Teenage Dream

The Holland Project showcases up-and-coming artists.

Zariah Dally holds a photo of her sister, Eryn.

Zariah Dally holds a photo of her sister, Eryn.


Young Blood will take place on March 23 from 6-8 p.m. at the Holland Project, 140 Vesta St. For more information about the exhibition, go to www.hollandreno.org/event/21043/.

Being a teenager is intense. There’s no other experience that compares to the angst of living in a body you don’t like while carrying an emotional burden you didn’t ask for. The closest you can probably get to this state of mind as an adult is to revisit the music you loved—and the art you made—when you were 14. That, or you could just go to the Young Blood show.

On March 23, the Holland Project opens its doors for its one-night-only exhibition of artwork by artists under 21. For two hours, at least 120 artists and twice as many friends and family members will gather in the 700-square- foot gallery to look at some art—or at least the pieces that can be seen through a giant crowd.

“It’s a little hectic, for sure, especially the last couple of years,” said Alisha Funkhouser, Holland’s gallery director. “Each year we have new artists that tell their friends who are artists, so it seems to grow each time.”

Now in its fifth year, Young Blood has come a long way since its 13-artist beginning in 2013. Back then, students would bring in a handful of pieces—often unframed—and work with Holland volunteers to get everything gallery-ready and on the walls.

Today, with so many participants, artists are limited to one piece each and are expected to have their art framed on arrival. Gallery assistants are still there to help, but the reality of so many artists and so little wall space is that “first come, first served” is the only policy that makes sense for hanging. And as always, students drive the show.

“They’re learning how to meet a deadline, submit artwork to an exhibition, how to contact a gallery about submitting their work,” said Funkhouser. “We try to kind of guide them to the best way to display their work, and then they get to come during the reception to show off their artwork, do a little bit of networking”—all skills that come in handy if you want to make a living as an artist.

From gallery to salary

Zariah Dally, 17, is doing just that. After participating in Young Blood for the past two years, Dally is picking up photography jobs and specializing in portraits as she builds her own business. She credits Young Blood for giving her the extra push.

“[The show] has really helped me get out there and market myself, display what I’ve created,” said Dally. “My first couple of years I was very nervous, but I feel like it’s been a really great learning experience for me.”

For this year’s exhibit, Dally has submitted a photograph of her sister, Eryn, tightly framed, bleary-eyed, and seemingly transfixed by a yellow rose in her hand. Curls of baby’s breath grow up like weeds around her hair and body.

“[The photo] was inspired by Sleeping Beauty,” said Dally, “The scene is really about her falling in love with this rose, and over time it just takes her over as a person.”

Concepts like beauty, identity and belonging come up regularly during Young Blood shows. Developmentally, this makes a lot of sense.

Sense of self

According to the late Erik Erikson, developmental psychologist and “father of psychosocial development,” the teenage years are the first time that all of the previously held—and often contradictory—facets of a person’s identity come into focus … which often turns into something of a mess.

The question of “Who am I?” becomes the backdrop in the search for self that ends somewhere between who the adolescent wants to be and what society says they are. It’s a struggle, to say the least.

The good news? Art has always been a tool for teens to find their way. In a way, the realm of visual arts is a giant lost and found.

You can lose yourself in a place (Dally’s family road trip landscapes at her first Young Blood exhibit two years ago). You can lose yourself in ideas (Dally’s domestic violence series at last year’s show). You can lose yourself in people (Dally and her sister’s elaborate four-hour shoots for her portrait piece this year).

Finding yourself is a little harder because you have to make some choices. Choose a subject, choose a style, choose a medium—focus on one of these long enough to get some traction, and then be brave enough to let others see your work.

A little structure

That’s where Holland comes in, not just with Young Blood, but also with Scholastic Arts, Stranger Show, Fresh Meat, gallery internships, and microgallery spotlights to name a few. With so many youth-oriented showcases, students get more chances to build their confidence and receive feedback.

Skye Snyder, an art and photography teacher at McQueen High School, makes sure her classes take advantage of the programming, especially since most of her students “haven’t been to a gallery or a museum.”

“Young Blood just kind of breaks the ice because some of [my students] can be kind of intimidated to show their work,” said Snyder. “And I think Holland offers them an opportunity to walk through it. It encourages them and gives them the confidence that they can do it.”

Follow me

However, adult intervention can only go so far. The Post-Millennial generation—the actual name that the Pew Research Center gave under-21-year-olds earlier this month—has a handicap when it comes to the natural cycle of rejection and perseverance: social media. Or rather, the deep-seated need for instant and constant acceptance on social media.

“I think especially in their world—with ’likes’ and ’follows,’ there’s an emotional component to [showing artwork], where they can feel shattered if no one seems interested because it’s in real-world time,” said Snyder. “It’s a real high if they’re recognized or if someone purchases their work or even if people are just showing interest and talking about it. But it is a real low for them when that doesn’t happen.”

After each show, Snyder makes sure to address the emotional aspects of exhibiting work with her students.  

“Feelings might not necessarily be in the curriculum, but, of course, they are there—it’s a huge piece of artmaking,” she said. “I try to constantly remind them that you can’t make art for other people. I don’t know any other way to do it, especially since the bar is higher now.”

The barrage of images that young artists come into contact with every day on sites like Instagram and Facebook does have the effect of raising the bar on what “good art” looks like, making it easier to be inspired but also making it harder to live up to sometimes unreasonable standards.

But, despite social media sandbagging, inner turmoil and an increasingly hostile outer world, things are not horrible. They’re not even bad. Just look at Dally.

“I love the feedback people give me at the show, and the constructive criticism,” she said. It always helps me to grow and learn, and that’s the goal.”