Paly juniors nationally recognized through YoungArts competition

Painter Jenny Shi and writer Dante Kirkman are recognized as finalists for their talents in the winter competition.

Kaahini Jain and

One of Jenny Shi’s paintings from her finalist portfolio of 10 pieces called “Rhizobia.” It is an installation combining a painting with suspended petri dishes. This combines Shi’s interest in Biology with her talent in painting. Photo: Jenny Shi

Two students at Palo Alto High School have had the opportunity to attend a week-long intensive art program in Miami, Florida, in early January after earning national recognition through the prestigious YoungArts program earlier this school year. 

Juniors Jenny Shi and Dante Kirkman were both finalists in the 2019 competition for their respective disciplines. 

Shi said she won her award in the visual arts category for a portfolio of 10 pieces that revolved around biological forms, abstraction and interactive elements. 

According to Shi, her fascination with biology and her love for painting come together, resulting in her artwork featuring living cells in their different forms.

“I was very interested in finding patterns between life-sized objects, such as a blueberry, and microscopic objects such as a cell, mainly because I wanted to show two things that usually can’t be viewed simultaneously within the same painting,” Shi said.  

Shi was also interested in finding a way to intersect both two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects to fulfill her goal of viewing things that aren’t usually seen together.

“[I wanted] to have moving parts within a sculpture or painting to make it seem more alive,” Shi said.  

While Shi is an avid painter, there are many other categories of art forms for high schools students to submit to in the YoungArts competition. 

Kirkman won his award in the writing/short story category for his coming-of-age story about a black teenager in Los Angeles.  

“I wrote my short story in Ms. [Lucy] Filppu’s creative writing class here at Paly,” Kirkman said.

He originally submitted it into a local contest called Writopia, according to Kirkman. After winning that competition, he decided to submit to something bigger, which led him to YoungArts. 

“When I was making my short story, I had started out by making a character outline sheet for a class assignment,” Kirkman said.  “After a couple days I had taken that character sheet into a rough draft and got it edited by classmates and family.” 

The story revolves around a black teenager’s quest in navigating social and racial class identities while not losing his true identity.

Both Shi and Kirkman say they have been experimenting with their creativity for a while.  

Shi started taking art classes in second grade and Kirkman started writing in eighth grade. Both artists have experienced many different types of art and both emphasized their passion for it. 

Kirkman said he first started writing in the form of poetry.

“I have had experience writing in all forms […] and I love all of them,” Kirkman said. “I like to write for fun. I experiment with all arts and consistently work with […] all [kinds of arts].”

Shi started art at a younger age and because of that, has done lots of exploring and been able to develop her talents and let them be part of her own personal growth. 

“I learned a lot of basic drawing techniques [when I started], mostly just copying pictures and trying to make things look realistic,” Shi said. “I began to think more about the purpose of art and conveying something through art in the beginning of high school.”

She eventually changed her teacher to be able to get a more in-depth experience with oil painting and its history, Shi said. 

The YoungArts competition, which is based in Miami, accepts artists’ applications from June to October annually. While some prizes include money, others invite artists to week-long intensives or master classes with professional artists in their area. Both Kirkman and Shi have been invited to an intensive in Miami.  

Kirkman said he would highly recommend aspiring artists to apply to YoungArts, which can be done through its website

“As an artist, it was very important to see others with different styles and how they create,” Kirkman said.