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The Willamette Valley Scholastic Art Awards Exhibition gives adults an appreciation for what teenagers can do as artists, says art teacher Catherine Johnstone.

"I think it comes through loud and clear that these kids really have a strong artistic voice and they want to communicate about themselves, their lives and what they are concerned about," Johnstone said.

The exhibition, which runs through March 19, is on view at Oregon State University's LaSells Stewart Center. The exhibit includes an awards ceremony and reception Saturday afternoon in the center's Austin Auditorium.

The exhibition provides aspiring young artists with the experience of displaying their works in a professional gallery setting.

"Many of them want to pursue a career in art after high school, and it kind of gives them a leg up," Johnstone said.

She said, "It's also important that we get parents there to see the artwork they've done, because often it doesn't get highlighted as much as it should."

Johnstone, who is Willamette Valley regional representative for the Oregon Scholastic Art Awards, said 2,724 students from around Oregon entered 7,693 individual works this year.

The Willamette Valley region had 105 Gold Key Award winners, who met the three criteria of craftsmanship, originality and personal vision. Of the 105, three high school seniors were allowed to submit an art portfolio with up to eight pieces of their work.

The exhibition has grown to include seven counties this year, Johnstone said, though not every school in the region submits entries.

"We basically go with schools that do submit. This year there are probably 25, maybe 30 schools total," she said.

The students, seventh grade through high school, were awarded Gold Keys in these categories: drawing and illustrations, painting, ceramics and sculpture, photography, mixed media, and digital work.

"There is a lot of photography this year," Johnstone said.

"We have a video that received a Golden Key. It will be displayed running on a screen," she said.

Johnstone, who is an art teacher at Woodburn Arts & Communications Academy, coordinates the exhibition with Babette Grunwald and Casi Brown, West Albany High School art teachers, and Anna Fidler, OSU art instructor and JumpstART Coordinator.

The artwork is judged in Portland and the Gold Key, Silver Key Award winners and honorable mentions were announced in January, Johnstone said.

The student artists will receive their Gold Key Awards and certificates at Saturday's ceremony and reception. The event will also include guest speakers and refreshments.

Gold Key winners have an opportunity to win gold or silver medals at the national competition in New York City. Winners will be announced Tuesday, March 13. Gold medal winners are invited to Carnegie Hall at the end of May to receive the awards.

"Last year, I think, we had five or six national winners," Johnstone said.

The organizers also invite two Portland art colleges, Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft to view the students' artwork. This way they can either offer scholarships to high school seniors or scholarships for their summer camps.

"OSU has been very generous to us. They have given us multiple scholarships for their JumpstART program in the summer," Johnstone said.

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