Young artist designs rotating student art exhibit at airport

Art from local high school students are now on display on the second level of the Juneau International Airport.

The Juneau International Airport now has a permanent, rotating student art exhibit, thanks to the work of recent Thunder Mountain High School grad Nicole Nelson. Nelson planned, designed and executed the exhibit for her Girl Scouts of Alaska Gold Award project, receiving the organization’s highest honor for its successful completion.


In carrying out the project, Nelson was assisted by her adult mentor, Liza Diebels Paramore, a family friend, and worked cooperatively with local art instructors including Elementary Art Specialist Nancy Lehnhart and Thunder Mountain High School art teacher Heather Ridgway, as well as airport officials and staff from the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council.

The exhibit, called “Fuel the Spark for Art,” is designed to showcase work by young local artists of all ages. The display will be rotated every four months, with each segment of time being designated for elementary, middle school and high school students. Currently the exhibit, installed Monday at the airport, holds work by high school students, including a couple of linoleum prints by Nelson that she completed in Ridgway’s class.

Nelson, president of the art club at Thunder Mountain prior to her graduation this past spring, said she’s known since her freshman year that she wanted her Gold Award project to revolve around the school district’s art program. Her goal in creating the exhibit was to support Juneau’s young artists as well as call attention to the art program overall, and hopefully help secure a healthy future for a program that has seen cuts in recent years.

“My main goal is for the art program not to deteriorate completely,” she said, adding that art is what gets some kids out of bed in the morning.

“For some students at Thunder Mountain, that’s their reason for going to school.”

Art teachers will be the ones to decide what goes in the cases, Nelson said. That includes JSD teachers Ridgway at TMHS, Tom Manning at JDHS, Miah Lager at Dzantiki’i Heeni Middle School, Linda Vallie at Floyd Dryden Middle School, and Lehnhart, the district’s Elementary Art Specialist, who provides art support for teachers through art kits and training at all seven local elementary schools.

Nelson’s design allows teachers to adapt the rotating exhibits to the work and media type they want to display at that time. For example, in addition to the glass cases, there are risers for showcasing ceramics and sculpture and frames for showcasing paintings, drawings and prints. The display items will be kept at the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council offices until they are needed.

As for the pairing of project and venue, Nelson said it couldn’t have worked out better. Airport staff had been talking about a student-based exhibit for some time, and were thrilled to hear her pitch.

“They were waiting for me to come along, basically,” she said.

Nelson was scheduled to be publicly honored for her exhibit Wednesday evening at the airport by the Airport Board.

The Girl Scouts’ Gold Award, open only to girls in high school, represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Only a handful of girls receive the award in Alaska every year.

“I believe Nicole is the first Juneau Girl Scout in about five years to earn the award,” said Anne Kurland, Juneau Service Unit volunteer manager for the Girl Scouts of Alaska. “We are very proud and excited for her.”

Nelson, a Girl Scout since first grade, will be formally honored by the Girl Scouts in March at a Young Women of Distinction banquet, a statewide event.

The Gold Award has been offered under various names since 1916. Projects must fulfill five requirements, including making a lasting difference in the girls’ local community or region, and inspiring others.

Nelson leaves for the University of Idaho on Friday, where she will pursue a double major in art and psychology, with a goal of one day becoming an art therapist.

Nelson’s exhibit joins other art displays at the airport including Steve Henrikson and Janice Criswell’s flocks of migrating birds, created of metal and glass, at the base of the escalators near the baggage claim area and Pat Race’s “Whale Plane” artwork in the departure lounge.


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