Wednesday, April 3, 2019

20 years in, Wunderkind now serves a different purpose

Posted By on Wed, Apr 3, 2019 at 1:00 AM

click to enlarge Wunderkind 20th Anniversary Exhibit, Opening reception, April 5, 5-8 p.m., on display through May 12, Manitou Art Center, 513 Manitou Ave., - - RODAN ARTESE MIERA
  • Rodan Artese Miera
  • Wunderkind 20th Anniversary Exhibit, Opening reception, April 5, 5-8 p.m., on display through May 12, Manitou Art Center, 513 Manitou Ave.,
Of all the changes that the Manitou Art Center has undergone over the decades — rotating directors, an evolving mission, a new name, an expanded location and purpose — Executive Director Natalie Johnson points out that the annual Wunderkind exhibit has adapted to those changes for 20 years. “The idea that this show has survived all of that I think says a lot, too, about the importance of it. Because it’s very easy right? To drop something? And this has not been dropped.” In fact, Wunderkind has thrived.

Though the goal of the show has always been to collect and display a juried selection of artwork by Pikes Peak region high school juniors and seniors, the way in which the center has met that goal has changed significantly with the changing landscape of arts education. Originally, Wunderkind was established to teach young, aspiring artists how to put together a portfolio, how to secure letters of recommendation and prepare for a gallery show and — most importantly — to give them a window into the life of a professional creator.
Now, the project’s head organizer Michael Howell, who has spearheaded Wunderkind for seven years, says only 10 to 15 percent of the kids who enter the show actually want to pursue a career in the arts, and usually they receive that professional development in school; Wunderkind now serves a different purpose. “I decided to try and turn it over to the students as much as possible,” Howell says. “They didn’t have to be in an art class anymore. They could be any students. Any student making art could enter, and that really changed the tone of the show.”

Those who enter the show use it more as a venue of expression than a platform for career development, and the sincerity of their work shows. Howell says that once they opened up applications to all students, the work became edgier, often more personal and diverse. He instructed jurors to focus on content rather than skill — though the pieces in these shows undoubtedly show skill.
click to enlarge RODAN ARTESE MIERA
  • Rodan Artese Miera
“We don’t treat this as a high school show,” he says. “It’s in our finest gallery in the center. All the work has to be matted and framed, or somehow professionally presented. ... At opening night, you will see all these kids from different high schools talking to each other about the work. And they’ve never met these kids before. And they’re starting to realize there are a whole bunch of different kids out here that make art.”

He says the show proves eye-opening for the parents, too, who may not know the internal struggles their child is facing until they see those struggles in art. Conversations between parents and their children, between diverse students, between community members and educators, spring up around Wunderkind, and no one walks away from this show unaffected.

Dustin Booth, manager of the MAC, says: “Even if there are kids that aren’t interested in going into the art field, maybe they, you know, add a tool in their arsenal of dealing with being a human being. Having the ability to create art and to be able to express themselves and feel comfortable doing that — that’s a valuable thing to have in life.”

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