SOPAC’s Annual Young Artist Exhibition Showcases Renewed Creativity Post-Pandemic Lockdown

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From the South Orange Performing Arts Center:

Emmanuella Estime with “Gaze”

The INSPIRED MINDS: Young Artist Exhibition is a visual arts program designed to nurture and enrich the next generation by celebrating young artists in the region. This annual program provides a comprehensive, professional gallery experience to art students from submission, selection, exhibition and possible sale of their artwork. 

This year, INSPIRED MINDS returned to The Herb + Milly Iris Gallery at SOPAC for an in-person opening reception and exhibition after two years of drive-through showcases due to Covid-19 restrictions. The 2022 show, on display through August 14, includes more than 70 pieces created by 60 students from 14 Essex County high schools. 

“To see the reaction of the art students when they see their work hung in a professional gallery is priceless,” says Jeremy Moss, curator for The Herb + Milly Iris Gallery. “This year’s exhibition is the largest ever installed in the gallery and, in my humble opinion, the highest quality work we have had. Bravo to all of the students and their teachers!”

For the opening reception on May 19, 130 guests attended, including students, family members, teachers and district administrators. On that night, 13 pieces of artwork were sold—the most ever at an opening reception for the Iris Gallery.

“The opening reception for Inspired Minds is my favorite evening in the gallery,” says Linda Beard, SOPAC’s Director of Community Engagement. “To see the guests appreciate the students’ artwork and get caught up in the kids’ excitement, and to see that they also want the students to feel celebrated and successful—that’s the kind of impact that feeds my soul.”

Each year, hundreds of submissions are juried by a panel of distinguished artists, photographers, museum curators and arts advocates. The result is an exciting and eclectic body of work from the perspective of emerging artists.

“Participating in the Inspired Minds exhibition is an extremely important part of our art students’ curriculum and a steppingstone to the level of work that can be achieved,” says Arlene Brown, an art educator at Livingston High School.

The challenges of remote and hybrid learning over the past two years have reinforced the importance of arts education and the desire for self-expression.

“There is more variety, creativity and enthusiasm to get great photographs and see the world in different ways,” says Brown. “My students are being who they are personally and artistically, once again.”

April Hart, an art educator at East Orange Campus High School, has noticed the same eagerness in her students. “I definitely saw an uptick within the students to get back to creating,” she says. “The work that my students have been producing has been a lot more personal and light. They’re not stressing over the little things, but just having fun and that’s the most important thing.”

View all the works from this exhibition in our Flickr Gallery. If visitors are interested in making a purchase, they can contact Linda Beard at (973) 382-1035 or


About The Herb + Milly Iris Gallery:

The gallery was initiated by beloved SOPAC board member, Milly Iris. Both Milly and her husband Herb were longtime supporters of SOPAC, avid collectors and devoted arts advocates. The family legacy continues through the generous support of Herb and Milly’s daughters, Roreé and Kerry and The Iris Family Foundation. The gallery is located on the second and third floors of the South Orange Performing Arts Center. The Gallery is free and open from Monday-Saturday, noon– 6PM.

About SOPAC: 

Since 2006, SOPAC has been serving as a premier performing arts center in the region. SOPAC offers innovative artistic and cultural experiences for diverse audiences in an intimate, inviting environment. The arts center hosts a variety of live performances, community events and education programs for all ages. SOPAC is home for Seton Hall University Arts Council’s performances, including the Classical Concert Series, Jazz ‘N the Hall performances and Seton Hall University Theatre productions. SOPAC programs are made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. For more information, visit

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