Education

Talented teen artists find community at the University of Iowa

Inaugural 3-week program for young writers and artists ends this week

Emily Harkin, 15, (left) of Des Moines, Giselle Cruz, 17, of Houston and Lee Tomlinson, 15, of New York City work Thursday on sculpture projects during the University of Iowa’s Summer Art and Writing Residency. This is the inaugural year for the new, longer three week residency program. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Emily Harkin, 15, (left) of Des Moines, Giselle Cruz, 17, of Houston and Lee Tomlinson, 15, of New York City work Thursday on sculpture projects during the University of Iowa’s Summer Art and Writing Residency. This is the inaugural year for the new, longer three week residency program. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — At a seminar on the University of Iowa campus, fantasy author Sarah Prineas gave about 40 young authors some advice.

“Make sure you have a peer group of writers that you can trust around you,” Prineas, who wrote “The Magic Thief” fantasy series, told the teenagers. “Who can critique your work and be truthful about it.”

The students listening were some of more than 60 participants of the Belin-Blank Center’s inaugural Summer Art Residency program, which has been held on the UI campus over the past three weeks, and wraps Thursday.

While students in the program have worked with professional artists and writers in university facilities, Jan Warren — who developed the residency — is proud it also connected the budding artists to each other.

“One of the things we know about gifted students, in general, is they often feel isolated,” said Warren, the assistant director for student services for the Belin-Blank Center. “They don’t always feel like there are other students who understand them, or understand why they love what they love to do.”

Students in the residency’s inaugural class — who all have been praised for their poetry, short stories, paintings and other artwork — said that sense of isolation has fallen away.

“When we talk about who our favorite poets are, everyone knows who we’re talking about,” said Lara Katz, a 16-year-old poet from Connecticut. “We can have these little conversations that don’t happen anywhere else.”

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Students focusing on art have likewise found their tribe, said Caylee Fuqua, a 17-year-old from Ames.

“We’re not feeling pressured,” Fuqua said, as she practiced printmaking in the university’s Visual Arts Building. “We’re just getting to do some experimenting.”

Most students in the residency have won a Scholastic Art and Writing Award — putting them in the company of young Sylvia Plath, Andy Warhol and Robert Redford.

As such, the new residency — which has a total cost of about $4,000 per student — is a valuable opportunity for the UI as well as the young artists, said Dave Gould, an administrator of the Belin-Blank Center.

“We have the opportunity of touching the next generation of artists, and I find that really exciting,” Gould said. “You can already see their voices beginning to be developed.”

Being around other teenagers who care about his interests has been affirming, said Femi Fleming, 17.

“It’s amazing being around so many other artists,” said Fleming, a photographer from New York. “We all have different creative ways of thinking, but you’re in a community at the same time. You can share ideas.”

He and his peers have lived, eaten and studied together during their three-week stays in Iowa. The students, all rising high school sophomores, juniors or seniors, come from more than 20 different states.

Connecting as teens likely will be an advantage as they go on to their careers, said residency instructor and professional painter Jamie Boling.

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“For any artist, to be able to have that early on, it gives them an edge when it comes to college,” Boling said. “That feedback and encouragement and validation is fuel.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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