Over Memorial Day weekend the Vineyard Conservation Society held an awards ceremony and opening reception for the winners of its annual high school art contest, The Art of Conservation. Thirteen students were awarded from a field of 64 entrants. The winners spanned a range of media including photography, painting, sculpture, and architectural concept models.
This was the fifth year of the competition. Each year VCS poses a unique conservation theme to students in the hopes of creating a dialogue through the arts. For the 2018 competition, VCS invited students to consider the theme of habitat.
“At VCS we regularly explore our connection with the land and our various habitats. We are also regularly engaged with the critical choices facing our community — weighing the importance of open space protection amidst our human desires for greater development,” said VCS executive director Brendan O’Neill, in a press release about this year’s theme. “We often wonder what are the elements of our habitat that help define our Island’s identity and quality of life. We were excited to see the students’ responses because better understanding of this question will help guide our community as we make these decisions together.”
The Feldman Family Artspace at the M.V. Film Center showed off this year’s winning submissions, and even on the holiday weekend the space was filled with parents, students, and visitors. The crowd enjoyed the artwork, which ranged from the starkly beautiful image of a single wading bird in a sunset-lit cove to the contemplative bright blue sky where tree branches reach from one side of the photograph to be not quite met by a church steeple on the opposite side, a sculpture of a pair of golden hands cup a scoop of soil and a single live geranium, an image of a young woman alone surrounded by woods, and many more.
New this year were submissions from MVRHS architecture students. These students took a field trip to the Oak Bluffs Water Works to have an actual location at which to site their concept designs. According to the press release, their task was to design a structure that would help the visitor experience the woods and hills of this habitat, and create a scale model of the design. Two models were among the winners, one an elegant treehouse, accessed by a long boardwalk, allowing any to experience life in the trees, another a stone and wood arched structure almost reminiscent of a chapel, built right into the side of a hill.
Following the reception, ribbons and prizes were presented to the students by VCS board member Joan Malkin, who expressed her thanks and excitement: “We love this show. We get so enthusiastic about the students and their art. This event is about honoring their efforts and vision. Every year we are thrilled to see how the theme comes alive through the collection they create.”
The Vineyard Conservation Society is the Island’s only environmental nonprofit that blends land conservation with a mission of education, legal defense, and advocacy. While an art contest might seem outside the reach of their mission, not at all, says VCS staff member Samantha Look: “This contest accomplishes so many things. It is an opportunity for students to stop and think about some of the environmental issues that face our Island. It is a chance for us to get them outside the classroom, either through a VCS-organized field trip, or on their own explorations as they create work for the contest,” Look said. “And it is a chance for VCS to see what the students are thinking about the environment — what are they connecting with — what concerns them. These are the environmentalists of tomorrow, and seeing what matters most to them helps inform our organization’s work today.”
The art entries were judged by Harry Seymour, a celebrated local painter; Margaret Curtin, an architect and long-term supporter of VCS; and Jhenn Watts, photographer and curator of the Field Gallery. First prizes went to Jonathan Chivers and Olivia Schroeder for their photographs, and Owen Metell for his architectural model. Special distinctions were awarded to Felix Colon, Simone Davis, Jeneleigh Griffin, Jenna Josephs, Julianne Josephs, Hemilly Nascimento, Aidan Nunes, and Davin Tackabury. The VCS Staff Pick prize was awarded to Frank Cray.
The images from this and past years’ contests can be found at vineyardconservation.org. In the release, the VCS thanked the M.V. Cultural Council for its funding for this program.