Celebrating 30 Years of Scholastic Art at Cheekwood - Cheekwood
x icon Close

Publish Date: 2/5/2021

2021 marks the 30th year that Cheekwood has had the honor of hosting The Scholastic Art Competition & Exhibition for Middle Tennessee. A program of the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, this competition is one of the oldest and most prestigious student art competitions in the country. For nearly a century, the competition has aimed to support students’ artistic discoveries and encourage them to seek opportunities to showcase and share their art.  Serving as a regional affiliate is a tradition that has become an invaluable part of Cheekwood’s history, and one that The Tennessee Credit Union has sponsored since 1991.

Background on the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, a national nonprofit organization, was established in 1994 to provide guidance and support for the next generation. The Alliance fosters the creative development of youth across the country through The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the most prestigious recognition initiative for creative teens, and the largest source of scholarships for young artists.

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards began in 1923 when Maurice Robinson, the founder of the Scholastic book company, realized that students were being recognized for their athletic and academic achievements, but not their creative ones. He began the Scholastic Competition as a way to showcase the talents of young artists and writers, and assist them in beginning creative careers. The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards recognize student achievement in the visual and literary arts in 28 categories, including architecture, painting, flash fiction, poetry, printmaking, fashion design, Expanded Projects, and more.

Since the program’s founding in 1923, the Awards have fostered the creativity and talent of millions of students and has included noted artists such as Red Grooms and Andy Warhol among past winners. The program has an impressive legacy of being the first to acknowledge creative talent and is today’s largest source of scholarships for creative teens.

The Awards Process

Students ages 13 and up residing in the United States, U.S. territories and military bases, or Canada, are invited to submit original work in 28 art and writing categories, including architecture, painting, flash fiction, poetry, printmaking, fashion design, and a new category, Expanded Projects, which includes interdisciplinary and experimental visual art.

In 2020, over 320,000 works were submitted to regional programs for judging – that’s a lot of art and a lot of talent. Many young artists submit their pieces for chances at scholarships and recognition of their creativity. For the program at Cheekwood, hundreds of students submit photographs of their works online to be judged at Cheekwood by expert panels of jurors including local artists, curators, and professors. Cheekwood receives submissions from students in public schools, private schools, homeschool programs, and other educational programs in Middle Tennessee, including the following counties: Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Maury, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson, and Wilson.

Once these are received, jurors have just a few days to pour over a thousand submitted pieces and choose the winners. “As a juror, it is a pleasure to see such impressive skill and imagination showcased in these students’ artworks. This next generation of emerging artists embodies a wealth of creativity that inspires critical thinking, empathy, and hope for our world,” said Arielle Altenburg.

Choosing from such a large and incredible selection is not an easy task for the jurors, but there are some guidelines to help determine the winners in each category. All works are blindly adjudicated based on originality, technical skill, and the emergence of personal vision or voice. 

– Originality: Work that breaks from convention, blurs the boundaries between genres, and challenges notions of how a particular concept or emotion can be expressed.

– Technical Skill: Work that uses technique to advance an original perspective or a personal vision or voice, and show skills being utilized to create something unique, powerful, and innovative.

– Emergence of a Personal Vision: Work with an authentic and unique point of view and style.

To see the jurors for the 2021 Middle Tennessee Scholastic Art Awards, click here.


The Awards

All entries are considered for several award categories including Gold Key, Silver Key, Honorable Mention, and American Visions Nominees. Gold Key represents the top 5% of entries, and there are only five American Vision Nominees per region and these nominees then have their works entered into a competition to be judged by a panel of jurors in New York City, where one artist is selected to receive the American Vision Medal.

– The American Vision Awards is a national-level recognition that showcases the best works of each region. The American Vision nominees in the Middle Tennessee Region receive a Gold Key Certificate and an American Visions Nomination Seal. Of the five nominated works from our region, one is selected in national judging to receive an American Vision Medal, which is the highest regional honor.

Gold Key artwork demonstrates the highest level of achievement in technique, originality, and personal voice. Gold Key Award winners receive a certificate, a lapel pin, and the opportunity to compete nationally in New York City. Gold Key awarded works are displayed in the Historic Mansion & Museum Art Galleries during the Scholastic Art Exhibition.

Silver Key artwork demonstrates achievement worthy of recognition on the regional level. Award winners are recognized for the exceptional quality and execution of their artwork and receive a certificate and lapel pin. Silver Key awarded works are displayed digitally in the Historic Mansion & Museum Art Galleries.

Honorable Mention artworks are accomplished works that show great skill and potential. Award winners are recognized for their skill with a certificate.

To see all winners of the 2021 Middle Tennessee Scholastic Art Awards, click here.

The Artist by Mattie Ree Neal, Lipscomb Middle High Academy, American Vision Nominee, 2020.  (right)

Middle Tennessee Scholastic Art Awards Exhibition at Cheekwood

While the ceremony honoring the award recipients went virtual this year, the art works themselves can still be seen in Cheekwood’s Historic Mansion & Museum Art Galleries from February 6 – February 21, and a lot has been packed in for this two-week long exhibition.


