Editor’s note: voting for the 2021 SmartArt People’s Choice award has ended. Thank you for supporting these wonderful artists with your votes !

One of our favorite ArtPrize traditions is the SmartArt competition we sponsor for students who attend Grand Rapids Public Schools. This year, students were asked to create artwork that shows a collaboration between science and art around a renewable energy theme. With that instruction, they were allowed to let their creativity shine through.

Over 100 students participated, creating works using a wide range of mediums. Jurors from Grand Rapids Community College, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Grand Valley State University said in a joint statement, “After jurying this exhibit for several years, we were struck by the accomplished, personal reflections the artist statements demonstrated about the importance of researching and portraying the potential positive impacts on our planet that a move towards renewable sources of energy and materials will have.”

Now that those jurors have narrowed the field to ten entries, we need your help in selecting the winner of the People’s Choice Award. We have created a poll for you to vote for up to five entries in this year’s competition (click here if you want to jump straight to see who won). Below, we have examples of each artist’s work along with their artist statement. Our poll is at the end of the post. 

Wind of Wetlands

My topic is about wetland habitats and using wind energy to conserve and protect them as well as the creatures in them. It’s important to draw attention to wetlands and wind energy base wetlands are very vital to the world, as they are homes to thousands of species that can’t live in other habitats. If we used wind energy instead of building structures on wetlands that use/produce fossil fuels, we can help save their habitat. I got my idea by thinking about wetlands (my main concern), and how they’re damaged (trash and buildings). My goal was to use found objects (trash) as a base for my pointillist-style artwork. I glued bottle caps and buttons onto canvas since these discarded options would have otherwise gone into a landfill. I used acrylic pains to paint over the bottle caps and buttons to represent this pervasive problem with pollution. The blue heron and cattails in the foreground show the different (but common) species seen in wetlands. The green marsh and the blue water illustrate their typical wetland habitat. There are buildings in the background to represent wetland habitat being encroached upon. The wind turbines on the right represent the hope for replacement of environmentally damaging fossil fuels for renewable energy which can help sustain and protect the wetlands, thus supporting the vulnerable creatures that depend on them.

Left Untreated

Like a chronic illness, global warming is attacking Earth’s body – a disease mitigated only by sustainable energy sources. It’s a disease not many notice at first glance, that is, until you look deeper. Let me introduce my version of Earth personified: Earth’s once icy hair is now melting and burning at the edges, with only their ice earrings hanging on, getting smaller with each passing day. To start the day off, they sip on a nuclear power plant drink using a metal straw Earth always wears two necklaces: one being an LED light bulb, and the other being a choker of plastic straws. Earth cannot take the choker off. They have two tattoos (on shoulder and arm), both being versions of the sun which honor the very thing that sustains life on Earth. There are also a few birthmarks including Michigan, Florida, and Texas being the most visible ones. Earth’s bag strap contains three pins: A “mask UP!” pin, a Coronavirus pin, and an Irish flag pin to represent a country that has a long-standing history of sustainable and culturally sensitive policy priorities. In order to stay cool, Earth carries a portable wind turbine which they use to keep themselves regulated during flare ups of extreme heat from global warming. The medical bracelet, a fire alarm, tells them when it’s needed. In tandem with that, they use their solar power glasses. These give them energy on days where global warming really taxes their energy.

Many of these elements are meant to be relatable to the human experience, whether one relates to Earth because they need their morning coffee, or observes the tiredness behind their eyes, or experiences the weight of a “flare up” in their posture. Many of us can see ourselves in Earth, and I think that’s essential for inspiring change. Like an illness can divide a family, the effects and viewpoints on climate change have divided humanity. Whether it’s on treatment and prevention or validity and truth, illness can take on a new, less humanized form, and become a weapon rather than a problem needing a constructive solution. I wanted to humanize earth to provide more urgency to an already urgent issue, so people could see a loved one in Earth’s shoes, instead of a headline on political news.

Something Better

In third grade my entire class was taken to a recycling plant. It was local, small and about the only place in my hometown where you could actually learn about our carbon footprint. I remember the trip being educational, and utterly terrifying. I didn’t like the industrial style teaching, the harsh language, nor the dour attitude everyone seemed to carry. The entire tri summed up to the fact that we messed up, and we’re not sure how (or if) we can fix it. That scared me, and my class seemed to take the information as harsh as I had. So within a month we had started our neighborhood’s first environmental program, the Little Green Healers.

