A photo of a female high school student painting in art class.

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Arts education has long been proven to have several key benefits, most notably the way it aids in emotional and cognitive development. But did you know arts education can also improve high school graduation rates? According to a 2011 study conducted by the New Directions for Youth Development, “Out-of-school programs, especially arts-based programs, can be critical players in a community’s efforts to prevent school dropout.”

While many schools and out-of-school programs focus on art at the community level, the Congressional Institute has sponsored a nationwide contest called the Congressional Art Competition. Launched in 1982, the competition promotes creativity by encouraging high school students to submit their best works to their congressional districts.

Also known as the Artistic Discovery Competition, this contest has seen more than 650,000 students in high school enter the contest. To participate, students are asked to contact their congressional representative’s office for submission guidelines and rules. Groups of district artists will choose the winning entries, which are also awarded annually at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Artists who win the competition will not only walk away with a possible cash prize from their congressional district, but also the opportunity to have their artwork displayed for a year at the U.S. Capitol.

Accepted artwork mediums include oil, acrylic, and watercolor paintings; pencil, colored pencil, marker, and pastel drawings; two-dimensional collages; silkscreen and block prints; digital art; photographs; and mixed-media pieces.

Many winners of the 2017 competition chose to enter the contest with pencil and colored-pencil drawings. “A Child’s Dream” by Isabelle Isom, for example, featured a drawing of a girl and her cat looking through a window. “Max in the Jungle” by Kaitlyn Roark featured a colored-pencil drawing of a dog laying in leaves.

At a time when arts programs are getting cut due to budgetary constraints, the importance of contests such as the Congressional Art Competition cannot be stressed enough, as they incentivize teens to creatively express themselves.