Originally posted June 2011

I arrived at the Midtown office of the Istanbul Center at about 4:00pm. I wanted to help Sedat Memnun, this year’s IC Education Coordinator, set up the tables for the university students who would come in at 5:30. I had stopped along the way to pick up some cookies for them to snack on while they performed the first round of adjudicaton. When I walked into the Center I found that the tables had all been set up, and the Middle School works were all neatly arranged. In fact, my trip to the grocery for cookies was also unnecessary, as Sedat had already purchased a sample of snacks to feed the hungry undergraduates while they worked. Of course, there was a huge tray of baklava among the food offerings.

Sedat and I chatted for a moment, catching up since our last visit (in late October at the Fall 2010 Georgia Art Education Association Conference at Calloway Gardens). I have been to the Istanbul Center since that time, but on days when Sedat was off roaming about the Southeast, trying to sell other states on the idea of this or that project from the center. He and Sarabrynn Hudgins, Mr. Celik’s new assistant and program coordinator, are kept very busy. New brochures about the Istanbul Center’s projects are always being prepared by these two and Gonca Unca, the IC Director of Art and Design. The staff is traveling almost every day, as new teachers are being oriented at their schools by the IC staff toward a science education initiative that the center is beginning this year.

This is the fifth year of the Istanbul Center Art and Essay Contest — a good time to reflect on how the program has grown over the years. With contest experience as a hallmark of his leadership, Tarik Celik is the powerful force behind the success of this particular art and essay program. Still, I think he would quickly second that this success would not have been achieved if not for his excellent staff, including formerly Katherine Whitehead, Omer Ozbek, Gurkan Ekicikol, and now Sedat and Sarabrynn. Tarik has a way of getting what he wants from people, whether it be funding from his generous “friends” around the world or total dedication from the people working under him. He is a strong character, and is very bright as well. He does not generally accept “no” for an answer. While this is not a great quality in most people, it works pretty well for this CEO.

Istanbul Center Program Coordinator’s activities summary:

  • Facilitate judges/staff/board members, etc. in debating and choosing annual theme
  • Draft text for A&E Contest flyer/posters for publicity
  • Review/edit A&E Contest flyers/posters once made by graphic designer
  • Send A&E Contest announcement to teachers in May with dates and annual theme included
  • Update the huge “Letter to Teachers” document, including contest and trip rules, with any changes decided upon from last year.
  • Send contest announcement to teachers, superintendents, curriculum coordinators with contest submission dates and complete Letter to Teachers rulebook during 1st week of August
  • Follow-up regularly with rounds of Phone calls to superintendents’ offices
  • Calls/emails to previously-participating teachers, especially past trip participant
  • Phone calls to curriculum coordinators
  • In-person visits to area schools
  • Calls to school principals
  • Arrange awards ceremony
  • Find venue & handle related paperwork
  • Plan awards ceremony registration, nametags, seating arrangements, certificates and other paperwork/organizational tasks
  • Notify winning students and follow-up on:
  • Trip winners’ paperwork
  • Awards ceremony RSVPs
  • Getting student photos for awards ceremony booklet
  • Post winners’ information on Istanbul Center website, including awards ceremony details
  • Draft new text for “A&E Contest Awards Ceremony” booklet
  • Review/edit “A&E Contest Awards Ceremony” booklet once made by graphic designer
  • Send “A&E Contest Awards Ceremony” invitations to participating teachers/students/schools
  • Execute “A & E Contest Awards Ceremony” with Educational Programs Director
  • Send out unclaimed awards and certificates
  • Process trip paperwork and handle student/teacher/parent questions about the trip
  • Plan and execute trip orientation session(s)

When Tarik came on board in a full-time capacity as “Director of the Istanbul Center,” he instituted many changes. A former science educator and a sharp critical thinker, Tarik adopted and built upon ideas generated by the former volunteer director, Kemal Korucu. Part of his success is related to the security afforded by a full-time position; however, it also stems from his strong managerial style, including his solicitation of various opinions when trying to resolve problems. Each issue is explored with area specialists, but then debated in advisory board meetings and with other partners whose input may provide alternative angles from which to view the problem at hand. While initially it may be frustrating for specialists to have their educated opinions sought and then ignored, it also ensures that Tarik is gleaning the very best option from the many sources that contribute their views on an issue. One example of that reliance on a debated issue was the integration of a rubric for the art judges. Artists do not typically like to be restricted by numbers (it’s not generally their territory of specialization), but Tarik (and his larger group of thinkers) wanted to add this level of objectivity to the art adjudication process. So, we added a primary level of review with rubrics, using undergraduate art education students from my home institution.