Now, I’m fifteen, that was nearly ten years ago. I don’t even live there anymore, but the experience has stuck with me. Even as a child I understood, we needed to fix this, but we were getting nowhere. It’s one thing to push facts in someone’s face, and another to educate them. Where I’m from, they don’t’ teach you about saving fossil fuels, using renewable energy, or even recycling. They push facts in your face, in the United States alone over 20.54 million barrels of oil are consumed a day, worldwide that’s an average of 94.3 million barrels a day, as of August 2020. How much longer do we have until we run out of oil? Fossil fuels are used for heating in industrial processes, space heating in buildings, as boiler fuel, they are used for feedstocks to make products such as plastic and different chemicals, it produces electricity, and powers vehicles. How much longer do we have before we lose something we so deeply rely upon? That’s just oil, there’s coal, petroleum, natural gas, how long until we run out of those too? These and many others, are questions that deeply disturb and discourage people. I know many adults and even peers of mine, who live by a sad mentality that we are too far gone to be fixed. The event has already been set in motion, it’s the harsh presentation of information and facts that makes people turn away from the problem. I hear so much about what we should do, how we should do it, accompanied with graphs, numbers, statistics, fear. I can understand why someone would turn away. It’s terrifying.

What happens after? What exactly are we working towards? A more sustainable future. That’s what. Sometimes people need a visual, something tangible to hold onto, not just numbers. At some point instilling fear can only take a person to avoidance. I made my piece with this in mind, with my third grade self coaching me I made “Something Better.”

My piece, titled “Something Better”, is a visual representation of a sustainable, modern future. I wanted to show how we can normalize living more sustainably and not lose many of the modern luxuries we have today. I wanted to take this concept and show it in a hopeful, realistic integration of different renewable energy sources. To pay homage to my hometown, Harlingen, Texas, I set my piece in a coastal area and focused on representing float systems and solar panels as forms of wave and solar energy. Float systems catch and store energy from waves, they’re fuel free, versatile, and many models can either be integrated into coastal environments or used to protect reefs from overfishing by using the blockade method of protection. Solar panels are likely the most well-known source of renewable energy. Solar power is pollution free, and produces a constant amount of energy (especially in coastal towns). Wind turbines were also included into my piece, though not as the focal point. My main goal was to normalize renewable energy visually, which I chose to represent through someone surfing in their coastal town that happens to be sustainably powered. I truly think that by continuing to educate and encourage people, we can achieve something close to this everywhere possible. There’s a lot of problems in the world today, and a lot of negativity surrounding them, but that doesn’t mean we should lose hope. We should continue to strive for Something Better.

Earth Wise

My artwork portrays the world evolving to become more renewable. I show Earth reimagined as renewable energy, and Earth’s layers symbolizing different renewable sources of energy. The water on Earth’s crust is shown as solar panels, the mantle of the Earth is wiring controlling both the core and the solar panels, and the core is a wind turbine which powers the Earth. The wiring mantle in my artwork is a representation of the Earth being programmed, or wired to have renewable energy sources in use. The wiring spells out “ArtPrize-Consumers Energy-GRPS” to spark awareness of both the competition and the importance of our sustaining partners within our community.

The background of my artwork is a galaxy made of oil pastel shavings. I used a razor blade to get little splotches of pastel powder on the black pastel background; this represents energy being sucked toward Earth and bring s light to the power of renewable energy. Oil pastels added a sense of cloudiness while still having clarity which is good because I didn’t want the background to overpower the Earth. The Earth is composed of colored pencils and normal pencils to have a sharp picture that contrasts well with the background.

It is important to recognize and embrace renewable energy as a new way of life because it will halt climate change and reduce waste such as the overuse and burning of fossil fuels. After viewing this piece, your eyes will be opened to the change happening every day around you. Every day, the world will become a greener place.

Life Underwater

My artwork, Life Underwater, is about water levels rising as a result of climate change. This subject is incredibly important because our environment is in danger. With almost forty percent of the United States population living in higher-population coastal locations, flooding puts many people at risk. I created a painting of Grand Rapids underwater to show how our city and communities are not immune to flooding, which is a common sight every spring as the Grand River rises. I also used fish and animals found in the Grand River, like steelhead, in my piece for more detail and accuracy in the Grand River ecosystem. I am connected to flooding in Grand Rapids. I live by Riverside Park, and in the previous year, people were able to kayak where the playground is located! The flooding was dramatic and it gave me a reminder of how this issue will not lessen unless we take action. By using renewable energy sources, like solar, wind and water power, we can fight global warming. As of 2018, the use of fossil fuels was responsible for 89% of all CO2 emissions! By using greener energy sources, we protect the environment and ourselves. I chose my media through trial and error. I had originally wanted to collage the waves behind the city from newspapers and magazines, but collage took the focus off of the city, so I switched to paint and marker. I painted the fish and crayfish on separate papers, and then glued them onto the city to give them more attention from the viewer. I used watercolor paint and markers to create Grand Rapids because this is the media I have the most experience with. My hope is for viewers to understand Grand Rapids is affected by global warming and flooding when they see Life Underwater, and take action by using renewable energy. We all need to do our part to protect our environment!


