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Winning Artwork Adorns Walls of Cannon Tunnel

The smell of hot dogs and pretzels seeped from the Cannon House Office Building room where high school students were honored by House Members on Tuesday. Complete with a band, a performer on stilts and ice cream sandwiches, the carnival-like celebration was part of the busy schedule for more than 300 students whose artwork was selected for display at the Capitol.

For many winners of the 22nd annual Congressional Art Competition, it was their first time to Washington, and they would spend the day getting tours of the building, taking pictures with their Representatives and trying to soak in the sea of activity around them.

Gabriela Saenz, a 15-year-old from San Jose, Calif., arrived in Washington on Sunday and said she had been trying to visit all of the famous buildings.

After the long flight, the Capitol first-timer said she was excited to see her still-life painting as she eagerly waited with other students.

Saenz learned about the contest from a teacher, but another student, Christine Hancock of North Carolina, knew about it because she had placed third from her district last year.

“It was a big surprise because it’s such a big competition,” Hancock said. After taking pictures with Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), she said she thought she had pretty much seen everything, but wanted to make time to enter the tunnel from the Cannon Building to the Capitol where her scratchboard self-portrait will be displayed.

Before cutting the ribbon to officially open the exhibit, Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), who started the competition as a Member of the House in 1981, addressed the audience of students, parents and staff hosts.

“It’s the arts that make the human spirit soar,” he said, noting how proud he was of the support the program has received and the continued increases in participation.

“This has been the most successful year ever … showing just how many people were inspired by the arts,” he said.

Saenz couldn’t agree more. The high school student said the contest was motivation to put extra work into her painting of glass bottle.

For the contest, each House Member is invited to sponsor art competitions in his or her district, and the winning piece is displayed at the Capitol for a year. While some Members select the piece themselves, others rely on local art specialists.

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), who co-sponsored the event with Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.), reminded attendants of the healing effect of the arts and encouraged the students to “keep imagining, keep creating and keep dreaming.”

As the crowd moved from the gathering to the tunnel, participants began speculating about where their work would be or if they would be able to find it.

“I don’t know where it will be, they didn’t tell me,” said Catherine Middleton, an 18-year-old Virginia student, who entered a charcoal drawing of her boyfriend, Joe Herbert, who accompanied her to Washington.

Moments later in the tunnel, participants searched for their work as proud parents snapped photographs and students beamed with delight.

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