of-art museum in Fort Scott, Kansas. LMC’s second annual art competition commences on Sept. 1, 2016 and is open to U.S. and international students in grades 6–12. All guidelines and a free art lesson plan for teachers can be found at www.LowellMilkenCenter.org/arteffectproject.
Established in 2007, the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes works to transform classrooms and communities through student-driven project-based learning that discover Unsung Heroes from history and teach the power of one to create positive change.
click here for resources related to this article
Sonia Lowman is director of communications and partnerships for the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes. Milken Family Foundation.
Want More Classroom Projects From This Issue?