My work was based on carbon emission and its relationship with one of the many affected birds. While burning fossil fuel for an energy craving economy, there are many effects on the environment. An example of this are the birds of Michigan. With the large quantity of fossil fuel burning and emitting carbon dioxide, the Earth is heating up more and more every year. If temperatures rise just 1.5 degrees higher, the sandhill crane could lose about 24% of their range. Currently, the sandhill crane is described as a moderate vulnerable species and the spring heat waves are causing danger to young birds in the nests. Through this painting I wanted to display the beauty of this bird while also displaying what the problem is. The bird is in flight as it is attempting to find a new home yet every place they go the same problem will follow. These large industries and factories are all over so no matter how far they go, in the end they will suffer consequences of our own making. I thought people should know that this bird, the oldest living species and the largest bird of Michigan, was now a vulnerable species. Although there has been progress with this specific species, many more birds in Michigan are still in need of solutions. I believe we owe it all the innocent bystanders of this earth to find how to fix the mess we as humans have caused. Perhaps the work of any of these students could be a part of the next solution.

Changing Tides

By 2050, it is estimated that sea levels will rise 11-13 inches. This would leave 110 million people’s homes underwater. All of this could happen and I would only be 46 years old. The rising sea levels are what inspired the piece you see here. This stained-glass window shows the rising ocean with silhouettes of wind turbines on the horizon implying a possible future. This hints at the urgency for switching to renewable energy sources sooner rather than later.
This was my first time working with glass and I was really excited about it. When I thought of this idea, I learned that my English teacher knew how to work with glass so once he taught me the basics I just kind of took off with it! The window is made from glass scraps donated to me, and the display case was made from a second-hand window frame. I made sure the construction of this project was as earth friendly as I could manage. As I started making the window I changed my mind a lot through the process, but I’m very happy with the way it came out.

Sewing Power

In my artwork Sewing Power, there is a water cycle that shows the continuous movements of water within the earth atmosphere. Liquid water evaporates into water vapor, condensed to form clouds, and precipitates back to earth in the form of rain and snow. As water flows down it turns blades in a turbine to spin a generator to produce electricity. This all together shows the process of the water cycle and how hydroelectricity is produced within moving water.

I chose to recreate this because I wanted to let people see the importance of water in threats and fabric. There is some expression about how we, as people, should be taking care of the water, since it provides us freshwater, electricity and many other goods. Also, hydroelectricity is renewable energy that we can use over and over again. Hydroelectric power can reduce the flows in rivers downstream if the upstream are trapped behind the reservoir. I tried my best to show some emotions towards water in this piece by showing the importance of using water to create electricity. Without water, there would be no life on earth.

In this art piece, the medium I chose to work with was fabric. My art piece has multiple colors plus it’s done by hand sewing with different threads. This was created by choosing three different renewable energy sources that are important to earth. Within this artwork I chose to use many different stitching techniques, including Running Stitch, Back Stitch, Whip Stitch and Blanket Stitch.
In the future, I would like to continue to create more realistic objects in fabric. Maybe add more textures and colors. In this artwork, I learn how to sew and learn many different sewing techniques.

Life’s Helping Hands

My artwork explores renewable energy and the impact of pollution on our environment. Renewable energy is exhibited through the water wheel and wind turbine which conduct renewable energy as opposed to environmentally destructive energy sources as fossil fuels. The idea for my artwork came from both being inspired to make a plaster casting of my hands and wanting to make art which advocates for the environment. The goal of this artwork came from both being inspired to make a plaster casting of my hands and wanting to make art which advocates for the environment. The goal of this art project was to show how through caring for the environment, we can make it healthier. I think that this project helped me think more deeply about how the Earth is strongly impacted by our everyday actions. If we take better care of it, it will become healthier and a happier environment with little to no pollution. If we let environmental priorities slip through our fingers, the result will be an unhealthy and uninhabitable world.

It’s Not Too Late

The theme of my artwork is about global warming. My topic relates to renewable energy by showing what would happen if we do not start using renewable energy. I think it is important to draw attention to this topic because many people are not aware of the severity of this issue. My artwork is a collage of a colored pencil drawing of the earth being depicted as a candle melting over a pedestal on a painted galaxy background. This hopefully illustrates how fragile our Earth is.