Leader of young artist program sees a statewide appeal

Fifty-three students from east metro schools participated in the 2024 Emerging Young Artists program, designed to spark art careers in the minds of young people. But it is Dawne Brown White’s dream to spread the program’s reach across the state.

“Our goal in the future is to find a concerned group of citizens, to say, ‘Hey, why not Hopkins? Or Marshall? Move on to other cities in all regions of the state,” said the executive director of COMPAS, a St. Paul-based arts non-profit that has run the program for three years. “We would love to replicate this and have gallery showings in, say, eight cities with one site showing the best in the state.”

Now in its 50th year, COMPAS has worked with more than 3 million Minnesotans of all ages to create poems, stories, drawings, and songs. “During our 50th-anniversary year, we extend a heartfelt invitation to all Minnesotans to join us in celebrating and exploring how creativity shapes and enriches our world,” Brown White said.

Expanding statewide is a big dream, she acknowledged. But no bigger than what COMPAS’s resident artists and show judges ask their young protégés to imagine — pursuing a life in design, photography, sculpture or painting.

For now, the Emerging Young Artists program has been solely an east metro affair. It’s the descendant of the Les Farrington Best 100 Juried Art Exhibition, put on by the St. Paul Jaycees from 1957 until 2019. When the Jaycees ceased operations in 2020, officials there approached COMPAS to continue something similar. After all, Brown White said, COMPAS has been hosting school residencies focusing on writing for 50 years.

“When the Jaycees approached, it made total sense — just with visual arts. We saw it as a way to extend the COMPAS mission, which is in our DNA,” she said. The program now focuses on reinforcing the arts for middle and high school students. The Emerging Young Artists program is funded with a STAR grant through the City of St. Paul, as well as money from the St. Paul Foundation and the St. Paul Jaycees Charitable Foundation, which continues.

“It’s gratifying that COMPAS has taken this on,” said Lisa Hiebert, a trustee with the Jaycees foundation. “We wanted to reinforce that art can be a career.”

The program does that through art residencies, often for five or 10 days at participating schools, where students learn from professional artists. At the end is a juried show, judged by artists, where students display their work — complete with a statement explaining the motivation of their piece.

Echo Columb, 17, is a student at Avalon School in St. Paul. Her submission was a full-size nude drawing of a female, using charcoal to create the figure on a canvas of multiple pieces of paper, glued together. Columb, who said she is looking at art schools across the country to continue her education and dreams of someday owning a gallery, likes the texture of her piece.

“It has this kind of fuzzy texture to it,” she said. “It adds this extra layer of feeling.”

Clover Ward, 17, is another Avalon student with her sights set on an artist’s life. She wants to become a fashion designer, she said. She created a dress, made of muslin, with pleats.

“It was really exciting, but also kind of scary,” Ward said. “I’d never done something like that. It kind of pushed me. It was the only textile there.”

Their teacher, Mickey Jurewicz, had four students involved in the program. The positive feeling her students received from the judges, and then having their work displayed at St. Paul’s Landmark Center, is affirming. Participants’ art will be on display there through April 28.

“It was such a blast last night. They were so happy. All the smiles,” Jurewicz said of the show that took place a couple weeks ago. “All the joy was just huge and wonderful to see.”

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