The new exhibition at the Portland Museum of Art features work by artists nobody’s ever heard of. But someday, they might.

In celebration of National Youth Art Month, the PMA, in collaboration with the Maine Art Education Association, has organized an exhibition of artwork created by Maine art students. On view through April 3, the exhibition will showcase more than 120 works of art by students throughout the state, from elementary school through high school.

“This the 17th year we’ve done this,” said Stacy Rodenberger, coordinator of school programs at the museum. “This show definitely has energy, and that energy comes from the variety of work and from the art teachers around Maine. They really love it, and they really appreciate that it’s here. They understand and know what a special thing it is.”

Indeed, the PMA is Maine’s best-known museum, with works by many of the world’s masters hanging in the galleries. It’s great fun for the students and their families to have this student work on display in a building of such prestige, Rodenberger said.

Most of the student work is on the lower level, although a few pieces are hanging on the main floor, near the elevators and by the gift shop.

While some people might assume this show is a nuisance for the museum — hanging more than 100 pieces of art requires a large investment of time — it’s anything but, Rodenberger said. The museum is proud to host the show, and the staff looks forward to it each March, she said.

The show is an important part of the museum’s strategy for reaching young people and exposing families to the collection and other exhibitions. For many families, their only visit to the museum involves coming to see the work of their sons and daughters, or nieces and nephews.

Beyond that, it’s central to the museum’s mission to reinforce to the general public the importance of art programs in public schools.

National Youth Art Month emphasizes the value of art education, and encourages support for school art programs. The idea is to convey to the public that art education develops self-discipline, self-esteem and a sense of pride in self-expression, Rodenberger said.

“This is the most visible and effective way we can advocate for visual arts programs in the schools,” she said. “I think it’s important for the museum to support school programs.

“Certainly, all of the other work the museum does for professional development and in terms of resources and tours is important, but this is our time of year to really shout out, ‘This is what’s happening in classrooms around the state.’ “

Each student will receive a certificate of recognition, and the museum will host a public celebration from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Art educators also will be honored at Saturday’s reception. The Maine Art Education Association makes awards in two categories each year, the Maine Art Educator and Maine Art Advocate. This year’s winners are Lauren Lessing, Mirken Curator of Education at Colby College Museum of Art, as art advocate; and Molly Mains, art teacher at Lake Region Middle School in Naples, as art educator.

The PMA exhibition is one of several youth-focused shows this month:

In Kennebunk, Heartwood College of Art hosts the Maine regional Scholastic Art Awards for 2011 with a reception March 19. The work chosen for this show will be on view beginning at noon that day at the Coastal House, 2128 Post Road (U.S. Route 1), Wells. A reception honoring the students begins at 12:30 p.m. The event is intended for students and their families, but the public may view the work that afternoon at the Coastal House.

In Hallowell, the Harlow Gallery hosts Higher Forms of Art through March 12 featuring work from students in seven high schools, including Cony, Gardiner, Hall-Dale, Kents Hill, Maranancook, Readfield and Winthrop. The public is invited to join students and faculty at the opening reception 5 to 8 p.m. Friday. The opening will feature live music by high school musicians.

From March 16-26, the Harlow will show work by students in grades kindergarten through eight. An opening reception will be 5 to 8 p.m. March 18.

The Saco Museum and Dyer Museum shows work by students RSU 23 from Saturday through April 23. The exhibition opens with a reception, held simultaneously at the Dyer Library and Saco Museum, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Students from Dayton Consolidated School in Dayton, Jameson Elementary School, Loranger Middle School and Old Orchard Beach High School in Old Orchard Beach; and C. K. Burns School, Young School, Governor John Fairfield School and Saco Middle School created artwork for the exhibition. More than 2,000 objects will be displayed, including paintings, pastels and sculpture. Local art teachers Piper Bolduc, Debra DiGregorio, Martha Gagne, Joanne Matusko, Diane Noble, Judy Puiia and Dawn Strandburg curated the exhibition.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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