CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Christopher Cruise. On our program this week, we play music from Lady Gaga’s latest release.
But first, we tell about the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards – high honors for some for young people. And we meet one of the big winners.
CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Hundreds of young artists are gathering in New York for a ceremony to honor them and their work. They will receive the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The awards have been in existence for more than eighty years. Some earlier winners have gone on to become famous. They include artist Andy Warhol, writer Sylvia Plath and actor/director Robert Redford .
Here is Faith Lapidus with more about the awards and their administrator, the nonprofit group Alliance for Young Artists and Writers.
FAITH LAPIDUS: Scholastic is a worldwide publishing, education and media company. It produces books, magazines, film and toys for children. The Scholastic website says a main goal of the company is to help boys and girls read and learn.
The company was formed ninety years ago. The Scholastic Awards for Art and Writing followed soon after.
VIRGINIA MCENERNEY: “The awards were started in nineteen twenty-three by M. R. Robinson, who wanted to find a way to give recognition and encouragement to students who were creative and who were doing original artistic and literary work in the classroom.”
Virginia McEnerney is the executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers. She says M. R. Robinson saw an imbalance between recognition of success in sports and of that in the arts. These are his words about the awards.
VIRGINIA MCENERNEY: “The purpose of the awards was to give those high school students who demonstrate superior talent and achievement in things of the spirit and of the mind at least a fraction of the honors and rewards accorded to their athletic classmates for demonstrating their bodily skills.”
Virginia McEnerney says the Scholastic founder’s statement from nineteen twenty-three is still true today.
VIRGINIA MCENERNEY: “Most high school students spend their high school years walking through hallways filled with trophy cases for athletes. We are still the only national program giving creative teenagers the kind of validation and support fundamental to their development, confidence, to their commitment to their path.”
Ms. McEnerney says the program has grown. She says only seven young people entered the competition in the first year it was held. This year, she says, there were one hundred eighty-five thousand entries. And, that is almost double the number of entries the Alliance received last year.
Why was the growth so intense? Virginia McEnerney says she believes technology was partly responsible. The ability of students to present their work online has made the program open to more young artists. But she believes there may also be cultural reason.
VIRGINIA MCENERNEY: I think there’s a big, kind of, “maker” movement going on, a DIY [do-it-yourself] crafter movement. So there’s a lot more handmade work going on.”
Music and art education budgets have been cut at many American schools in recent years. Also, President Obama and other officials have expressed concern that too few students are seeking degrees in what are called the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math. But Virginia McEnerney says arts should not be ignored.
VIRGINIA MCENERNEY: “We do hear a lot about STEM, but we also hear learning experts talk about STEAM, putting the arts in the middle.”
She says the arts help develop imaginative problem-solving and a fearlessness that is successful in any field.
The Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards are open to students around the world in grades seven through twelve. The entries are first judged in local competitions. Nominees for national prizes are sent to New York. The jurors there include famous artists and writers.
Virginia McEnenerny says award entries have developed over the years. There is now an award for best video game design. Photo shop programs have affected the kind of images the Alliance receives. But she says jurors often note similar themes or ideas within the entries.
VIRGINIA MCENERNEY: “This year, for whatever reason, it was dangling feet. And sometimes we couldn’t tell if they were dangling or jumping. But last year we saw a lot of pipes and piping. So we do see some resonant imagery.”
For a link to the award-winning work go to our website at voaspecialenglish.com.
CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Now we meet one of the celebrated young artists. David Vo is an eighteen-year-old in the twelfth grade at Falls Church High School in Virginia. He had a big smile on his face when he met us to talk about his work, the award and his future.
And he has good reason to be happy. He was named a Portfolio Gold Award winner. This highest award comes with a ten thousand dollar prize. David tells about getting the phone call.
DAVID VO: “He’s like 'I have really good news. You’re one of the winners for a gold portfolio, and along with that you get a ten-thousand-dollar scholarship.' And at first I didn’t really understand because things just don’t happen like that for me. And I went out to my teacher, Miss Sinclair, and her face turned red. Her jaw dropped.”
David Vo will put the money to good use later this year.
DAVID VO: “Especially for art school in New York. Because that’s quite pricey.”
David is hoping to attend Parsons the New School of Design in New York City. His art teacher is Donna Sinclair of Falls Church High School. David says he owes much to her.
DAVID VO: “She was the one who guided me toward continuing my portfolio. Because I remember during the summer I e-mailed her saying I can’t do AP [advanced placement] art this year. I was going to be too busy. And she was like 'David, just test it out for a few months and if you can’t do it we’ll switch classes.’ And it got me to where I am right now.”
David Vo has liked art for as long as he can remember. For many years, he painted. He started working with other media after entering high school. He made sculptures for a time. Then a new material caught his eye.
DAVID VO: “This year I looked at rope and recycled twine and its something people would look at and say it’s too difficult to work with, but for me, it stood out to me and it was unique.”
David took this rope and twine and made beautiful neckpieces. Some are large and thick and cream colored. Others are a deep brown. They bend up and around the neck in a strange sculptural display. Almost all completely hide the neck. Or maybe the design is more protective than secretive.
DAVID VO: “It has a really odd meaning because as a kid growing up, kids bullied me. If it wasn’t for my weight, it was for my look. So when I found this material I was very proud to take something conventionally ugly and make it pretty.”
David Vo has never before entered his creations into a competition. His message to other hopeful artists is to believe in yourself.
DAVID VO: “Don’t be afraid to take risks. And if you think your piece is perfect, it is.”
Lady Gaga: "Born This Way"
CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: Musical artist Lady Gaga has had a big week. Sunday night, she won top pop artist and two other honors at the Billboard Music Awards. Then on Tuesday she released a collection of songs she had promised would be the album of the decade. First-day sales of “Born This Way” at Amazon.com were so strong that the company’s computers slowed, angering some buyers. But reaction to the album is generally good.
Steve Ember has more.
STEVE EMBER: That was "Americano," one of the most energetic dance songs on “Born This Way.” Much of it is sung in the Spanish language. Lady Gaga also sings in German on “Born This Way.”
Her songs touch on widely different subjects. They include Christianity, same sex love and the excitement of speeding down a road. Here she slows down the beat with “Bloody Mary.”
This week Lady Gaga appeared on the television program, “Late Show with David Letterman.” She wore black underclothes, high heeled black boots and a black jacket. And a mask. When David Letterman asked why her face was covered, she said, simply, “I’m Batman.”
We leave you with her performing “The Edge of Glory” from the album, “Born This Way.”
CHRISTOPHER CRUISE: I’m Christopher Cruise. Our program was written and produced by Caty Weaver.
Join us again next week for music and more on AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.