‘Real life’ student art on display

The student didn’t know the location of Baton Rouge Gallery, but he definitely could find his way to BREC’s Raising Cane’s Dog Park on City Park Boulevard.

The gallery stands across the road from the dog park, which made Therese Knowles think about the situation.

She teaches art classes at University High School and had asked the student to deliver some papers to Baton Rouge Gallery, but he wasn’t familiar with the place.

“So, I asked my class to raise their hands if they knew where the gallery is,” Knowles said. “No one knew. But they all knew where the dog park is. And it struck me how so many young people have never visited an art gallery.”

Knowles, along with so many area high school teachers, sought to remedy this scenario during the school year by asking some of their students to enter Baton Rouge Gallery’s annual “Real-Life Experience Juried High School Exhibition.”

The show runs through Thursday at Baton Rouge Gallery, 1515 Dalrymple Drive. This marks the first year the gallery has dedicated an entire month to the exhibit.

“In the past, the show ran only two weeks,” gallery director Jason Andreasen said. “We decided to expand it this year.”

More time meant a better gallery experience for the students.

“This is a chance for their work to show in a real gallery,” Knowles said. “They usually wouldn’t have that chance, but Baton Rouge Gallery is great to give this to them. And it opens up a new world for them.”

“Real-Life Experience” is sponsored by the LSU School of Art and spotlights original artwork by East Baton Rouge Parish’s high school students.

More than 40 works were chosen from some 150 entries by jurors Dawn Black, Eleanor Owen Kerr and Van Wade-Day, all Baton Rouge Gallery artist members. None of them knew the artists’ names, grade levels, schools or teachers prior to selecting work.

Also, each of the jurors has shown work in respected galleries throughout the United States, which provides knowledge of what “real life” is like as a professional artist.

And the gallery hopes students will receive a taste of real-life art experience from this show. Part of this experience is the fact that not all artwork would be chosen. This is a reality in most professional artists’ careers, knowing that their work will not be chosen for every juried competition.

“Honestly, I know that if I hadn’t received a scholarship, I would never have gone to college to major in art,” Knowles said. “This show has made that opportunity a possibility for high school students.”

Scholarships and prizes totaling $1,400 were awarded to the winners.

Winning first place was Runnels School student Julia McConnell, whose instructor is Lee Randall.

“One of my students, Garrett Kemp, won second place for his photograph,” Knowles said. “I can’t begin to tell you how this has changed his world. He used his award money to buy a new lens, and he has reinvested in his work.

“These kids are at a turn in their lives where they’re thinking of careers in which they can make money. Money brings them the things they need in life, and when Garrett won second place, it was an affirmation that you can be a professional artist. It was so good to see.”

Knowles is just one example of art teachers who encouraged their students to enter the show. She chose students from her art classes who have worked hard throughout the year.

“This wasn’t a class project,” she said. “They’ve been working hard, and I thought they deserved to have a turn at this challenge, and I wanted to see what they did with this challenge. I put something out there, and we talked about it. They’re all different and at different points in their lives.”

Works by four of Knowles’ students were chosen for the show, which is probably best summed up by Baton Rouge Gallery’s quote from its 2012 “Real-Life Experience” winner, Morgan Dupre: “At a young age, most teenagers seem to think they can’t make a difference in the world; these teenagers are completely wrong. For young adults like myself who struggled with self-image during high school, being able to just participate, not even win, was a huge accomplishment in my book. Being in this show was definitely a start to the rest of my art career, and a new beginning on how I perceived myself and my work.”

But first, high school students have to learn the location of the gallery.

Knowles and her fellow teachers are eagerly pointing the way.