Youth Exhibition: 5 years later

Since 2006, MOPA has showcased the photographs and films of emerging young artists from Kindergarten to grade 12 in our annual youth exhibition.  After five years of exhibitions, I am still astounded by the skill, creativity and artistry seen in the works created by these young artists. This year’s exhibition, See/Saw is no exception. 

When I started at MOPA as the director of education in 2002, I had no idea that my suggestion to exhibit children’s works would develop into a yearly exhibition. The education staff knew we were nurturing and developing our future photographers and filmmakers in our programs. Naturally, we wanted to share their talents and amazing works.  At first, we held mini-exhibitions at the end of each program either in our classroom or premiered the film they created in 4-9 days in MOPA’s theater to family, friends and MOPA staff.  I always looked forward to these exhibitions and premiers and enjoyed seeing how proud both the students and their families were of their accomplishments. It inspired me to create a youth exhibition that would invite not only MOPA students, but any student in San Diego County, K-12, to participate in a juried exhibition of their works based on a theme.

Our very first youth exhibition in 2006 was titled Close-Ups: San Diego Neighborhoods and featured 60 young photographers from all over San Diego. It was the first exhibit at MOPA devoted exclusively to works by children. An exhibition of photographs by Don Bartletti, a Pulitzer Prize photojournalist, was scheduled to be on view at the same time.  His works became the inspiration for the theme of documenting San Diego Neighborhoods.

Don was a great advocate of the program and agreed to assist me with training teachers and administrators. He led two workshops discussing how to assist students with capturing the photographic moment and what it means to be a photojournalist. He was also one of the judges who selected the final 60 works to be exhibited and even led a special afternoon for the student exhibitors, their families, and the public. What a rare opportunity it was to have Don Bartletti discuss his photographs and then highlight a youth work and why he selected it for the youth exhibition.

As we celebrate our sixth children’s exhibition, I can’t help but think back to our first exhibition in 2006 and how far we have come. We still matte and frame every child’s work and hang them in our galleries with the same care and attention as any other work in our museum. We still ask the students to write an artist statement, which gives so much insight to the photograph and to the young artist. We now have offsite exhibitions at local libraries, digital photo frames highlighting those works as well as photographs that were created by MOPA students in India. We even have a gallery interactive, where visitors can text message a student about their work of art.

So, the next time you are at MOPA, take a moment to visit the See/Saw exhibition.  Who knows, one of the young artists in the exhibition may be our next Pulitzer Prize photojournalist.