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Channelkeeper Student Art Show: Celebrating Water with Art

Painting submission by Elly Cutcliffe (12) highlighting oil spills in the Channel.

Painting submission by Elly Cutcliffe (12) highlighting oil spills in the Channel.

By Jean-Michel Ricard, News Editor

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For the past several weeks Dos Pueblos High School senior Mariah Reeves has been racing against the clock to throw, shape, and glaze a nearly foot-long clay leopard shark around a pot. She wishes she had more time to have the shark go through the pot, but for now she says she just hopes it comes out on time and looks great.

Reeves is just one of around 300 high school artists from across Santa Barbara county who will be submitting work to the annual Channelkeeper Student Art Show, where the art of only 45 participants will ultimately accede to the final show.

For the last 14 years, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (SBCK)a local nonprofit that monitors and protects water quality in the Santa Barbara Channel and watershedshas offered cash prizes at their annual show to student artists whose work best reflects the theme: What does the Santa Barbara Channel and its watersheds mean to me?

Though the theme has remained unchanged for 14 years, every year a new judge is brought in to judge the pieces based on creativity, technical skill, sense of style, and interpretation of the theme.

SBCK Education and Community Outreach Director Penny Owens said that this presents an extra challenge with the art show.

“Some larger art shows, they often will have a panel of jurors and they regularly have the same jurors so the teachers and students know a little bit more what to expect from those particular jurors,” said Owens. “In our case, since we’re working with a different volunteer every year, different art speaks to different jurors and different jurors have had different backgrounds.”

As a result of this system, students have no way of knowing in advance what kind of art will best tickle the judge’s fancy, and no one art style has dominated the competition.

In other words, students theoretically have full creative license to express themselves in the best way possible for them.

“I’ve seen everything on the gamut from abstraction to representational art from photography to drawing and painting to ceramics do well” said DP art teacher Kevin Gleason. “They’re looking for something that’s really well-executed and has a unique approach to the challenge and shows their love of the ocean.”

Amy Prado (11), Mariah Reeves (12), and Norma Perez (12) hard at work on their projects in ceramics class on February 9.

This year Santa Barbara County Arts Commission Chief Curator Maiza Hixson will be awarding 1st (at $200), 2nd ($125), 3rd ($75), along with four juror’s choice ($50) and honorable mention ($25) awards. Additionally, several years into the tradition a new Environmental Ethic Award was created and is granted, along with $100, to the artist who most closely reflects the mission statement of SBCK.

Owens says that the prize money, gathered from approved sponsors of the event, is an important way to show community investment in young artists.

“We hope that they use those cash awards to reinvest in their education and their art careers,” said Owens.

Case in point, Reeves, who successfully made the show last year, said that if she were to get first prize this time around she would donate half of the money to woodshop and ceramics, while the rest would go into her savings.

However, for many students the money is far from the only consideration.

“I’m feeling excited, hoping my piece will get in and be shown” said Reeves, “because even if it doesn’t win any awards, like, being shown is still, like, really cool to me.”

Neither, according to Gleason, is the show it all about competing against the other artists.

“They [artists] like making things and they recognize their art’s subjective and they just hope that the judges will like the piece they make,” said Gleason, who said that the same thing went for the teachers. “We’re always happy when our students do well but we’re happy when any art student does well and gets recognized”.

Participation in the contest is typically optional in DP art classes and usually around three students per class submit pieces. Sometimes, however, art teachers will make participation an assignment. Explaining why she opted to do so this year, DP art teacher Samantha Limkeman cited the value and importance of the cause.

“It provides students a chance to think more about the community that they live in,” said Limkeman. “They get to think about ways that art impacts community change and social change and I think it allows teachers the same thing,”

Additionally, Limkeman says she observes a greater degree of quality put into contest projects than regular assignments, crediting the prospect of public viewing for the difference.

As with everything though, time presents a squeeze. As of publishing time, student artists have just hit their Friday deadline for submissions to the show.

“It’s always stressful when you have a time limit,” said Reeves, her hands coated with glaze as she worked through the interview. “I feel like if I had more time I’d be able to do more things with it and make it look more professional or more neat and clean, versus when I’m in a time crunch and then it’s just stressful, like: ‘I need to have this done, I need to have it in the kiln, and it needs to look great so it can be presented at the show’.”

Mid-process (as of Feb. 21) ceramic leopard shark and pot by Mariah Reeves.

Should Reeves’ piece make it out in one piece and on time, it may well once again join 44 other pieces at the Jodi House Gallery, where the show has been held for the past several years. The student artist reception and award ceremony will coincide with 1st Thursday free entry, and State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has once again agreed to announce the winners of the contest.

“I’m thankful that my job is not to be the juror,” said Owens. “My job is only to help the juror and move the pieces around because I’m, as I mentioned before, just blown away by the talent of the students and some pieces.”

Owens says she expects around 150 people to attend the reception, though she says that the recent swell in environmental concern awoken by the Dakota Access Pipeline and controversial political agendas may lead to a greater showing this year.

“I would hope that it [the art show], with potentially challenging political climates as they are right now, that it will inspire students to create art as another way to reach and communicate with the community about issues that are important to them,” said Owens. “So I hope that we see a really strong showing of submissions and some really great messages from some young creative minds.”

After the initial March 2nd reception, the pieces will remain on intermittent display at the Jodi House Gallery for a period of two weeks (checking ahead of time is advised) before being returned to their owners.

The winning pieces, however, will make one last quick appearance at the Channelkeeper annual “Blue Water Ball” fundraiser, where they are often mistaken for the artwork at auction.
The initial showing will last from five to eight PM, with the award ceremony set to start at 6:30. Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.

Finished ceramic project by Norma Perez (12), ready for submission.

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Channelkeeper Student Art Show: Celebrating Water with Art