I began involving my own art education students in the judging process of the Istanbul Center’s art contest in 2010. At this point in their training, these students were still learning about secondary school graphic development, as well as how to properly gauge success in artworks using a formal grading system. A rubric used at this preliminary stage of judging was helpful to the students as they reviewed and then ranked artworks. There was a practical purpose for the initial “hierarchical” rating, as it helped to cull through the over 1,000 works generally submitted to the art contest. Nevertheless, using rubrics for art contests is somewhat heretical in art adjudication circles. There is a tendency to use subjective, but more reliable methods of triangulation — combining several reviewers’ informed critical opinions when determining value in artworks. The students’ quantified rankings were met with suspicion by the faculty judges, who, in truth, were the “real” decision makers for our final slate of winners. While I regret that the faculty judges found this process unnerving, I do see clear benefits to my art education students. First of all, they were able to provide a constructive service to an active community organization that craves young partners who are willing to work toward a common good, in this case helping to identify ideas that provide “out–of-the-box” solutions/opinions on this world that we all share. For many of my art education students, the contest was their first contact with people from Turkey (or even Muslims in general). Just being at the Istanbul Center for two sessions of classes gave the students an idea of Turkish gentility and enthusiasm for building international relationships. My students also had an opportunity to see how artworks can be evaluated according to formal directives.

As more and more “objective” evaluation criteria are used in our schools to assess artworks (sadly, to validate the importance of the arts in our schools), I can be certain that my students can administer rigorous assessment according to well defined parameters when needed.

I asked an art education colleague and program evaluator, Dr. April Munson, to examine the art judging process in 2010. Dr. Munson’s remarks are included in this collection of essays from various stakeholders. Ultimately, Munson recognized that the end product, effective judging, was achieved. I have also asked several of the other stakeholders to write about their experiences, particularly as to how the contest has grown and currently operates. I submitted a series of questions to serve as a kind of guide,[1] but the writers had complete liberty to explore issues that were most important to them. That collection of viewpoints should help the reader to understand the shoots of this growing tree.

Sedat Memnun adds to this assembly with an assessment of work following his first year as the IC’s Director of Educational Programs:

I have been coordinating the art and essay contest for seven months at the Istanbul Center, and I have seen that this contest helps young people to be more tolerant and open as they express them selves creatively. The themes are chosen very carefully, for this contest creates ways for students to be more responsive to global problems and think about helping their community at multiple levels. The Istanbul Center wants to proactively contribute to solving educational, cultural, environmental, social, and humanitarian issues and to create opportunities for dialogue between communities in order to build bridges between cultures. The Istanbul Center Art and Essay Contest fits our institutional mission while satisfying the stated goals of art practitioners: “Arts education helps all students develop more appreciation and understanding of the world around them.”2

The secondary students are not the only ones to benefit from this contest. I personally have learned much in terms of understanding the students’ thinking styles as well as the influence of their culture on their discernments. As a native of Turkey, it was interesting (and reassuring) for me to hear a Korean-American student (as she explained her art piece) comment on the similarities of an American woman and a Muslim woman reflecting on one another through the very natural recourse of empathy. This contest is a very good tool for different cultures to know and understand one another. We need more of this type of understanding. We hope that the contest will continue to grow to become a nationwide competition, and perhaps an international project in the coming years.


1. The guide was as follows: (a) What is your experience in the arts?...and/or…What is your experience with the Istanbul Center? (b) How did you come to know the Istanbul Center art contest? What was/is your function regarding contest facilitation/participation? (c)  Did your experience with the contest introduce you to the work of the IC? Or rather, did your experience with the contest introduce you to the visual arts? (d) Did you have any concerns about this contest, or contests in general? (e) In what ways was the contest successful and/ or unsuccessful? (f ) In what ways should the contest organizers continue to develop the contest? (g) Did you learn anything new during this experience? (h) If you participated in a “Dialogue” trip to Turkey (that resulted from your contest participation), please describe that experience. How did this trip impact your life/thoughts?

2. Americans for the Arts, http://www.americansforthearts.org.