“Durham’s Finest” exhibit puts public school art on display

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“One of the most amazing things in the world is to see a kid’s face light up when he sees his work,” says N.C. Central University Art Museum director Kenneth Rodgers. “But equal to children’s responses is the parents’ responses; I think they probably light up at least as much — or maybe even more so — than their kids.”

According to Rodgers, about 450 visitors packed the museum for the opening of the annual “Durham’s Finest” exhibit on Sunday, Jan. 7. The exhibit displays the artwork of 200 K-12 students across 35 different Durham County public schools. The event has been held at NCCU for nearly 50 years.

Despite having many more pieces and visitors to manage than usual, the selection and exhibition premiere is a streamlined process. Teachers from each school made selections on which pieces would be submitted and from there they were screened by the NCCU Art Museum. Separate times were designated for each school level to be showcased, going from middle to high and back down to elementary school students. This allowed each group to flow throughout the space much easier.

“What we’ve attempted to do is identify talented students who have an interest in art,” says Rodgers, who also teaches in NCCU’s art department. “We like to think that we too have used this exhibit as kind of an introduction for many of the students to North Carolina Central University with the hope — the idea — that they might consider matriculating here.”

Rodgers served as the anonymous judge for the exhibit and ranked the top three pieces in each school level. Rodgers emphasized that the awards are simply for recognition purposes with no monetary prize given. He said he wanted every student to walk away with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that their work would be viewed by so many people.

When describing his process of choosing winners, he used the first place-winning sketch “Still Life in Charcoal” by Daniel Mills of Jordan High School as an example. Rodgers said he admired the vast amount of detail in the piece and, by using many different textures, Mills was able to take the simple objects in the frame and turn them into captivating art.

The “Durham’s Finest” exhibit is open for public viewing until Saturday, Jan. 27.

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