The Youth Banner Initiative encourages development in the visual arts and offers an opportunity for students in grades 6 to 12 to be part of Arlington’s public art programming. Funding is provided by the Gracie James Foundation in memory of Gracie James
, a talented Arlington High School student who found solace and joy in the arts. Each year since 2016, teens living or attending school in Arlington have been invited to submit designs for banners. The Youth Banner Initiative is a collaboration between the Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, a town committee of citizen volunteers which serves as the umbrella organization for town-related arts and culture activities.
The theme unanimously chosen by teachers and staff for the Youth Banner Initiative 2021 was PROTEST: LIFTING VOICES. APS students this year stepped up to design strong images about social, environmental, and economic justice, protection of our earth and its creatures, peace, and love. The artwork from this year’s students demonstrates the issues that matter most to our students, and to many in the community. These banners serve as a reminder that our youth are watching us, reading, absorbing, and thinking about their lives and the world that they will inherit. They also want their voices to be heard now. We celebrate them for wanting and needing to do that.
The art teachers and organizers of the Youth Banner Initiative gave the students freedom to create images based on the theme of protest and lifting their voices. Students crafted their submissions, in most cases, as part of their art class participation. Designs were submitted to the competition during the fall and were juried by three Arlington-based arts professionals, Laurie Bogdan, Molly Scannell, and Rob Davidson.
The jurors of the Youth Banner project all agreed that the work was visually strong. These images express the students’ feelings and concerns and do not necessarily represent the Town, the Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture, or the Arlington Public Schools.
It is important to understand that the images that students created and that were ultimately chosen by the judges to become public banners this year reflect our student artists’ commentary on national and international events that they witness in the news and in public discourse almost every day. These images were not intended to criticize individuals or organizations in the Town of Arlington. We value and respect the important roles that the Arlington Police Department and all first responders serve in our community, and do not believe that anything in the intent or content of the Youth Banner Initiative suggests otherwise.
We understand that citizens have questions about the process by which these banners became part of the civic space, displayed on light poles in the center of town, and will be addressing those questions in further statements in the coming days.
We are enormously proud of our creative students who are willing to lift their “voices” and who use visual art to express the things that are most important to them. And we are equally proud of the art teachers who understand that art is a vehicle for this kind of self-expression and who encourage their students to raise their strong young voices to do just that. Visual art education can and should be a path toward social inquiry, dialogue, and honest commentary.