This year 523 students from 29 total schools, programs, and institutions submitted over 1100 works of art for the competition. Cheekwood’s galleries showcase 85 Gold Key Award Recipient Pieces and a slideshow featuring the 102 Silver Key pieces.

The works within this exhibition range in medium and subject matter, with no two being remotely alike – a credit to the talented artists featured in the exhibition. While strolling through the galleries, one often must remind themselves that these pieces are the product of those who are in grades 7-12, as the works themselves are so well-done, and so creative, that this information itself is often unbelievable.

The artists in the show draw inspiration from many sources – family, friends, hobbies, God, and even just the passion for creating itself.

“I’m mostly inspired by the people that surround me. Many of my family members and friends are talented creatives, not just in physical skillsets but in the way they love and live. They inspire my own sense of creativity by setting such profound examples of what it means to be an artist – to be a storyteller, a source of compassion, a challenger,” said Bella Ravella, Grade 12, American Vision Nominee. “In that sense, I’m also inspired by unique and socially impactful artwork, anything that communicates purpose.”

Ravella’s work, “I, too, am America” Vol 1,is what most would consider a socially impactful artwork. Depicting a homeless man smiling and waving an American flag, humbly asking for change in front of a large high-rise, the piece is named recalling the last line in Langston Hughes’ famous “I, Too” poem, and reflects the language in that piece.

While Ravella’s moving photograph focuses on an individual previously unknown to the artist, many of those featured in the exhibition capture the essence of individuals that have deep connections to the artists’ everyday lives.

“[sic] sweet cookie refers to my great grandmother nicknamed ‘Cookie’ who passed away recently. She was sweet just like a cookie, so the name has some symbolism to it,” said Addi Gerlach, Grade 12, American Vision Nominee. “[For this piece] I wanted to [draw] an old woman because of the beautiful textures and lovely aging they have. So who better to draw than my own great grandmother herself?”

The work is hyper-realistic showing the age of the subject, but also the beauty. Fully detailed, close up in grey scale, staring at the viewer. Another piece within this exhibition Barriers utilizes this realistic technique as well, but goes in almost the complete opposite direction in every way.

Barriers, a work by Chloe Salvatore, a senior at Summit High School and American Vision Nominee, features a young woman with bright pink hair. Colorful and vibrant, the subject is quite literally using her hands as a barrier between herself and the audience. “Barriers represents how we push other people away and only let them see certain parts of us, and how we are afraid to try new things because of the fear of failure,” said Salvatore.

Within this piece, you are able to see that fear, that level of insecurity, that the artist is trying to express and push into her art. “I am a perfectionist. I always feel the need for my art to look as realistic as I can,” says Salvatore, “I believe perfectionism is fueled by both insecurity and pride, and this is something I’ve been exploring through my art this year.

Many of the teens in this show plan to pursue art in the future as a career, with most planning to attend college in that pursuit and scholarships are one of the possible benefits of winning an award in The Scholastic Art Competition. In 2021, Nossi College of Art offers award recipients pursuing a bachelor’s degree a scholarship of $4,400 to encourage these creative teens to follow the path into the arts world.

And walking through the galleries, it is easy to understand why Nossi College of Art would encourage pursuit along this path. Guests will feel a sense of awe as they walk through the galleries in the Historic Mansion & Museum, turning a corner to see K9 Police drawn with such detail by 8th grader Amelia Wang that it is hard to believe it is not a photograph, and then stumbling upon The Blind Queen by 10th grader Saida Bolduc, a work that has so much to look at that the viewer is left pondering the symbolism of each element, each stroke, long after they have left the exhibition. In a truly unprecedented year, one thing has not changed – the talent that is on display only gets better every year, and this year is no exception.

Middle Tennessee Scholastic Art Awards Sponsor

The Tennessee Credit Union has sponsored the Middle Tennessee Scholastic Art Awards since 1991 and shows their support in more ways than one, with continued support of the exhibition easily seen by a visit to their offices. Over the 30 years that Cheekwood has hosted the Middle Tennessee Scholastic Art Awards and The Tennessee Credit Union (TTCU) has graciously presented the exhibition, it has become a tradition for TTCU staff to select and purchase one Gold Key piece. Each piece is framed with a plaque noting the winner’s name and year of the exhibition. Nearly 30 pieces now adorn the TTCU offices in Nashville. You can see images of some of the works by clicking this link.

“We are proud to sponsor the 30th Anniversary of this Exhibition and look forward
to the continuation of this partnership. We continue to be inspired by the students and their educators who have connected the community by fostering creativity and demonstrating academic achievement through art. As an organization built by teachers, we value the Scholastic Art Awards Program and how it promotes
and supports the future of creative minds.”

– Michael D. Martin, President and CEO, The Tennessee Credit Union.

Privacy Policy Sitemap Web design by Speak
Back to top