A True State Fair Experience Includes the Arts!

It can be a long… and creative… road to the State Fair.

In April, I was honored to serve as a judge for the annual Urban 4-H Performing Arts Showcase for Ramsey and Hennepin Counties. Arts In is a celebration of regular kids being given the opportunity to sing, dance, act and perform. For judges, the day is fun and inspirational. We know it takes courage to get on a stage and perform in front of an audience. But everyone was supportive; making the day even more gratifying.

Arts programs for youth are educational and empowering, and that’s exactly what I observed at the showcase. Kids of every race, age and background performed shyly but enthusiastically. They memorized lines, practiced moves, constructed costumes and wrote their own skits. Among other wonderful pieces, I watched traditional Somali dance performed by teens; a complex musical number played by a young violinist; and the unfolding of a humorous skit, May the 4-H’s be with You, acted out by a lively group from Hopkins. As a longtime COMPAS staffer, I live for this stuff—children and youth being artful, and flourishing through their creativity. 

visiting the 2016 minnesota state fair? when you're in the Education Building, Look for the COMPAS ribbon on these student-created pieces!

visiting the 2016 minnesota state fair? when you're in the Education Building, Look for the COMPAS ribbon on these student-created pieces!

The youth who won way back in April will now present their pieces on stage at the Minnesota State Fair. And it’s a big deal.

Another big deal at the State Fair, at least to COMPAS staff, takes place in the Education Building where artwork created by students throughout last school year is displayed.

Six years ago COMPAS launched an initiative to recognize students for their work as visual artists and to encourage budding Minnesota artists to continue their practice.

The Tuesday before the fair opens, COMPAS staff members make their way past delivery trucks and half-set-up booths to review student artwork submissions. With work divided by grade levels, we select our favorite pieces from a wide range of visual arts styles and techniques. Student winners receive a large COMPAS rosette ribbon and a small cash award. 

When we approach the displays, we don’t judge by design complexity, subject matter or use of materials – although these factors certainly come into play. We try to examine the artwork simply based on what speaks to us and demonstrates special talent or effort. Then, we arduously narrow down our choices. While it’s fun to spot a piece made during a COMPAS Creative Classroom program, that is not a criteria for receiving a prize.

It’s not easy to pick the winners, but it’s so worth it. As Robert Motherwell stated, "Art is an experience, not an object." This is certainly the case with both the youth exhibit and the performances. 

These two projects demonstrate why it’s so important to make the arts available to every kid. Not only do the arts provide exceptional social and emotional learning, but we’re giving young Minnesotans agency to thrive through creativity.

While you’re at Minnesota’s Great Get-Together, please swing by the Education Building to see the 2016 COMPAS Visual Arts Award winners, then wander to the 4-H building next door to enjoy the talents of Urban 4-H participants. We think you’ll be inspired. 

And keep an eye on our Facebook page to see the work displayed throughout the school year. 

 By COMPAS Staff Member Betsy Mowry Voss