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DIA tradition of exhibiting Detroit district student art goes virtual following coronavirus closings

Madison Manning’s painting “Ziggity Boom” is one of more than 200 student pieces featured in the DIA’s virtual student exhibition.
Courtesy of Madison Manning

Denby High School senior Madison Manning’s painting “Ziggity Boom” is an eclectic mash-up of bright colors and bold lines. As one of more than 200 art pieces featured in the Detroit school district’s virtual art exhibition, Madison’s painting reflects a love of art that was inspired by her great-grandmother.

Madison’s great-grandmother encouraged her to share her artwork publicly.

“She really inspired me, and she still does to this day,” Madison said. “People in my life really cheered me on and told me, ‘One day you can be great.’”

Some district students had worried they wouldn’t be able to show off their art publicly this year. The Detroit Institute of Arts shut its doors in March shortly after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order to close K-12 schools to curb the spread of the coronavirus. In the past, people could go see the student work at the museum.

But instead, the Detroit district launched its first virtual art exhibition Monday, a showcase of student work and part of an 83-year partnership with the DIA, the city’s largest art museum.

Despite the school closures, it was important to keep this artistic tradition alive, said Andrew McGuire, the district’s assistant director of fine and performing arts who helped organize the event. Featuring painting, photography, jewelry, sculpture, and digital artworks, the exhibition is one of the premier opportunities for district students to showcase their work in the nationally recognized DIA.

Now people can view the exhibit online, broadening the exhibition’s visibility outside of Detroit.

“We’re still creating and putting forward an exhibition that honors voice and is still as authentic as an experience as we could possibly give,” McGuire said.

Continuing the exhibition is consistent with the district’s broader efforts to foster arts education. District superintendent Nikolai Vitti restored arts enrichment in the district after years of emergency management reduced such programming. Earlier this year, the district announced an extensive arts partnership with local agencies to immerse middle school student artists in conservatory-style training.

More schools and more students submitted artwork for consideration this year than last, McGuire said. Sixty-three schools are represented in this year’s exhibition. A panel of school staff and community artists reviewed close to 900 student submissions.

Madison’s art is a labor of joy.

Her teacher pushed her to experiment with new artistic styles. It took Madison just a few weeks to complete “Ziggity Boom,” a painting full of whimsical, flower-like shapes. She devoted a few hours each day toward finishing her project. And she doesn’t overthink the subject matter. On any day, she’ll start creating based on whatever comes to her mind or whatever brings her happiness.

Madison hopes to become a tattoo artist one day and give people beautiful tattoos that will stay with them for life.

“I want to make people happy,” she said.

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