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There has been a lot of national focus on STEM, but York County — and York College in particular — is working hard to ensure that the arts don't get lost in the race to improve science, technology, engineering and math education for students.

This is why Ry Fryar, assistant professor of art at York College, worked with a number of  faculty at the college and with the college's Center for Community Engagement to create the Community Arts Scholars program.

The program: Fryar said talks of a program like this have been going on for quite some time, but an anonymous donor made it possible this year. The college began reaching out to art teachers in school districts in York County to have them begin to curate artwork by some of their most talented students. Altogether, 313 pieces of art by close to 70 or 80 students made it into the first York Community Art Scholars Exhibition, held  Oct. 20.

To help showcase the art, Fryar and his colleagues set up an art walk that left from Marketview Arts at 37 W. Philadelphia St. and stopped at The Parliament Gallery, Prime Art Supply Co., Creative York West Gallery, Murphy & Dittenhafer c o d Gallery and I-ron-ic Art Boutique. Fryar estimated that 500 family members and community members attended to view the students' artwork.

During the walk, art work was judged by Anne Lampe, executive director and chief curator at the Demuth Museum and Lancaster Museum of Art. Students were judged in different categories, such as best charcoal drawing, best painting, etc. for the opportunity to win cash prizes. Winners will be announced at a closed reception Thursday before the artwork will be displayed for a final time at Marketview Arts until Nov. 18. Approximately 80 to 90 pieces of art by the finalists will be on exhibition.

Artwork will be featured from students at Central York High School, Dallastown Area High School, Logos Academy, West York High School, William Penn Senior High School, York Catholic High School, York Country Day School, York County School of Technology and York Suburban High School.

Careers in art: High school seniors making it to the finalist stage also have the opportunity to apply for a $20,000 scholarship to York College to study something within the arts department. The winner of the scholarship would receive $5,000 each year for four years. Fryar explained any senior who applies has a greater chance of getting the scholarship because they are competing with 10 to 20 students in the county, as opposed to hundreds or thousands competing for other scholarship opportunities.

The goal of having students apply for the scholarship and hopefully pursue art as a career in York City is to keep talented artists in the area, according to Dominic DelliCarpini, dean of the Center for Community Engagement at York College.

"Anything we can do to attract new people to downtown York will help build an economy in York," he said. "It can help people get past predispositions of York and realize there is a lot going on around here."

The experience was meant to be educational for students as well. Fryar explained that this opportunity might have been one of the first that students have had where their art was displayed for hundreds in the community to see. The opportunity also allows students to see the business aspect of art, which Fryar believes is often pushed off to the side as a hobby for people rather than a career.

"York College has made a real commitment to being a part of York and downtown," Fryar said. "To be an artist, you have to engage with the community. You have to learn how to show your work."

Artful future: The hope is that the learning experience will continue for many of the students. York College is offering workshops for students involved with exhibition to help them build portfolios for art schools, network with other artists and learn how to make a living doing something they are passionate about.

Artists are often asked to do work for free or at discounted prices, so a donor allowed Fryar and his other colleagues to pay art teachers and the galleries involved. Matthew Clay-Robison, gallery curator for York College, expanded on this and said there is a perception of insufficient income related to art careers, but he referenced a study done by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project that shows many graduates with art degrees are satisfied with their careers and lives.

"It's amazing to see the amount of talent coming out of high school," Clay-Robison said. "It's important to celebrate the work they're doing. Art is considered a bonus activity, but by doing this and treating the students with respect, it teaches them that this is serious."

A public opening of the finalists' artwork at Marketview Arts will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday during First Friday. Admission is free.

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