A skeleton struts, his feathered hat jauntily tipped over eye socket, along a gallery wall at NMHU’s Burris Hall. He stands before three simple stone-marked graves, one littered with rose petals and a bodiless bony wrist.
The acrylic-on-canvas painting titled “Finger Print Path” seems to shimmer; dense green moss nearly overruns the graves, the skeleton’s purple walking stick — made of what could be finger bones — casts an eerie shadow along the ground. Its anonymous creator from Rancho Valmora was awarded first place for this ghostly delight in the 15th Annual High School Art Competition co-sponsored by the Las Vegas Arts Council and NMHU’s Art Department.
Las Vegas artist and LVAC board member David Escudero collected about 90 works and together with Jake Martinez and Rancho Valmora art instructor Tara Cudia, carefully hung them along Burris Hall’s prior to the event’s Feb. 11 starting date. The exhibition runs through Tuesday, Feb. 25, and celebrates arts in the Las Vegas and surrounding communities high schools.
“Art isn’t part of the standard curriculum in most school systems anymore, and I think it’s a big detriment to the students who don’t always succeed in tests and in the so-called sports arena. These students may not become artists, but doing art develops certain parts of their brain,” Escudero explains. “Not only in the visual arts, but in arts and crafts. Manipulating materials is important for brain development. Everyone has a potential to succeed in the arts, and everyone has talent. It needs to be fostered and developed.”
The event consists of artworks created by students from West Las Vegas High School, Robertson High School, and high school students from surrounding communities such as Rancho Valmora, Mora, and Pecos. Escudero’s studio, Plaza Vieja Gallery, as well as Tito’s Gallery and War Dancer Gallery provided the monetary awards for the competition, which ranged from $50 for the third place prize to $100 for first place.
“David Lobdell, who coordinates the NHMU art department as well as the foundry, was the juror for this year’s show,” Escudero says. “He was very supportive and provided the staff and help to get this show going. We were very happy to see this collaboration with Highlands University. There is an additional benefit from this - now that Las Vegas was awarded the Arts and Culture designation, one of LVAC’s responsibilities will be to continue fostering the arts in the schools as our programs have done for over 30 years.”
In addition to Rancho Valmora’s first place showing, other winners were second place recipient Alexandria Torres from Robertson High School with an untitled painting of Asian-inspired cherry blossoms, third place winner David Mueller of Robertson High School with his acrylic-on-canvas depiction of sun-fired bottle and fruit he titled “Still Life.” Honorable mentions went to Michael Sanchez of West Las Vegas, Marcia Harapat of Robertson High School, and DeAngelo Rodriguez, also from Robertson High School.
Rancho Valmora art instructor Tara Cudia agrees with Escudero that art — and this annual event — plays an important role in local student development. She hopes to find sponsors for another High School art show in May in order to display some of the more time-intensive art forms such as ceramics that weren’t ready to be shown this early in the academic year.
“My students at Rancho Valmora are just thrilled to participate each year,” Cudia says. “My students can’t attend to the show, but they are excited to learn what it’s like to have a show and to be involved in the community. It gives them an ownership in their own art development. For some of the students it gives them connections to Highland’s art program. Many students don’t realize they can pursue art as an career.”
Escudero considers the show a huge success for the area’s art students, the LVAC and NMHU.
“It’s not just important for the Las Vegas Arts Council and the area high schools, but it provides a forum for NMHU to recruit local talent and artists that are up and coming from the community.”
15th Annual High School Arts Competition, now on display through Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Burris Hall, NMHU. For more information, please call the Las Vegas Arts Council at 425-1085. For information regarding a possible May High School Arts Show, please contact Tara Cudia at email@example.com or 425-8107.