The colors connecting communities

SUHSD hosts first virtual Student Art Exhibition on YouTube


Isaac Lozano

Senior Makayla Naputi won the Superintendent’s Choice Award for her drawing Studying, which depicts a student in remote learning.

The soft timbre of piano notes hummed in the air as Michelle Spielman gave a warm welcome to the first viewers of the YouTube livestream, buzzing with excitement.

Chairperson for the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) Visual Art Council and Chula Vista High Visual Art teacher, Spielman was one of two hosts to introduce SUHSD’s first virtual annual Student Art Exhibit, where select artwork from high school and middle school students across the district are honored and displayed on public galleries. This year, the online ceremony showcased awards presented by district and community leaders, including Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas and SUHSD Superintendent Moses Aguirre, Ed.D. 

SUHSD Director of College and Career Readiness and Visual and Performing Arts Jeff Kover introduced the first round of artworks, praising students’ three-dimensional sculptures for their creativity, skill and emotional depth. Kover also noted students’ resilience throughout distance learning and their use of art to cope with the challenges of the pandemic.

Chula Vista Mayor Mary Salas awarded San Ysidro High student Angelica Duran Morales the Mayor’s Choice Award for her photograph Sisters. (Isaac Lozano)

“Throughout the last twelve months, we have pulled together to cope, support each other, and even grieve at the loss of loved ones. We have truly learned the value of family and community,” Kover said in the livestream. “As you can see by the artwork displayed, our artists have continued to shine.”

All art can be viewed in student galleries at Many of the works, including a drawing by BVH senior Makayla Naputi, touched on themes of isolation and student life during the pandemic. Naputi’s drawing, entitled Studying, was awarded the High School Superintendent’s Choice Award, according to Aguirre, “for [speaking] to the moment of students trying to learn in distance learning.”

Naputi said she felt “shock” and was “very pleased” when she discovered she won the award, as she was not aware she had been entered in the art competition by Photography and Advanced Placement (AP) 2D Art and Design teacher Edwin Lim. Earlier in the school year, Naputi contacted Lim to ask about art competitions she could participate in and was later entered by Lim in SUHSD’s annual art contest. 

Naputi began working on Studying in September without the intention of entering the piece in art contests. The piece was a culmination of months of work, both as an artist and as a student. Finishing her last year of high school in remote learning, Naputi intended to convey the “sense of disconnection” of being a student in the pandemic.

Salas praised Sisters for its “composition and lighting” in capturing the subjects’ emotions and depicting the light in the photograph.

“I think this is the hardest piece that I have ever done just because it’s so big and I was working [to portray] realism. I had to make sure that everything was right: the proportions, the shading, the coloring,” Naputi said. “But mainly, I wanted to convey how it felt to be a student during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of the times you’re stuck at the same desk working so it’s really hard.”

From a young age, Naputi has enjoyed art, including drawing and painting, as an outlet to express herself. She has posted her artworks on Instagram since middle school and received praise from family and friends for Studying

“My mom was very happy. Everyone on Facebook, everyone on her every social media account that she has they’ve seen it. So they’re very supportive about it. And Mr. Braunn [Naputi’s art teacher] really helps with constructive criticism. He helped me figure a lot of things out, like the composition and final touches that needed to be made that I couldn’t quite see,” Naputi said.

Chairperson for the SUHSD Visual Art Council and Chula Vista High Visual Art teacher Michelle Spielman and Eastlake Middle Art teacher and SUHSD Visual Art Council member Andrea Arroyo served as hosts for the 2021 SUHSD Student Art Exhibit. (Isaac Lozano)

For artists like Naputi, the pandemic has given way to a flourishing of new art, reflecting the disconnected reality of quarantine. She believes the pandemic has brought newfound creativity, both for herself and for the broader community. 

“Now that everyone is limited to their homes, what they can do inside is becoming a lot more popular among non-artists and people who are just looking for something to keep them busy. I love seeing the burst of creativity on social media and within my community,” Naputi said.