ABC News’ Anjuli Sastry and Jilian Fama report:
Freddie Lambright III didn’t expect the self-portrait he drew for his high school art class last year to be a prize winner, but the Congressional Art Competition thought differently and declared him a winner in its annual nationwide high school visual art competition.
Launched in 1982 as a way to recognize and encourage budding artistic talent in each congressional district, the 2013 Congressional Art Competition started accepting entries in March, and U.S. reps from each participating district will select the winners in April.
Lambright’s winning portrait shows him with rosary beads around his neck and a rainbow bracelet around his wrist.
“I decided to incorporate certain aspects that were important to me, like the rosary beads, which represent my Christian religion, and my rainbow bracelet, because I identify as gay,” Lambright told ABC News.
Lambright also painted a peeled orange — bare, if you will — as part of his portrait, saying it signified that nothing was blocking his ideas and that he could be open about himself.
Lambright, then a junior at the Oakland School of Arts, is from California’s 9th District, said the contest awakened his interest in art and convinced him to attend the Art Institute of Chicago next fall. An extra plus for winning was getting to meet his U.S. Rep., Barbara Lee.
“I always enjoyed drawing and knew I liked it,” he said. “This [competition] was a confirmation of my skill level and what I should do with it.”
Winners selected from each congressional district not only get an expense-paid trip to Washington but their artwork is showcased for a year in the Cannon Tunnel at the U.S. Capitol, said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., who co-chairs the competition with Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala.
An estimated 700,000 students have entered the competition since it began decades ago.
The art competition luckily managed to survive the ongoing sequester — the across-the-board federal budget cuts — because the Congressional Institute, a nonprofit D.C. organization founded in 1987, foots the bill, not the U.S. taxpayer.
Members of Congress hold the competition among constituents in their districts and decide how the winners are chosen — they can select the winners themselves or convene a panel to choose them.
Co-chairs Aderholt and Bonamici act as liaisons between their constituents and various House officials to produce the exhibit.
Bonamici said that while the competition recognized talent, it also worked to cultivate an interest in local and national politics.
“This art competition is really a great opportunity not only to recognize artistic involvement but to get [students] involved in Congress,” Bonamici told ABC News.
More than 400 members of Congress participated in the event last year, and the number is expected to increase in 2013, according to the Congressional Institute.
Though the artists are only in high school, their art is no joke, as evidenced by Lambright’s self-portrait.
In past years, the art has ranged from portraits of ethnic ancestors to ancient architectural scenes to still-life paintings.
Ultimately, the competition works to stir creativity and innovation in future students, said Bonamici.
“The value of this is to raise awareness about arts education,” Bonamici said. “When you look at the importance of creativity and building economy through new technologies, digital technology has taken off. [Art] prepares students for the 21st century economy.”
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