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Behind the Canvas: An Inside Look at the APH InSights Art Competition
Since 1992, APH has hosted the annual InSights Art Competition, an international art contest open to artists of all ages who are blind and visually impaired. We spoke with Robert Guillen, Special Programs Coordinator, about his role in managing this annual event.
A member of the APH family since 2013, Rob oversees four APH programs: the InSights Art Program, the Factory and Museum Tours Program, the Typhlo and Tactus Competition, and the APH Gift Shop. “I have worked with InSights Art for eight years,” said Rob, “starting as the assistant in charge of shipping and receiving the art and data entry. I also worked every year at the annual exhibit and banquet. In 2016, I assumed responsibility for running the whole program.” His degrees in art history and anthropology and his passion for art have aided Rob in this position. He is supported by the Special Programs Assistant, Meg Outland, who unpacks and catalogs all the artwork that APH receives. She also helps by communicating with artists and teachers and preparing digital files of the artwork for a virtual judging process.
About the Program
“The purpose of the program is to promote the independence of people who are blind and visually impaired by encouraging them to create original works of art,” said Rob. “Many artists have started a successful art career during our program. We are also the oldest, continuous running program of its kind in the United States.”
Entering the Competition
Anyone who has created a work of art can enter the competition, which is broken down into six categories based on grade level for students and three categories based on artistic medium (2-Dimensional, Sculpture, and Craft) for adult artists. The contest is open for submissions fall through spring. The 2021 InSights Art submission deadline is April 16, 2021. Artists can submit up to five digital photos of their pieces with their entry form. Documents should be sent to email@example.com, or to Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org. Artists can also mail their artwork to APH. Interested in participating? Download an entry form here.
The Judging Process
The InSights Art Competition receives anywhere from 350 to 500 pieces per year, with as many as 100 pieces submitted in some categories. A jury of art professionals, such as gallery curators, collections managers, museum administrators, art teachers, and working artists, select and rank pieces in each of the nine categories.
Due to COVID-19, the judging process is entirely virtual this year, which means that all the artwork submitted will be shared with the judges in a digital format so they can select them remotely. Rob said, “We’ll send the jurors a list of all the artwork and a link to a Flickr account where all the digital images have been uploaded. Then, they will select their favorite pieces in each category and rank them. When I get the results of the jury selections, I’ll crunch some numbers, and from those calculations, we will determine the first, second, and third place winners in each category. Any artwork that receives a good number of votes but was not in the top 3 of their category receives an Honorable Mention.”
Next Stop, Annual Meeting
Winners are invited to attend Annual Meeting in October, where they receive ribbons for their artwork and monetary prizes at an Awards Banquet. All the winning artwork is displayed at the conference in an exhibit open to the public.
Before Annual Meeting, Rob creates the exhibit. This involves matting and framing artwork, professionally photographing each piece, producing large-type and braille labels, and deciding if any pieces, like sculpture or craft, need special exhibit equipment, such as pedestals or particular lighting. APH also hires preparators to set everything up at the conference hotel, a task that takes a whole day.
At Annual Meeting, attendees can peruse the exhibit and purchase artwork, priced by the artist or their family. Sales information is available on both the large-type label and the braille label of the pieces. If it’s not for sale, that’s indicated, too. After artwork is sold, a red dot is placed over the price on the label, a common symbol in the art world that indicates that the piece has been sold.
“One of my favorite pieces, which I bought way back in 2014, was a small embossing on foil, titled, “The Shore and the Sun,” by Shaniyah Scott, who was an eighth grade student at the Overbrook School for the Blind,” Rob said. “It’s a peaceful landscape image, with the half-disc of the sun rising from the ocean, the silhouettes of faraway birds floating in the sky, over pink seashells on a pebbled shore. The artist hand-tinted the foil, and though it’s a little faded now, you can still see a bit of the warm yellow sun. It’s on my shelf at home, and it’s a little bit like looking at a faded photograph of a favorite place.”
At the Awards Banquet, each artist goes on stage to receive their ribbon while Rob describes their artwork. Rob said, “I really enjoy describing the artwork because the experience of art is not just visual. It’s visceral, and using lush words when describing a piece helps everyone to experience the artwork in a deeper way. Being a creative writer, that process is meaningful for me as well.”
The InSights Art Calendar
Every year, APH releases the InSights Art Calendar, a large print and braille wall calendar that features the work of artists from the competition. Rob said, “We select 12 images to use as the artwork for the months of the year, and the selections are usually tied in with the holidays, seasons, or activities of the month. For June, we may choose an image with sunshine or leisure, but this is not a hard and fast rule. We carefully consider which images would work in a calendar, and any artwork can appear in any month.” The artists chosen for the calendar receive at least 5 copies after it goes on sale. Due to the fact that the APH factory works about two years ahead when producing the calendar, the finished, embossed calendars appear on the APH shopping site about two years after the competition is over.
Learn more about the competition and download an entry form at insights-art.org.
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