The City of Falls Church’s 9th Annual Student Art Contest reception went off without a hitch during this month’s FIRSTfriday event, despite the contest being axed from the City’s budget last November.
Professionally printed calendars featuring the 13 winners’ artwork – one top winner for the cover and 12 additional winners for each month – have been financed by the City for the last eight years. But they will not this year.
Due to the lack of funding, two local businesses, Art and Frame of Falls Church and SmithGifford marketing firm, stepped up to make donations to keep the contest, if not the calendar, alive. Despite a solid level of participation by F.C. students, no calendar will be printed due to budget cuts. Art and Frame Owner Tom Gittins estimated the expense of printing and distribution to be $10,000 to $12,000.
“There are budget cuts going on in the City of Falls Church, Fairfax County, Arlington County – all across the nation, and this is one way to keep the arts alive in our own community rather than shutting it down,” said Gittins, who added that the arts needed to be “kept alive for the children.”
George Mason High School (GMHS) senior and current intern for the local frame shop, Robin Clark, planned the contest this year, which was assigned the theme “Change in the City of Falls Church.”
“2009 was very momentous for change. We had the presidential election, key events occurring and a lot of change in Falls Church being finalized,” said Clark, chronicled by the noticeable presence of F.C.’s Flower Building and President Obama in the students’ art this year.
Clark admitted having no expectations starting out but felt it was “a nice thing to do for the whole community.”
He began spreading the word through the Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS) Business in Education Partnership. Soon enough, more than 60 FCCPS students submitted artwork ranging from photographic collages to watercolor paintings.
So, this year marks the debut of an on-line calendar, which has been made available on the FIRSTfriday Web site. Clark said his goal is to eventually have the calendar pages available in a printable “pdf” format for those interested to download and print at home.
Gittins noted that since last year’s art contest theme was “Going Green,” being paperless this year may be, ironically, appropriate. By using less paper, “this year, we’re actually doing it,” he said with a laugh.
Jokes aside, a genuine outpouring of thanks from the community has been made evident. GMHS art teacher Maria Shields has made the contest a mandatory assignment for her students since its inception.
Shields said she was “extremely disappointed” when she first heard the contest had been dropped from the budget.
“I’m afraid cutting back on the arts often happens, but the fact [the City] could no longer publish the work isn’t a rejection of the arts,” said Shields, who went on to praise Gittins as a “gem” in the F.C. community.
While she said her students don’t always get excited in art class, they’re able to form a new appreciation when presented with the local angle present in each year’s theme.
“They don’t always make that immediate connection with the artists we study, but when it’s about their own town, they get to become the artist. They get to show change in Falls Church through their eyes,” said Shields.
Winners this year announced last Friday were Maya King, Araba Ankuma, Ying Liang, Jonathan Babington, Emily Rueckert, Katie Pikturna, Alli Bregar, Angela Swanson, Sarah Valley, Fae Montgomery, Rachel Bell, Meredith Brindley and Savanna Sulc. Each winner received a $200 Art and Frame gift certificate and a sketching set, while all participants went home with a FIRSTfriday t-shirt courtesy of SmithGifford and Art and Frame.
Gittins and Clark hope to reach a point when enough private sponsorship is available to fund the printing of the calendars once again. However, Clark said upholding the contest alone is necessary to give artistic talents in the schools a voice since “art is held on a lower pedestal already.”
“When people think of the validity of a career, they think of a scientist wearing goggles, bravely finding the cure to some disease. But maybe those scientists wouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing unless they were motivated by certain types of art,” said Clark.
To view the on-line calendar, visit www.firstfridayoffallschurch.com. All of the students’ art can be viewed at Art and Frame at 111 Park Ave. in Falls Church through Jan. 30 Monday – Saturday between 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.