ArtPrize offers opportunity for self-reflection


The sculpture Masked was created by girls in Ottawa County 20th Judicial Circuit Court’s Lighthouse Treatment Program. Courtesy ArtPrize

Artists from around the world are in Grand Rapids to compete in ArtPrize 10 for a chance to win more than $500,000, and one group of girls is using the 19-day event to publicly express hidden emotions.

For those who are enrolled in the Ottawa County 20th Judicial Circuit Court Lighthouse Treatment Program, the competition is personal. The girls are between the ages of 11 and 17 and are under the Ottawa County court jurisdiction.

Angie Briggs Johnson is an art teacher within the juvenile detention center, where the Lighthouse program is housed. She said the majority of the girls are dealing with home issues but also self-confidence.

“Whatever they have been through, whether it is family or societal problems, they don’t have a big belief in themselves and a big hope for their future or what they can do,” Johnson said, “and I found that sitting in an art class and learning how to draw a simple little figure all of a sudden opens this awareness that they have potential and that they can accomplish things.”

It is that same awareness and potential that 16 girls who are in the Lighthouse program have used to create their own art and compete for ArtPrize’s Youth Collaboration Award. The girls have used colors to express their life experiences in a sculpture called Masked.

The sculpture is composed of 16 colorful papier-mâché masks, one created by each girl, whose last names were not given to the Business Journal at the request of the girls’ probation officer. One of the girls, Lamya, said the colors represent emotions and tell her story.

Jaslyn created her mask using the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue and black.

“I devoted only a little portion of my mask to (red) because I never get truly angry but when I do, it never lasts long,” Jaslyn said. “I placed orange on my (mask’s) forehead because my cautiousness is all in my head, and I let my thoughts all go to my head and I make pretty poor choices when I’m nervous. I chose (yellow) because I am a very nervous and a jumpy person. I am scared easily, and I can be very pessimistic at times, and it has interfered with my life in many ways.

“My mask is mostly (green) because I am especially happy all the time. But sometimes, my happiness cannot be a positive thing because I ignore the pain that I should be facing head-on. But I am too scared to face the bad so I act happy. Blue is around my eyes because I cry a lot. I put on a tough cover, but I am extremely sensitive on the inside and I get hurt easily. Black is for scaredness because I am a very scared person; I have extreme anxiety. It can sometimes be hard to be happy with my anxiety and depression lurking around like a big black cloud.”

The girls from the Lighthouse program also will be competing against other youth under 18 who are enrolled in a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization or a K-12 school for the Youth Collaboration Award.

“That is a way for area school groups to enter and exhibit their work since they are exempt from being able to win the Grand Prize awards,” said Becca Guyette, director of education at ArtPrize. “They are not competing against the adult artists.”

This year, there are 20 entries from across the state — four of which are from West Michigan — and one entry from Haiti. The four local entries come from Mona Shores High School, Innocademy and Newaygo High School, along with the Lighthouse program.

The artwork includes installations, 2D and 3D sculptures, and paintings. The winner is chosen by public votes and juried votes. The people on the juried panel are selected by members associated with Western Michigan University. The group with the most public votes wins $2,500 and the group with the most juried votes also will receive $2,500.

Although Johnson said they have not thought about what they will do with the money if the girls’ sculpture wins, she said the girls will be a part of that discussion.

“To run an art program is expensive, the supplies themselves are expensive, so I have a feeling that we will meet together as a group, the girls included, and ask what it is we can do, artistically, that we haven’t been able to do, that (the money) will provide us the opportunity to do,” Johnson said. “So, maybe it would be clay and ceramics because those are really expensive supplies.”

However, if they don’t take home the Youth Collaboration Award, the competition allowed one of the girls to discover a new hobby.

“Before doing this artwork, I wasn’t a big painter, but as I got through it, I said, ‘I like painting,’” Jakyra said. “It is adding onto something I can do during my free time. It is something that I picked up that I like to do now. I am honored to be a part of ArtPrize and to be able to tell others about my story.”

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