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Youth artists on show: Gallery500 hosts third-annual student exhibition

It’s not every day students get a chance to showcase their art in a professional gallery.

For 30 Volusia County students, that opportunity came via One Daytona’s Gallery500’s third-annual student exhibition, held in conjunction with Volusia County Schools Visual Arts Program. The exhibition has tripled in size since its inception, and serves as a precursor to one of the most significant art fundraisers in the community: the One Daytona Art Festival. Last year’s inaugural festival drew over 90 artists and donated $15,000 to the VCS Visual Arts Program, as well as $5,000 to ArtHaus, a Port Orange-based art nonprofit.

Gallery500 Director Amber O’Neal said gallery owner Lesa Kennedy’s goal in opening Gallery500 was to provide a space to showcase and promote local art. Kennedy is also the NASCAR executive vice chair.

“She’s always wanted to support the young artists, and so with this exhibition, in conjunction to the art festival that we cohost every year, we are able to financially help support the Volusia County Schools Visual Arts program,” O’Neal said. “We’re excited to be a part and to see how it’s grown over the years.”

Kennedy — along with Ormond Beach artist Toni Slick and Kristin Heron, curator of education, outreach and exhibition for the Ormond Memorial Art Museum Museum — were among the committee of judges for the show.

Each student is picked to participate by O’Neal and VCS Visual Arts Coordinator Bryce Hammond, who look through all the entries submitted by local art teachers. One of the things O’Neal said she looks for is the meaning behind the pieces, explained in the student’s statements.

Emily (Marco) Larsen, a University High School senior, won “Best in Show” for her sculpture “Stop Saying the Band-Aid Helps” during the opening reception, held Friday, Sept. 17. In her student statement, she wrote that the piece was “a statement about the anger someone can feel when they’re hurt and torn apart, but the people around them choose to ignore them, or placate them, or offer a band-aid for your stab wound.” 

In a video interview provided to the Observer, Seabreeze art teacher and department chair Christine Colby said that the exhibition is a great way for students to see what competitions can be like at a district level, as well as see the talent beyond their respective high school. Students are often surprised when they get chosen for the exhibition. 

“It makes them feel significant, and I see like a little pep in their step when they receive the news,” she said.

Being chosen for the show gives the student validation for their hard work, said Hammond. Many of them are motivated to graduate high school because of their love of art and wish to pursue it as a career. VCS holds 23 other community student art shows but none like the exhibition at Gallery500.

“It’s unique because it’s a professional gallery with international artists that show in it, and it’s a commercial gallery as well, so it gives the kids a taste of what it’s like to show professionally,” Hammond said.

The donations from the art festival, as well as the $500 cash prize the teacher receives if their student wins “Best in Show,” go a long way to providing students with materials in the classroom, as well as serve to replace machinery. It helps local art programs thrive, O’Neal explained.

“A lot of these students have difficulties expressing themselves verbally because they have more of an artistic mind and they express themselves visually, through their art,” O’Neal said. “So to be able to have an outlet to express themselves, to communicate who they are, to overcome any trials and tribulations and be able to create all these amazing pieces, I think, is so influential to their future and world.”

The student exhibition will be on display through Friday, Oct. 15. Some student art may be available for purchase. Gallery500 is located at 1870 Victory Circle and it is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 12-6 p.m. on Sundays.