A local high school student’s artwork is receiving the ultimate recognition — a spot at the Smithsonian.
“Being locked in and not doing anything for hours and days at a time, I was bored,” Daniel Rivera said as he “doodled” on a piece of paper Tuesday in his art classroom at Berlin Central School. “I hate to give COVID credit, but if it wasn’t for COVID, I probably wouldn’t be as into art as I am right now.”
We’re just a few years removed from those days, and during that time, Rivera has been developing his craft.
“I literally came here for study halls, lunches,” he said. “I had two classes of art every day.”
That was last fall, the start of his senior year, when he started a project inspired by the Democracy Collection Student Art Competition. It’s an annual contest hosted by National Art Education Association and the Art in Embassies of the U.S. Department of State that encourages students to explore democracy through art.
“I’ve been noticing that in today’s era, talking with somebody about a controversial topic is becoming harder to do,” he said, “mainly because they become defensive or it just becomes a toxic thing to do.”
Rivera’s disappointment in that current reality translated into a painting called “Tears of Miss Justice: Mourning a Broken System.”
“I don’t know why, but I kind of see our country as like our mother, a caregiver, somebody that takes care of us,” he said explaining the piece. “The red and blue tears represent the two political parties. And I want the gauze around her eyes to represent the blindness I’ve noticed a lot of people have.”
The work secured a win both on a regional and national level.
I actually had to call them back and be like, ‘wait, he won the whole thing?’” recalled Rivers’ art teacher, Samantha Colbert. “They were like ‘yeah, best in show.’ ”
Rivera’s piece will be displayed at the Smithsonian in September.
“When we go there, I’m assuming that’s when it’ll really settle in, what I accomplished,” Rivera said.
It will then permanently become part of the Art in Embassies Collection, which travels through U.S. embassies around the world.
“He’s always been a student that you knew was going to do something,” Colbert said, “whether it was art or something else.”
Rivera is off to Siena College this fall, and while art won’t be the focus point out of the gate, he’ll be working on his skills in a drawing class.
“I came a long way in art, but I’m nowhere near where I want to be with it,” Rivera said. “I’m not satisfied with it.”