The Congressional Institute hosted winners of the Congressional Art Competition at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, June 21, and Friday, June 24.

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Congressional Art Competition! We recently hosted two receptions for the students who were awarded first place in their congressional district, honoring their artistic achievements and giving them a chance to see their artwork hanging in the Cannon Tunnel of the U.S. Capitol.

Since the beginning of the country, our leaders have understood the importance of the arts. George Washington himself wrote, “to encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country.”

More than two centuries later, the Congressional Institute continues promoting the arts on a national level through the Congressional Art Competition, which features artwork by high school students. Members of Congress, Capitol Hill staff, and visitors pass by these amazing creations when they walk the Cannon Tunnel – one of the most well-traveled hallways in the U.S. Capitol complex. It is breathtaking to think that the artists are still in the beginning of their artistic journeys.

The Congressional Art Competition is now in its 41st year, and more than 10,000 works of art have been exhibited through it in the Cannon Tunnel. Each Member of Congress decides how their office will participate, although most choose to appoint a panel of judges from their district’s art community to determine winners. The artwork from the first-place winner for each district hangs in the Cannon Tunnel for a year.

One of the best moments of the Congressional Art Competition reception is watching the winners’ faces light up with pride and excitement when they stand in front of their artwork in the tunnel. The winners are accompanied by family and to see them all celebrate the student’s achievement is truly a wonderful moment. They take selfies and immediately post their stories, sharing with their friends and followers, and sharing their art.

The last two years, though, we were not able to host in-person Congressional Art Competition receptions due in COVID restrictions in the Capitol. That’s why we were so excited to welcome the 2022 winners this week for our first in-person receptions since 2019.

The Congressional Art Competition is one of the few truly nonpartisan events on Capitol Hill each year. In an era of increasingly partisan and polarized politics, it is so important to continue this tradition. Following a tradition that’s as old as the competition, the competition features bipartisan co-chairs. Our Chairs for the 2022 competition were Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Rodney Davis (R-IL), each of whom invited an artist from their districts to speak with the student-winners.

Cory Bennett, known as C.Bennett, is a pop artist from Washington state who combines iconic images with modern techniques in mixed mediums who spoke about using art to create a path of joy and unforgettable moments. Our other keynote speaker was Kevin Hamilton, Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois, who talked about the more practical side of the art world and understanding how to approach art as a specialization.

Kevin Hamilton, the Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (left), with Mark Strand, president of the Congressional Institute. Hamilton delivered a keynote address at the Congressional Art Competition reception on Friday, June 24, at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC.
C.Bennet at the 2022 Congressional Art Competition reception
Cory Bennett, known professionally as C.Bennett, a pop artist from Washington state (left), with Mark Strand, president of the Congressional Institute. C.Bennett delivered a keynote address at a reception on Tuesday, June 21, at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.

Students also heard from a representative from Southwest Airlines, which provides two flight vouchers for each winning student and a guardian.

Each state is allowed to exhibit two statues in the Capitol, and Congress may vote to acquire other pieces of art displayed throughout the complex, which makes the annual rotation of first-place winners so special. With more than 400 congressional offices participating annually, there are more than 10,000 students vying for the chance to exhibit their work alongside historical masterpieces.

Many of the first-place winning pieces are a glimpse of the students’ journeys over two very difficult years in which they and their peers have lost so much. Traditional high school milestones like homecoming, prom, sports games, even the routine tedium of slamming lockers and changing classrooms were gone in the blink of an eye. These students have channeled their complicated emotions into their art and are generously sharing themselves with us.

This poignant quote is attributed to the great American poet Robert Frost: “You’re always believing ahead of your evidence. What was the evidence I could write a poem? I just believed it. The most creative thing in us is to believe in a thing.” Thank you to all of the students who participated in the 2022 Congressional Art Competition. Thank you for sharing your art with us.