By Dave Fidlin
Annual Museum of Photographic Arts exhibit gives youth opportunity to showcase talents
With themes ranging from civic engagement to cultural identity, San Diego youth have had an opportunity to document images, through their camera lens, as part of a nearly decade-long exhibition program.
Early this month, organizers with the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) took the wraps off their ninth annual youth exhibition. This year’s theme is, “We Are Family.” When the call for submissions was made, students put their creative prowess to work and captured an array of images that promoted togetherness and unity.
“We strive to make the themes for the exhibitions accessible to young people,” said Joaquin Ortiz, MOPA’s director of education and innovation. “[We] give them a way to creatively share their perspectives.”
This year, a jury panel selected more than 80 lens-based artwork submissions from students across the county of San Diego. Panelists included MOPA Executive Director Deborah Klochko, local photography and filmmaker Jo Kamimura, teaching artist Sarah Reece-Cusey and Grossmont College professor Suda House.
Since the youth exhibition began in 2005, MOPA has sought submissions from students across the full spectrum of grades — from kindergarteners to high school seniors.
While the bulk of submissions are from students within the San Diego Unified School District, MOPA accepts work from students in all public, charter and private schools across the county, as well as those who are homeschooled.
Ortiz said MOPA’s youth exhibition was borne out of a desire to give San Diego’s budding artists a proper platform to showcase their work.
“[It] was inspired by a desire to highlight the unique and valuable perspectives of young people,” Ortiz said. “Each year, the [MOPA] education department has worked to make the program bigger, better and more meaningful to the students of San Diego.”
By Ortiz’s estimation, the youth programs within MOPA have inspired similar initiatives at other museums within Balboa Park.
Since its inception, MOPA’s youth exhibit has evolved in a number of ways. Recently, the organization began showcasing students’ works at a series of satellite locations throughout the San Diego area. This year, two mini exhibits are taking place — one at the North Park Library and another at Chula Vista Public Library’s Civic Center branch.
Sophia Sobko, teen and youth programs manager with MOPA, said the satellite spots are an opportunity to share local students’ talents with an even larger audience.
“Because the students come from all over San Diego, it makes sense for their work to be shown throughout the city,” Sobko said. “People who don’t normally access [the museum] can appreciate and benefit from the artwork right in their neighborhoods.”
Additionally, Sobko said the partnerships have provided an opportunity to showcase a greater number of students’ lens-based artwork because of limited museum gallery space.
This year’s satellite exhibitions will open by early November and run through the duration of MOPA’s Balboa Park exhibition, which ends Feb. 1.
With the ninth exhibition up and running, MOPA organizers are already planning next year’s decade celebration.
“For the 10th anniversary show, the theme will be ‘self-portrait,’” Ortiz said. “We are working on ideas for the following years, including animal photography and Latin America.”
In a first-ever twist, MOPA will cross the border next year and seek submissions from K-12 students living in Tijuana.
While refinements and enhancements have taken place over the years, MOPA organizers are quick to point out the general goal of the youth exhibition has remained the same since 2005.
“We hope audiences recognize the incredible insight and creativity of young people,” Sobko said. “We hope they are also encouraged to go create and realize it is never too late to make art.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Museum of Photographic Arts
WHAT: We Are Family: 9th annual Youth Exhibition
WHEN: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday; exhibition runs through Feb. 1
WHERE: Main Exhibit at MOPA facility at Balboa Park, 1649 El Prado; and a satellite exhibit is at North Park Library, 3795 31st St.
INFO: mopa.org or 619-238-7559