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SmartArt competition winner finds inspiration in art, science classes

C.A. Frost student wins $1,000 scholarship from Consumers Energy

When Cindy Mazariegos-Barrios headed downtown to Rosa Parks Circle on Sept. 9 for the unveiling of the winner in the 2019 SmartArt competition, she went with her sister but didn’t tell her parents.

The GRPS junior had been shocked enough when her piece, “We Are All in This Together,” had made the top 10 in May, in the seventh annual ecology-themed competition. She was certain four months later that she had no shot at the top prize, which was being announced as part of the opening ceremonies for Project 1 by ArtPrize, now running through Oct. 27.


It made it a little tough to explain the giant check she brought home later that night as the first-place winner — a $1,000 college scholarship check courtesy of Consumers Energy, the SmartArt sponsor, that Cindy said is about as big as she is.

“They were surprised,” she said of her parents’ reaction, “but they know I’m a perfectionist and that I didn’t want to waste their time.”

The 10 finalists, along with their artwork titles and schools:
• Jaheem Aubrey, “Powering the Earth,” Ottawa Hills
• Nate Beurkens, “Crude,” Museum High School
• Lux Howell, “Present Projection,” C.A Frost
• Emilia Jasinski, “Save,” City
• David Johnson, “Two Different Worlds,” City
• Cindy Mazariegos-Barrios, “We Are All In This Together,” C.A. Frost
• Jack McKellar, “What Side Will You Choose?,” City
• Ruby Taylor, “Fabric of Our Future,” C.A. Frost
• Kamryn Wezeman, “Energy Conscious,” City
• Natalie White, “Code Blue,” City

‘We Are All in This Together,’ student Cindy Mazariegos-Barrios’ winning entry in the 2019 SmartArt competition

Inspired by Art and Academics

But, she added with a laugh: “My dad’s initial reaction when he found out I won was ‘Good, that’s how it should be because we work really hard for you!’ It’s true, and I appreciate it.”

Cindy also appreciates the education she’s getting at C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy, a GRPS theme school she has attended since sixth grade. In fact, her winning entry was inspired by both an art class and an AP environmental science class that included a focus on renewable energy.

It shows four such energy sources surrounded by flags of countries that either use them heavily or produce too much carbon dioxide, suggesting a thought bubble of a person picturing the future. In her artist statement, Cindy said public awareness is key to sustainability, adding: “My art piece is trying to communicate to the audience that renewable energy is important and something that should always be in our minds.”

ArtPrize is a sponsor participant in School News Network’s Education Everywhere feature. 

She also credits art teacher Megan Talmage with inspiring the medium, rolled paper, for her project. Talmage had done her research and noticed a few media that hadn’t been used much in prior competitions, including rolled paper. So Cindy dove in and made that the centerpiece of her project, a decision she came to regret more than once as she continued with the work.

“Using pieces of rolled paper to form an image seemed really interesting, and the videos said it was time consuming,” she said, “but I had no idea. I spent a lot of time rolling, unrolling, re-rolling. And then gluing and taping.”

She submitted her piece right at deadline, though not without second thoughts.

“I looked at it and felt like I could have done better,” she recalled.

But a panel of judges from Kendall College of Art and Design at Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University begged to differ, sending “We Are All In This Together” to the top 10 and then to the top of the podium.

Cindy was one of three students named to the top five from C.A. Frost — joining Ruby Taylor and Lux Howell — much to the delight of Talmage, who had the trio in her drawing and painting class and made the contest part of the curriculum.

“They each chose to step out of their comfort zones, and it’s great to see that it paid off,” Talmage said. “I hope this encourages them to continue to challenge themselves to be the best they can be in life, and to see that taking risks is sometimes necessary for success.”

A large banner with the Top 10 finalists in SmartArt (Students Making Art with a Renewable Theme) is displayed at Consumers Energy’s Ellsworth Substation at Fulton and Market streets in downtown Grand Rapids. The pieces also are on display inside downtown’s JW Marriott.

‘Save’ by Emilia Jasinski won the People’s Choice Award in the 2019 SmartArt competition

“People’s Choice” Winner

Consumers Energy also hosted a “People’s Choice” contest on its Facebook page, and “Save” by City High 10th grader Emilia Jasinski garnered top honors. The award earned Jasinski a $200 Visa gift card and her art teacher, Meagan Whittle, a $200 gift card toward classroom supplies.

A record-number 81 entries were submitted this year by GRPS students, something that Interim Superintendent Ronald Gorman found very gratifying.

“GRPS made a commitment to going green in our Transformation Plan,” he said, referring to the district-wide improvement effort of recent years, “and this is a tremendous opportunity for our students to be educated about those efforts and participate through their art.”

C.A. Frost’s Talmage agrees.

“I hear the way these students talk about the need for humanity to be better stewards for the environment,” the art teacher said. “The SmartArt contest helps highlight both the creative talent and genuine desire of our students to advocate for a sustainable future.”


Top 10 finalists in ArtPrize 2019 SmartArt competition

Project 1 ArtPrize

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio


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