‘Inspired Minds’ at work in SOPAC gallery

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange Performing Arts Center’s Herb & Milly Iris Gallery, at 1 SOPAC Way, will host its annual Inspired Minds: Young Artist Exhibition, featuring 50 of the most talented Essex County high school artists, from May 17 through Aug. 17.

This year’s exhibition, opening with a special reception on Thursday, May 17, from 7 to 9 p.m., will include 66 pieces selected by a jury of distinguished artists, photographers and curators. These works span a wide range of disciplines, from painting and sketching to photography and digital art. But they all have one thing in common — the artists’ youth belies their immense talent.

“They truly are amazing,” said Linda Beard, SOPAC’s director of community engagement and education. “I’m so proud of these talented high school students. To see them focused on something they love so much at such a young age is truly inspiring. The Herb & Milly Iris Gallery at SOPAC is the perfect venue to show these works, as founder Milly Iris was passionate about supporting and encouraging young artists.”

The “Inspired Minds” experience provides its youthful participants with a taste of what they can expect at the professional level. All their pieces were framed by the South Orange Frame Shop, and they are all prominently displayed inside the gallery. The students even have the option of selling their work, which is a special opportunity in itself for them.

“Seeing their pieces of artwork sell impacts them like nothing else,” Beard said. “It validates that someone else can appreciate their opinion, their viewpoint, their passion and their work as much as they do. The fact that people would look to purchase them and hang them in their own homes is a life-changing experience for many of these young artists.”

Knowing how beneficial it is for young artists — this year a few were additionally awarded with the chance to work with professional mentors from Studio Montclair over the summer — more and more high schools are encouraging their students to submit their art to “Inspired Minds.” In fact, the 2018 exhibition attracted more than 300 submissions, which is the most the show has ever received. And these entries came from all over the county.

At the same time, art teachers who have had students accepted into the exhibition in the past are continuing to urge their classes to submit pieces. April Hart, who is one such teacher from East Orange Campus High School, said “Inspired Minds” is an “amazing opportunity” for students to demonstrate they are serious artists while also obtaining a valuable credit for their resumes. Hart hopes SOPAC continues providing this opportunity for years to come, adding that she wishes it existed when she was in high school.

Having been to previous “Inspired Minds” exhibitions, Hart is looking forward to seeing what work will be featured in this year’s show. She said all art lovers should check out the exhibition, as well.

“When you go, you are in such awe of what a high school student can do,” said Hart, whose student Adriana Nunez will be featured in the show. “You’re going down these halls saying, ‘A 15-year-old did this? A 16-year-old did this? This could be in a New York museum!’ So I greatly encourage people to come out and look and support and buy. You’re truly missing out on a great thing if you don’t see it.”

Participating in “Inspired Minds” are: from Cicely Tyson High School in East Orange, juniors Eve Muhammad and Samah Yagoub; from Columbia High School in Maplewood, junior Maya Ferrandiz, and seniors Lily Sickles and Leonel Soares; from East Orange Campus High School, senior Adriana Nunez; from East Orange STEM Academy in South Orange, sophomore Alexandra Williams; from Lacordaire Academy in Montclair, sophomore Arinthia Arthurs; from Livingston High School, freshman Anna White, sophomores Angela Wei, Karen Hu, Jake Hyman and Alissa Kalyan, juniors Ashley Raz, Breena Rettig, Jacqueline Ruttner, Aryan Tawde, Elyssa Langberg, Brian Leechow, Rachel Leibel, Jayne Levine, Melinda Fern, Maria Gronowska and Parmeda Abdollahnejad, and seniors Keisha Albelda, Omar Barakat, Brandon Dorflaufer, Anson Duong, Elizabeth Kim, Anna Levy, Hannah Oliveira, Yu Wang and Tzu Wong; from Millburn High School, sophomores Isabelle Goldfarb, Joanne Kim and Betty Zheng, juniors Maya Gangan, Amisha Kalra, Maggie Ma, Amy Madrawski, Tina Tarighian and Chloe Xiang, and seniors Anna Williams and Jae Lee; from Montclair High School, sophomore Cameron Smith; from Nutley High School, junior Aaliyah Vega and senior Barbara Benda; from Orange High School, junior Erica Francois; from Seton Hall Preparatory School, senior Yongjia Hou; and from West Orange High School, senior David Fernandez.

For more information, visit https://www.sopacnow.org/education/inspired-minds/, or contact Linda Beard at 973-382-1035 or lindab@sopacnow.org.

Photos Courtesy of SOPAC