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LaVilla School for the Arts student Elizabeth Sturgeon takes top prize in international visual arts competition

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The auditorium was packed and when the kids weren’t looking around at each other, their attention was aimed toward the stage. They’d gathered to celebrate one of their own, so some of the chatter was as much excitement as it was middle school restlessness.

On Thursday, April 6 the assembled students and faculty of LaVilla School for the Arts were here to celebrate the school’s three Junior Division finalists for The ArtEffect Project. Hosted by the Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes, an international art competition for students in grades 6-12, which tasked them with creating a depiction of their personal unsung hero. Unsung Heroes finalists Preston Humphrey, Kaia Goodrich and Elizabeth Sturgeon stood onstage next to Principal Lianna Knight, looking as pleased and nervous as any middle schooler would.

Knight announced their accomplishments in achieving finalist status and the crowd applauded, some shouting congratulations from the bleachers.

“But I have one other announcement to make,” said Knight.

Knight then revealed that seventh-grader Elizabeth Sturgeon had, in fact, out of 430 international entries, won first place for the worldwide Junior Division. Sturgeon seemed visibly shocked as the kids in the bleacher rose in a standing ovation. Finding herself holding an oversized $1,000 check of prize money, flashbulbs popping, Sturgeon smiled sheepishly, clearly caught of guard by this moment of spontaneous international art celebrity. Sturgeon’s art teacher Cheryl Lunger was all smiles, her camera clicking away as she walked in front of the stage, looking for different vantage points to capture the moment.

Contest winners were judged by a panel of notable art experts, as well as representatives from the Getty Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Art Center College of Design. Sturgeon’s winning piece is an acrylic painting of early-to-mid 20th century photographer Dorothea Lange, who chronicled the plight of migrant workers during the Great Depression and also uncovered injustices in Japanese-American internment camps. Along with the other international winners, Sturgeon’s painting will now be displayed at LMC’s Hall of Unsung Heroes, as well as online.

Moments after the announcement, Folio Weekly corralled a still visibly shocked yet beaming Sturgeon for a brief Q&A to ask her about this heavy duty win and her views on being an artist.
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Folio Weekly: So, how do you feel about winning this prize?
Elizabeth Sturgeon: Surprised.

You didn’t feel like you were in the running?
Well, if you saw the other artists’ paintings, I thought that theirs were really good.

Yours is really good. [Folio Weekly editor] Claire and I were really impressed by your painting.
Thanks! 

What are you going to do with that money?
I’ll give 10 percent to my teacher and save the rest for art.

Good answer! When I was 13, I would’ve spent that money before I’d left the school. So why did you choose to make Dorothea Lange the subject of your painting? 
I feel like she related to art and art is a big part of my life, too—so I wanted to reflect that.

How long did it take to paint?
About a month or so. Each class is about an hour-and-thirty minutes, so multiply that by a month (laughs).

Was it a difficult piece to paint?
(Laughs). Yeah! A little bit. Painting her face was the biggest obstacle. 

What kind of subject matter do you like to paint? 
Landscapes.

What do you like most about being an artist?
My ability to express feelings through painting; when people see it, they know what I’m feeling. It can be hard to talk about it (laughs).

I agree! That’s half the reason I interview artists. It’s fascinating just trying to talk about this stuff. So would you like to be an artist when you grow up?
(Without hesitation) Absolutely. I want to paint.

In closing, do you have any words of advice for local up-and-coming artists?
Don’t compare yourself to other people because you need to be yourself to have your own style.

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