Contributed Photo from TVFCU / Alex Harris, a 10th-grader at Bradley Central High School when he submitted his entry, won Best in Show in Enhanced Digital Photography for "Crossing the Etowah River." This was his second Best in Show win in a row in the Chattanooga Youth Gallery juried competition.

When the minds behind the Chattanooga Youth Gallery decided on a theme and submission guidelines for this year's 11th annual student art show, they had no idea how prescient "The Future Is Now" would be.

Those decisions were made in January, well before the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and locked down life. Four months later, the key change from previous years — to accept submissions digitally, rather than requiring them to be dropped off in person — couldn't have been more fortuitous.

At the onset, it was more about convenience than necessity.

"It was always so time-consuming for the art teachers, with the framing and all those things that [drop-off] entails," says Terry Smyth, coordinator of the Youth Gallery with Jeannie Harper. "When COVID hit and the lockdown started ... we were already set in place to do it."

Photo Gallery

Chattanooga Youth Gallery

The coronavirus did restrict participation since the closing of schools limited students' access to art supplies and instruction. Initially, 35 high schools expressed an interest in having students submit artwork. Ultimately, only 15 schools were represented, with 208 submissions.

Nine students were singled out for awards in three categories of the juried competition. Best in Show winners were Anna Breed of Hilger Higher Learning, Visual Arts; Riley Evans of Silverdale Baptist Academy, Traditional Digital Photography; and Alex Harris of Bradley Central, Enhanced Digital Photography.

Rather than an awards reception at Bessie Smith Cultural Center, as was originally planned, representatives of the Youth Gallery and Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union, the show's sponsor, formed a drive-by parade of cars to acknowledge the wins and drop off prizes. Winners received art scholarships totaling $1,500 from TVFCU, a yard sign proclaiming their achievement, balloons and a goodie bag.

Students also had the opportunity to take part in a workshop with professional artist Peggy Petrey on "The Endless Career Possibilities of Creative Talent — It All Depends on Applying and Marketing Yourself."

All of the works may be seen online at

That's at least one perk of this strange year, said Smyth. The number of works exhibited at the awards show would have been limited by the physical space available at the Bessie. Digital submissions easily became an all-inclusive slide show.

"It's pretty amazing the depth they have," Smyth said of the young artists. "They really think. They're in touch."

Email Lisa Denton at

Chattanooga Youth Gallery 2020 winners

Visual Arts

› Best in Show: Anna Breed, Hilger Higher Learning

› Second place: Sohee Myung, Notre Dame High School

› Third place: Caitlin Hoilman, Boyd-Buchanan High School

Traditional Digital Photography

› Best in Show: Riley Evans, Silverdale Baptist Academy

› Second place: Lucy Bruce, Notre Dame

› Third place: Dru Schenk, Notre Dame

Enhanced Digital Photography

› Best in Show: Alex Harris, Bradley Central High School

› Second place: Amy Yuca, Bradley Central

› Third place: Destiny Rice, Bradley Central


Judges for the Chattanooga Youth Gallery show

Visual Arts

* Athena Buxton, Hunter Museum of American Art

* Peggy Boyd Petrey, Abstract Wares

* James Courtenay James, JCJ Fien Arts


* John Bamber, Bamber Photography

* Melody Hood, Innamorata Photography

* Philip Slowiak, Philip Slowiak Photography