* What: Palate 2 Palette fundraiser benefiting the Tennessee Craniofacial Center at Children's Hospital at Erlanger and Erlanger Health System.
* Where: The Church on Main, 1601 Rossville Ave.
* When: April 26 (students, family and friends), 7-9 p.m.; April 27, 5-8 p.m.
* Admission: April 26: $2 students, $5 adults, teachers are free; April 27: $75 patron tickets, $150 for VIP.
* Contact: p2p chattanooga.com.
It doesn't take much to get Karla Riddle on a soapbox. Just mention lack of art education in local public schools, and she'll give you a piece of her mind.
Riddle, director of Innovative Programs for Hamilton County Department of Education, admits to having strong feelings about the subject.
"To me there is a huge disconnect between the way people advocate for the arts in this city -- and I am for all of them -- and the way we educate our children on the value of the arts," Riddle says.
The city has public art displays; it has the 11-day Spark: A Right Brain Festival to highlight arts in the community; it has many art galleries for artists to sell their work, she notes, "but what we don't have is visual arts for every elementary student in Hamilton County Schools."
Tyner Academy senior Juanita Montgomery agrees.
"I don't think some people realize how educational art is," says 18-year-old Montgomery. "It's always given me self-confidence. When my teachers realized that I had talent at an early age, they encouraged me. It's their encouragement that made me work hard and become better at everything I did. Art is so much more than drawing or painting. It helps young people."
That's why Riddle and Montgomery are big supporters of the Craniofacial Foundation of America's Palate 2 Palette, a fundraiser dedicated to celebrating the arts, including the works of young artists. The event focuses on the city's visual, floral and culinary talent, including the Youth Gallery, an exhibition featuring works of local high school artists that's part of the Palate 2 Palette event Friday and Saturday.
"Participating in the Youth Gallery during Palate 2 Palate affords our high school visual art students an opportunity to showcase their artistic talents to the public," Riddle says.
Montgomery says her first trip to the Youth Gallery inspired her.
"It made me want to get out of my comfort zone and do something different," she says. "It gave me a new outlook on art."
Terry Smyth, executive director of the Craniofacial Foundation, says the nonprofit organization supports the work of the Erlanger Health System and the Tennessee Craniofacial Center at Children's Hospital at Erlanger, which specializes in the evaluation and treatment of patients of all ages with craniofacial deformities.
Youth Gallery volunteer Amanda Williams, owner of Divine Designs, a wedding and special-event florist in Chattanooga, says all area high schools are invited to participate. This year, 18 schools will be sending the works of their art students.
"Some schools submit three or four pieces of art, and others have class projects and the whole class submits a piece," Williams says.
For young artists, their work helps reveal their inner thoughts and the way they view the world, she says.
"It is truly an expression of how they see something, and every person that views pieces may see something different," Williams says. "In art there is never a right or wrong way to create. So it is a safe place to be who or what they want to show us."
High school art teachers are among the biggest supporters of the event's Youth Gallery. Tamara Salter, Tyner Academy art teacher, says the gallery offers students an opportunity they don't usually get.
"While there are a lot of contest-type of art activities in Chattanooga for students, there are not many real art shows at the student level," Salter says. "The art contests usually have a theme that the student has to make the art fit into, but an art show like (Palate 2 Palette) allows for a broader range of expression for individual students. It is also a juried show, and the students that make it into the show can feel that extra pride knowing that art professionals found enough merit in their artwork to choose them."
Marcy Duke, an art teacher at Soddy-Daisy High School, says the Youth Gallery is not a second-class space tossed like a bone to student artists.
"The Craniofacial Foundation provides the same high-quality care and attention to detail given to the professional galleries included in the stroll," she says.
Exhibiting in the Youth Gallery has become a goal for many art students, Salter says.
"The [students] usually bring their whole families," she says. "It can be life-changing to see your work on display. It is the highlight of the year for my art students."
Contact staff writer Karen Nazor Hill at email@example.com or 423-757-6396. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/karennazorhill. Subscribe to her posts on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/karennazorhill.