Jeri Hamilton: The Force Behind The Edmonds Art Festival Junior Art Exhibition

And it all came out of his head.

The seeds were planted during Jeri Hamilton’s seventh grade art class in rural Ellensburg, a town with very little exposure to art at the time.

“I felt like I died and went to heaven,” she said of her experience.

From that moment, Hamilton harbored a desire to make this little piece of paradise available to others.

Since 1981, that desire has found expression at the annual Edmonds Festival of the Arts (EAF) in the form of the Junior Art exhibit that lines the halls of the Frances Anderson Center each Father’s Day weekend.

Without Hamilton’s vision and perseverance, there wouldn’t even have been a Junior Art Show.

When she first shared her vision with the EAF board, she said there was the usual resistance to something new being introduced into an existing structure. In addition, there were space and budget requirements to consider – two already scarce resources.

In response, Hamilton realized another step was needed to win the board. She took this step by winning an enthusiastic agreement to collaborate with the school district.

At this point, Hamilton was offered a small room on a one-year trial basis, along with a small budget. She took that ball and ran with it.

Thus was born the Junior Art exhibition. Boasting 101 works of art selected from 153 submissions, a small room was transformed into a colorful art gallery with each piece carefully hung to look as professional as the adult art on display in the other larger rooms.

Today, the Junior Art exhibition presents 1,200 works of art. Each of the 38 schools, as well as private schools and home schools, in the Edmonds School District is represented, as well as all grade levels from kindergarten through 12th grade.

It’s a juried exhibition, just like adult art, which means each submitted artwork is judged on quality, originality and “a bold element that sets it apart,” explained Hamilton.

The scope of Hamilton’s grand vision becomes clearer when considering such impressive numbers. Just think about the logistics involved in collecting, judging, separating, delivering, posting, and returning each piece, on time, while correctly identifying the student’s name, grade level, and school name.

Hundreds of volunteers are involved in this time-consuming process each year.

It’s truly a labor of love, as well as a testament to the collaborative energy Hamilton infuses into the system that makes it all possible.

With a better understanding of all that is involved in the making of the Junior Art exhibition, one wonders why anyone would devote so much time and energy to such a project.

Let’s go back to that seminal seventh-grade art course.

Hamilton’s mind thrived in that class so much that she ended up majoring in fine arts at Central Washington University, adding a fifth year to complete the requirements for a teaching certificate.

Shortly thereafter, she and her husband, Bill, her childhood sweetheart, moved to Edmonds in 1965 and began their careers in the Edmonds School District as elementary school teachers.

Hamilton included as much art as possible in his class. She saw how students struggling with certain concepts flourished during art class, reinforcing her belief that art opens doors for children that simply don’t exist in other subjects.

“I dreamed of making this fulfillment accessible to all students,” she said.

The question of how to get there smoldered in the back of his mind.

Shortly after landing at Edmonds, Hamilton volunteered for the EAF. She noticed that there was not a single piece of children’s art at the festival. That’s when the ‘Ah ha’ moment arrived.

Knowing how much art had impacted his own life, an idea began to form for a junior art exhibition with the same quality as adults.

Her goal was “to increase the visibility of children’s art in the community,” she explained, reinforcing the value of keeping art programs alive in our schools.

Edmonds Arts Festival

Student art can be seen throughout the Frances Anderson Center during the Edmonds Arts Festival, which returns on Father’s Day weekend in 2022.

The inaugural exhibit was so well received by parents, teachers, students and patrons that Hamilton was granted a larger hall the following year.

Over the next decade the numbers grew exponentially to become overwhelming in 1991 with over 3,500 works of art submitted to the jury – a gigantic job of transportation and jury.

After that, new plans were drawn up, requiring each school to choose a certain number of pieces per level first, helping to bring the numbers down to a more manageable level.

Hamilton eventually retired from the EAF. But his legacy lives on.

In June, when you walk the halls marveling at the quality of the junior art on the walls, think of Jeri Hamilton and her one-woman mission to ensure that every child in the Edmonds School District can experience the magic of art.

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Reggie S. Williams