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Art Scholarships Pave Path for a 'Whole Other Life'

By Casey Cora | February 10, 2015 1:09pm
 Guests check out the work of hundreds of art works submitted by high school students at the Illinois High School Art Exhibit.
Guests check out the work of hundreds of art works submitted by high school students at the Illinois High School Art Exhibit.
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BRIDGEPORT — College scholarships aren't just for jocks and geniuses.

That's the premise for the Illinois High School Art Exhibit, scheduled for March 1 at the Zhou B Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St.

Event co-founder John Zilewicz said college scouts typically travel across the country to evaluate on-field sports talent, sometimes even as early as grade school, "but there's nothing for talented artists."

So Zilewicz and friend Christopher Sykora got to work, hitting up city art galleries and high schools armed with the idea that corralling promising artists in one place would be beneficial, both for the students and for the colleges looking to recruit them.

"We will bring them all to you instead of asking them to go out and find you," he said. 

They found a willing host in the Bridgeport's Zhou B Art Center, where Zilewicz had some some mutual pals. 

"When they heard the plan, it was like that perfect synergy, man. We just just started partnering up to see how we could do it together," said Zilewicz, 41, an art teacher at Niles West High School. 

Now in its second year, the event has drawn submissions from about 500 city and suburban art students from about 100 high schools in the city and suburbs. 

Organizers expect recruiters from about 40 colleges to attend the March 1 event, where select underclassmen will be awarded tuition breaks at summer intensive studies programs at various colleges. 

Organizers say 94 of the 142 students who participated in last year's senior portfolio competition — where students upload their works to be judged in an online gallery — received scholarship offers.

The number is expected to grow this year, with more than 230 seniors participating.

Last year, schools awarded nearly $5 million in scholarships from from colleges across the nation, including San Francisco Art Institute, The Museum School of Fine Arts, Boston, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and Indiana University. 

Zilewicz said the results of the program have been eye-opening for students, who get a glimpse of artists studios at at the gallery. 

"Even if they're not going to be an art major or art minor, they're seeing that art is a life skill and they could still have a studio outside of their home and work and they can have this whole other life," he said.

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