From Washington, Illinois, to Washington, DC, the Congressional Art Competition encourages young artists to pursue their dreams.

Now in its 30th year, the contest recognizes the talents and hard work of high school artists in every congressional district across the country. Since 1982, more than 650,000 high school artists, working in a variety of mediums, have submitted their work for the national competition. The winning submissions from each district are displayed in the passageway between the House office buildings and the Capitol building in Washington, DC.

“All members of Congress are allowed the opportunity to submit a piece of artwork from their district for display in the Capitol for one year,” explained Congressman Aaron Schock. “Every school in the district is invited to participate, and then we invite a panel of local celebrities and judges to help narrow the field down to the top 10.” Locally, more than 200 students submitted work for this year’s competition.

Rather than simply calling a school and asking for artwork to represent his district, Schock believes the contest format is an opportunity for both the students and the community. “I think competition inspires people towards excellence, and it helps draw attention to the importance of art in our community and within the educational system,” he said. “The competition also places the importance on these young people’s ability. It recognizes the young artists in our communities.”

Having been involved in school plays and band in his early years, the congressman understands how important the arts can be in the educational process. “It’s about development of the mind and making sure the next generation of Americans are creative thinkers,” said Schock. “[This] tends to be one of the top qualifications that employers are looking for, not so much their GPA or ACT scores. The arts are key to developing those skills.”

In Illinois’ 18th Congressional District, one young woman from Washington was crowned the winner of this year’s competition. Carolyn May wowed judges with her colored-pencil rendition of a vintage photograph that May said she fell in love with right away. Her untitled piece was inspired by a 1925 photo of Lillian Evanti, the first African-American female to perform with a major European opera company.

Schock was attracted to the visual elements of May’s piece, as well as to the story behind it. “She used blue and white foiled squares almost like a mosaic, that was then used to do the picture of the opera singer,” he said.

Schock said he is glad for the opportunity to promote art appreciation in his district. “Too often, we do a good job of recognizing athletic abilities, but we don’t do a good enough job of recognizing creative and artistic abilities. I think the art competition helps do that.” a&s