Exhibit offers local teens chance to showcase works of art

For its twelfth consecutive year, “Teen Visions” will be on display at the Palmer Gallery as a part of Modfest, Vassar’s annual celebration of the arts. The 2014 show will be on display starting Thursday, Jan. 23 and will run through Thursday, Feb. 13. The opening reception will take place in the Palmer Gallery on Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

The gallery boasts a long résumé of exhibits by renowned artists and photographers. Just this year, the gallery has hosted Leonard Freed’s famed photographs of the 1963 March on Washington, fine art medical photos of the world-famous Mütter Museum Collection in Philadelphia, and water-colors by Hudson Valley artist Lily Prince.

But what sets the 2014 “Teen Visions” apart is that the 100-plus pieces in the exhibit were created by budding artists who have had few opportunities to show their work.

“The majority of the work in this year’s [“Teen Visions”] show is incredibly strong,” affirmed Todd Poteet, the director of the Art Institute of Mill Street Loft, an organization that seeks to bridge communities in the Hudson Valley through the arts. “I would dare say anyone would guess the artist is eleven years old.” “Teen Visions” will exhibit the work of artists whose ages range from 11 to 19.

These young artists, who plan to pursue art as a career, all participated in the Art Intensive program at Mill Street Loft. This after-school program seeks to build artists’ portfolios while simultaneously bridging communities within the Hudson Valley. Participants in the Summer Art Intensive program come from a total of five states as well as over 35 high schools in the Hudson region. Those who take part in the program are high school-aged and seek to draw scholarships for college from the artwork completed over the summer. The pre-college program boasts a mere average of 100 percent of participants receiving merit-based scholarships for college, with the average Art Institute student receiving $67,000 in scholarship funds. Participants of Mill Street Loft’s Art Institute have gone on to a plethora of colleges and universities, including Cornell University, New York University and Maryland Institute College of Art­.

“Our students have gone anywhere and everywhere,” says Poteet. And, each year, two to four students are able to receive full scholarships due to excellence in their work created at Mill Street Loft. Beyond its Summer Art Intensive Program, Mill Street Loft offers yearly programming and classes in the arts for people of all ages, from children to adults.

Matthew Velardo, a high school senior in Poughkeepsie and one of the artists whose work will be featured in “Teen Visions,” has been a part of the Mill Street Loft for three years. “I first took a portfolio development class where we did basic drawing and painting,” he said.

Velardo continued, “After that I took a few more classes, and as I’ve been getting older, I’ve been getting more into it. I’m primarily a sculptor, and just this year they’ve re-instituted their sculpture classes. That was very enjoyable. The biggest thing I’ve done now is the Senior Project class with 8 students where each student is required to put in 30 hours a week into their work during a 12 week period.”

Students who take part in the Senior Project class complete all of their artwork at home and then bring it in to Mill Street for weekly critiquing.

All of the work on display in the Palmer Gallery was created during the Mill Street Loft Art Institute’s Summer Art Immersion Program. To enter the program, applicants must schedule meetings to be interviewed by Poteet, who directs the summer program. Although the application process includes an interview, the program is highly inclusive and all who apply are accepted.

“We take every student who has an interest. Our philosophy is that if a student really wants to learn, we can teach them. So if they are inexperienced or well developed, we work to bring them to mastery,” wrote Poteet in an emailed statement.

During the program, young artists reside at Vassar over the summer where they can fully submerge themselves into their work. Participants use Vassar’s studio spaces and facilities as well as make frequent visits to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center where students are exposed to works from famous artists and gain inspiration.

“All the work in the show is done within the weeks of the Summer Intensive Program,” Velardo noted. “I was in the advanced drawing and painting program. Basically the way it works is that we have one big project [that the teacher assigns] and then smaller assignments throughout the program, where I am able to incorporate other hobbies that I have—I did a history piece—and express ourselves as artists.”

Students are not only expected to showcase a variety of skill through their assignments but also create a large volume of work.

“We created over 2,000 [pieces of artwork]while at Vassar, and then the teachers and counseling staff [of the Art Institute] chose 100 pieces to feature in “Teen Visions” ’14,” explained Poteet.

At the end of the summer, a panel of judges made up of Mill Street teachers and counselors decide upon 100 pieces to display in the annual “Teen Visions” show, which is Mill Street’s contribution to Modfest. The pieces chosen include works of traditional as well as digital photography, mixed media, drawings, paintings, and sculpture. This year, the 2,000-plus pieces of art were judged based on artistic statement, personal voice, visual acuity and individual accomplishment.

What the judges most looked for, however, was work that utilized a variety of technique as opposed to those that showcased only one particular skill. The selection process is lengthy as well as extremely competitive. “The students were doing back-flips to find out that their pieces were selected out of thousands [of pieces],” said Poteet.

The “Teen Visions” annual exhibit is always a distinction for those who took part in Mill Street Loft’s Art Institute.

”We do this to affirm for them [participants in Mill Street’s Summer Art Institute] that what these kids are doing has value. It reaffirms for them that they have chosen the right career,” said Poteet. Beyond the points made by Poteet, the young artists look forward to the show each year as a way to showcase their work important members of their communities and even the larger Hudson Valley community.

While the “Teen Visions” showcase has been occurring annually for over a decade, this is the first year that the exhibition will expand to include the work artists beyond the Summer Art Institute. In addition to the high school aged participants of the Mill Street Loft Art Institute, the works of the Mill Street Loft’s Junior Art Institute participants will also be on display during Modfest. The works were created by those who took part in the Junior Art Institute, which includes kids ages 11 to 14. Their art will be on display in the Faculty Commons, separate from participants of the regular Art Institute.

The scope of Mill Street Loft’s involvement in Modfest this year expands even beyond the Junior Art Institute’s show.

In addition to “Teen Visions,” Mill Street Loft will also feature works created by Mill Street Loft’s LitClub, Mill Street’s programming for girls who go to Poughkeepsie Middle School, as a part of Modfest. The girls will perform works of dance, play music, and recite poetry, which they worked on with local poets brought in by Mill Street. The LitClub’s presentation will be on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the Villard Room.

The students themselves will be able to see the hard work of their classmates at the exhibition. “I will be at the show, and I so look forward to seeing everyone’s work!” Velardo said.

“Our students have done some truly fabulous work. You’ll be impressed,” Poteet remarked.

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