CSUN’s 14th annual High School Invitational exhibits student work

Sigourney B. Nuñez

A class of fourth graders circled the art gallery at CSUN. For the 9 and 10-year-olds scattered across the room, this was just another field trip. Their teacher, however, was hoping to get something more out of it.

“I’m trying to inspire the kids to go to college,” said Kelly Baker, a fourth-grade teacher at Erwin Street Elementary School in Van Nuys.

Baker and her students were visiting the university to take a campus tour and came across the 14th Annual High School Invitational. The exhibition, showcasing the works of over 200 students from about 45 San Fernando Valley high schools has been running since Jan. 10, free of cost.

“With about three new schools participating at the event, this is our biggest show ever,” said Jim Sweeters, director of CSUN’s art galleries. “It’s a long process with a ton of work. It’s a short show for three weeks but it’s worth it.”

The art displayed ranges in forms of media from paintings, animation, ceramics and photography, among others.

“(The quality) goes up every year; the work seems to get better and better,” Sweeters said. “There is always something new and unusual.”

An art teacher from each corresponding high school personally selected the pieces that are being shown.

“It allows high school students to show their work in a professional setting,” said Rene Shufelt, visual and performing arts chair at Northridge Academy. The academy has been an avid participant of the event since the opening of their campus, seven years ago.

Shufelt said her students had the option to
create what they wanted or pull from work that was being done at the time of applying to the exhibition last fall.

Among the work submitted were self-portraits made out of found objects, paintings and cartoon animation. This year, there are four on-the-wall pieces shown at the gallery from students at Northridge Academy, Shufelt said.

The experience of participating in the invitational, although rewarding for both students and faculty at Northridge Academy, is not the only time they get to see art. For Shufelt, being a neighbor of CSUN is a luxury.

“I’m super lucky as an educator to be within walking distance of a professional art gallery,” she said. “To put (students) in that environment is motivating; it validates their ideas.”

Shufelt said she appreciates being so close to CSUN because it allows her to give students the chance for some hands-on learning.

“It’s about exposure,” she said. “It would be nice to take them to MOCA, but financially, it doesn’t work.”

While Shufelt said not all of her students are pursuing art as a career, “they might wind up being patrons that support artists. It’s a good opportunity to get out of the classroom and get exposed to art so that they are thinking and learning.”

The invitational provides benefits for both high school students and the CSUN campus.

“We use it as a recruiting tool for new students and occasionally we have tours while the show is running,” Sweeters said. “We’re reaching out to the community.”

In the midst of budget cuts taking place in all academic settings, art teachers and professionals alike worry about their programs being the first to not make it.

“In any education, it is always the first thing to go,” Sweeters said.

Shufelt finds it hard to believe that something that is meant to serve as an outlet for students as well as an inspiration for others might not be ramped in schools anymore.

“Through the arts we know culture, we know history.  We’re taught aesthetics and when tragedy strikes, it’s the first thing we turn to heal, so the notion of cutting any art form is ludicrous,” Shufelt said. “Students today are visual.  To take away the thing that engages them the most needs to be rethought.”