Max Meyer, director of childrens education at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, was seriously concerned.
The museum had only two days left before its deadline to receive student entries for the Scholastic Art and Writing Regional Awards, and the staff had not received even half the number of submissions it did in 2013. It appeared that one of the most successful Scholastic award programs in the nation was on the brink of falling from the top ranks.
What happened next was literally an overnight success.
Meyer says that the museum received 4,300 entries by Jan. 15, the last day of submissions. The results not only upped the museums chance at another substantial national appearance, it also marked 2014 as a record-high year for art and writing entries from middle and high school students in 52 northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio counties.
The museum will celebrate more than 500 regional winners selected for the 2014 national Scholastic competition in New York with an awards ceremony Sunday. The event features guest speaker Brett Golliff, a lead designer for General Motors and former Scholastic national winner. Silver Key winners and honorable mention participants will also be honored at the event.
National medalists will be announced on March 17.
(The students) focus is not just on being the best in their school or their county, their focus is to be the best students in the country, Meyer said.
The tumultuous winter weather in early January turned Christmas break into weeks of school cancellations, and by Jan. 13, Meyer had received only 500 student submissions for the regional award selections.
He accounts the eventual success of submissions to the more than 100 teachers who have students participate in the program.
It was insane. We deal with so many teachers who are incredibly dedicated. Theyre really amazing people, he says. We have teachers that entered 300 pieces themselves and when you think about that massive amount of work done in two or three days, its pretty unbelievable.
The overall success of the local Scholastic program over the past 10 years has been considered unbelievable as well. When the museum became the regional headquarters for the program in 2004, the chapter was completely eclipsed by other regional programs. Executive Director Charles Shepard, who had been with the museum only for a year, says he was determined to turn the program around.
The mantra being, The Midwest doesnt mean mediocre.
When I was on the East Coast, I was asked to be a national jury for the big grand prizes that New York gives out. For three years, I would go, and I quickly picked up on the fact that they were favorites. The favorites became the New York region, the Boston Region, the San Francisco region – before they could even the see the work, the judges thought if it was from a rural location or at least not in an urban area, it was going to be mediocre, he says.
When I got to Fort Wayne, I said I want to have a program that is so good that we make the New York judges understand how good the Midwest is. I started with a little bit of an underdog chip on my shoulder.
With the number of entries doubling in the past six years, the museum has gained New Yorks attention. Out of the 3,700 student entries the museum received last year, 47 of those projects went on to win a national award; it was the highest ratio of entries to national awards in the country. The museum also received the 2013 Gold Key for Excellence in the Field.
Meyer says that regional award winners have been able to garner more than a million dollars in scholarship offers annually.
We really try to focus on building a community. Theres competition in it, but each teacher will share with another teacher how they did a project. That openness has helped, Meyer says. What we do is travel in the fall and visit around 6,000 high school students and show them some of the winning work, and that often helps motivates students. The biggest part of our success is keeping contact with former winners.
One of those former national winners is Golliff, who placed regionally and nationally in high school until he graduated in 2003. The Angola native says the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards helped him survey the landscape of young artists.
My experience showed me that art was taken at a greater level, he says during a phone interview from Detroit, where he currently resides. It wasnt all about painting and drawing. It helped opened up doors to colleges and it definitely started a conversation.
Taking private art lessons at an early age, Golliffs fascination with basketball players turned into designing sneakers in the fourth grade. He first started sketching sneakers that were a combination of styles worn by his favorite players, Chris Webber and Michael Jordan. As he entered high school, he decided to pursue shoe wear design as a career.
Golliff went to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, taking an internship with Converse during his undergraduate years. Graduating in 2007, Golliff first worked as a designer for New Balance sneakers. Looking for a new challenge a few years ago, Golliff accepted an offer to do color and trim design with General Motors. He was the lead designer of the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z06, the Detroit Auto Show Car of the Year.
Golliff says that this may be one of the most opportune times to work in a creative field, and he wants to share on Sunday his evolution from high school to GM with students, especially students considering a professional art career. While students who study art put forth just as much effort as any other college student, Golliff says the answers are rarely found in a book. The answers are found within themselves and their perception of the world.
I want to show them that art is an accessible thing, and that it doesnt mean being a starving artist by any means, he says. You can do most anything in this world if you put the passion and time into it.