By Eve Kucharski
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter
The Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center is located in downtown Lansing, and has been a part of the Lansing community for 50 years. Throughout that time, it has changed locations and staff, but one of its most long-standing traditions has been going on for over three decades.
This tradition is known as the Art Scholarship Alert, or ASA. It is a juried competition that exhibits the work of high school students from nine counties across Michigan, and awards winners financial assistance as well as recognition for their achievements in the arts. According to the art gallery’s website it has awarded collectively $106,000 to young artists in the area.
According to the gallery’s Education Coordinator Megan Shoup, who is responsible for reaching out to school to gain as many submissions as possible, the submissions for the competition can be extensive and judging can be an intensive process.
“We had 170 portfolios entered, per portfolio there’s different numbers, so freshman portfolio, they can submit three works of art, sophomores and juniors submit up to five works of art,” said Shoup. “So that kind of takes into account there were 733 works of art that were juried, and then we’re exhibiting 105 of those so it is fairly competitive.”
This competitiveness may stem from the type of judges who look at students’ work; not just anyone can apply to rate the submitted work for ASA. According to Shoup, there is also a process to picking the judges for the event.
“A lot of our jurors as well have had experience with jurying these types of shows, and so we take that into consideration as well,” said Shoup. “And from there we just ask if they would like to participate, and from that we establish our jury panel. And we always have a returning juror so from there we have someone who has seen the process from the past year.”
But this extensive vetting process seems to have paid off this year according to Gallery Coordinator Sara Pulver, who said that this year the show is very strong. She too is heavily involved in putting it on, and said that looks forward to the show every year because of how encouraging it can be to all types of artists.
“So this entire exhibition is so exciting and so inspiring,” said Pulver. “I enjoy working on all of our exhibitions, but I think this one has kind of a close place to all of our hearts, because of the fact that it’s high school students, and it is so inspiring you know? We see these really, really talented young artists, and you think ‘They’re doing it you know, why can’t I?’”
Perhaps it is this inspiring nature of the show that has kept people like former Education Outreach Director at the gallery, and current Grand Ledge resident Catherine Babcock, coming back to see the exhibits every year. She said that she has seen the nature of the show evolve, and says that one of its best qualities now is that it has transitioned to digital submissions of students’ art; students no longer have to risk sending in the original copies of their work to the show before it is accepted.
“Back in the day, before digital, we used to have the students drop off their five piece portfolio. And then we would have to get them all out, and then pack them all up again,” said Babcock. “Then put them back in storage, so you know I’ve kind of watched it evolve over the years. I remember it was a really big deal when we went to sending in a disk. And now it’s just all online. Which is really awesome because it allows students who live farther away, to be able to enter. You know they’re very busy with their after school activities, and you know, making that trip for someone from Stockbridge, might be a little bit difficult.”
As far as public awareness of the ASA goes, it seems that even with its longevity in the art community, many people outside of that look have not heard of the program; though the reaction to what it is doing seems to be positive.
Assistant Manager Guutama Habtalem of the Tom and Chee grilled cheese store in Lansing, said that his experiences with The Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center have been limited, but he has an interest in art.
“Thirty years? What? I haven’t heard of that,” said Habtalem. “I absolutely would [go]. But that sounds like a wonderful program. I’ve seen it [the gallery] and passed by before a few times.”
Former MSU student turned Lansing resident Marissa Katz, also had not heard of the competition. She said that she has had interest in going to the gallery, but hasn’t largely because of its hours.
“I’ve walked past it, I’ve never actually been in it. It seems like it kind of has weird hours, from what I’ve noticed, yeah maybe the times I’ve past it, it wasn’t open. I know everything kind of closes really early down here,” said Katz. “But I would like go. It sounds really interesting honestly.”
But seeing as the tradition has gone on for so long, those who really search for the art, have found it. Executive Director Barb Whitney says what she’s most looking forward to about the show, is that one of the jurors this year, will be a former winner of the competition.
“You know this year, I think that the juror’s selections were a little bit more judicious than in some years. So we had a slightly smaller scaled show, but the works are absolutely incredible and it will be really fun to see when the jurors return for the reception and awards ceremony, their reactions to the works they’ve selected,” said Whitney. “One of the jurors … was a previous award winner for a previous year, so she will be returning as a juror and saying a few words about her experiences. She’s now the director of The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids. That’ll be really fun to see, things when they come full circle. We’re so proud to host it.”