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Humans in Space Youth Art Competition at Space Center Houston

Local youth performed the international artwork of the Humans in Space Youth Art Competition at Space Center Houston (SCH) on Oct. 5 for SCH’s annual Home School Day event. The performance included a youth poetry reading, quintet and band performances of youth music compositions, visual and literary art slides and a dance choreographed to a youth music composition.

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The competition was originally associated with the International Academy of Astronautics’ 18th Humans in Space Symposium that took place April 11–15 in Houston, Texas. Experts from around the world gathered at the symposium to examine current human space exploration knowledge, plan future human space flight goals and discuss working together to create the next golden age of human space flight.

The competition’s purpose was to inspire

The symposium was hosted by NASA-JSC this year, and youth ages 10-17 worldwide were invited to submit their views on the “Future of Human Space Flight and Why it is Important?” for the Humans in Space Youth Art Competition (http://www.dsls.usra.edu/meetings/IAA/artContest/) through literary, visual, video and musical artwork, much of which was displayed at the symposium. The competition winners received a certificate of achievement and other prizes, and top winners were invited to attend the symposium and discuss their ideas directly with the adult attendees. Since the symposium, the artwork has been displayed and performed in multiple additional venues (NASA-JSC’s Teague Auditorium and Shuttle Program Celebration, “Summer of Innovation” at Space Center Houston, Universities Space Research Association Houston, Charles Bank Gallery New York, NASA-ARC Conference Center) allowing the youth messages of hope, international cooperation and enthusiasm for human exploration of space to continue to inspire people young and old.

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Jancy McPhee, Ph.D., is the Director of the Humans in Space Youth Art Competition at JSC. McPhee believes this type of event is the perfect opportunity to engage kids in the planning of the future, because it is their future as much as anyone else’s. In order to strongly capture the youngsters’ interest, McPhee came up with a strategic way to inspire them and to re-inspire the adult population in a deeply moving way as well.

“This is not only a good way to reach others and to promote youth science, technology, engineering, and math education,” McPhee said, “but since we are entering a new era of human space flight, it is also a really good way to see what the next generation is thinking.”

What better way to find out than through art. McPhee wanted to design the program as a kind of two-way street of communication and ongoing dialogue. She coined the phrase “Be inspired, be creative, be heard” to invite youth to participate.

“The unique thing about this project is that the youth messages are really listened to,” McPhee said. “Over 22 countries participated, submitting more than 550 entries. Seventy-one judges worldwide were required to evaluate the artwork and select winners. We got all kinds of spectacular art expressing youth ideas, like manga, digital paintings, poetry, short stories, interactive websites, claymation, legomation, and music videos, including a dramatically beautiful video from Turkey. We really got some very cool stuff.”

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Symposium concert leads to performance at SCH

After receiving the artwork, McPhee’s team created electronic display media and reproductions of the art on easels, which were set up as a youth art gallery at the April symposium. The top 10 invited winners then stood by their artwork in the gallery so that they could converse with attendees during a “Meet the Artist” event. The art gallery was tactically placed where attendees at the symposium would have to walk by it all week and enjoy the display. Giant banners with digital reproductions also adorned the ballroom area where large events were held during the symposium.

The Clear Lake High School orchestra played youth music compositions during the symposium opening ceremony performance in April, and visual, literary and video artwork were also woven into the show. After hearing of this symposium performance, SCH invited the group to come out and re-perform the orchestral pieces at SCH’s Home School Day in October, which had an art and science theme and would include live performances that integrated the two subjects.

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The second go-round at SCH, however, was designed to be a totally different performance, since the viewers would include mostly young kids, not adults. The show was still multi-media with youth performers, but the acts included: a poetry reading, a small quintet playing the music composed by a 13-year-old from NY, some visual and literary artwork as slides, a dance performance set to music composed by a 14-year-old from Houston, and a youth pop band playing the music accompanying two youth video compositions and two pop music compositions written by youth artists from India and Turkey. The pop music had clearly different styles not familiar to many kids from the United States, but including it in the show allowed for an interesting showcase of various cultural techniques.

What’s next

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Because of the accomplishments of the recent competition and numerous requests from youth and adults, McPhee and her team are examining options for a new youth Art Competition and associated displays and performances. The past competition indicated that enthusiasm for space can be generated and revealed through appropriately engaging activities. McPhee believes that youth are smart and want to learn about science, technology, engineering and math topics, but they want the learning to be fun, creative and meaningful. Therefore, the evolving program will continue to develop activities like the Youth Art Competition, aimed to truly motivate youth to want to learn about space and to apply their knowledge creatively, while also allowing them opportunities to have their youth ideas or voice heard. Investing in new ways to educate and excite youth and adults about the future of human space exploration is critical to ensure the success of the space program.


Neesha Hosein
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-792-7516

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Updated: 10/31/2011