Six Bob Jones University students entered paintings, photographs and other kinds of artwork in the Spartanburg County Public Libraries’ Ninth Annual Collegiate Invitational Art Exhibition this year, each hoping to win one of 13 cash prizes.
On April 23, the Headquarters Library on South Church Street will hold a virtual award presentation to celebrate the competition’s winners. Normally, the library hosts an in-person reception, but because of COVID-19, the reception had to be canceled. Visitors to the library can view the display from March 24 through May 7.
Emma Hartman, a faculty member in the Division of Art + Design, organized the student submissions for the event. “Having the confidence of participating can be a springboard for your career,” she said. “It can also [lead to] the thought that ‘I can do this. I can actually make a full career out of [art].’”
Hartman has this perspective because she participated in the Second Annual Collegiate Invitational Art Exhibition when she was a senior at BJU and won an award.
“[The exhibition] was great because I was considering graduate school and having an actual award on my resume was helpful for getting into the school I wanted to, the Savannah College of Art and Design,” she said. “It was the first time somebody who didn’t know me wrote about my artwork, and that’s something I still think about as being a turning point for me. My work could speak to other people.”
In the past, Hartman has seen Bob Jones University students grow in their skills through participating in this exhibition. Claire Daniels, a BJU alumna who won an award at this exhibition in the past, is now a career artist. Participating in exhibitions helps to build an artist’s curriculum vitae, a list of qualifications and experience necessary for graduate school applications and academic work.
Andrew Pledger, a junior visual studies major, hopes entering this competition will help his future career. “It’s a great first step in getting my art out there,” he said. “One day, I want to make work I can send to galleries around the world and also make an impact on people who see my art. I’ve found out as I’ve been in the photography program here that I really love making things that make people reflect on their own lives and their own choices.”
Although Pledger said he would spend the prize money on tuition if he won, he is also satisfied to participate in the event without winning anything because this project holds special significance for him beyond professional development. “I was diagnosed with depression back in July,” he said. “My doctor thought art therapy would help me some, so I started creating. Making art helps you understand what you’re going through.”
Pledger said he uses photography as a medium of creative self-expression that helps relieve the effects of his struggles. This exhibition is the first time Pledger has had the confidence in his photography skills to enter a competition. Pledger’s submission, a photograph titled “Calm in the Chaos,” depicts a girl with her eyes closed surrounded by a dark haze. “I created it because I know . . . when we go through something and there’s all this chaos going around, we try to stay as calm as we can, even when everything is falling apart,” he said.
Miranda Sawyer, the art coordinator for the Spartanburg County Public Libraries, had the idea for a collegiate art show in one of the county libraries about 10 years ago. “I noticed how beautiful the location was and how little possibilities there were for people to exhibit art in Spartanburg,” Sawyer said. “I approached the county librarian, Todd Stephens, and asked him if he would be interested in doing an exhibition, and he said that he would.”
Sawyer hoped the exhibition would help aspiring artists. “I wanted to give students an opportunity to exhibit their work,” she said. “I am an artist myself, and I just wanted to have a safe, supportive environment for students to be able to do that.”
Sawyer looks forward to this event each year. “I love it,” Sawyer said. “It’s a very strong show every year. I’ve never once been disappointed.” Library guests and staff often tell her how much they appreciate the artwork, and some patrons have even bought pieces in the past. In the future, Sawyer wants to improve the exhibition area in the library to better showcase student art.
This year, students from 11 colleges and universities are participating in the event.