A National Park Service Art Competition Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

The National Park Service, in partnership with the National Park Foundation's African American Experience Fund, announced winners of the Expressions of Freedom, a nationwide student artistic competition to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. The competition offered youth an opportunity to connect with national historic parks and landmark sites, while exploring the enduring themes of our nation's struggles for freedom and equality for all through art.

Winners were selected from more than 250 student submissions in three categories: poetry, photography and digital short films. Students between the ages of 13-18 years were challenged to answer the question, "What does freedom mean to you?"

The National Park Service, in partnership with the African American Experience Fund of the National Park Foundation, presents Expressions of Freedom.

There is but one way to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation. That is to make its declarations of freedom real . . .

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., September 12, 1962
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Check out this video to learn more about the Expressions of Freedom contest!

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.

National Park Service

150th Anniversary Commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a single document that affected the nation's history. The Emancipation Proclamation led to the end of slavery, an injustice that had fueled the Civil War. But the fulfillment of that promise proved long and difficult for many. Equality remained elusive 100 years later as Martin Luther King, Jr., worked to advance civil rights and end racial segregation and discrimination. Today America's national parks preserve important aspects of the journey toward liberty as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Mary Bethune video
Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS video workshop.

National Park Service

A Student Contest

In commemoration and celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the National Park Service (NPS) announces a nationwide art competition in three categories: photography, poetry, and digital short films. The competition is open to students ages 13 to 18 and will be juried by professional artists. Submissions of artistic works are required to explore personal meanings of freedom and relate to nationally significant themes. The first-place winner in each category will receive a $2,500 academic scholarship. Second-place winners in each category will receive a $1,000 academic scholarship.

Booker T. Washington NM
Youth involved in living history event at Booker T. Washington NM.

National Park Service

Expressions of Freedom

The goal of the Expressions of Freedom project is to connect student artists to the significance of the American Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the system of national parks that tell the many stories of paths to freedom throughout American history. Through its network of educational outreach, partners, and existing arts-related programs, the NPS is encouraging participation from local youth in a competition that allows student artists to explore personal meanings of freedom within the framework of several themes:

• The significance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War.

• The struggles of the American Civil Rights movement.

• A path to freedom and equality reflected in one of America's national parks.

Artists are encouraged to explore the relationship between these themes and to develop projects in collaboration with a national park or park partner organization in their community. The competition will culminate at an awards event in Washington, DC. The competition also provides potential for involvement by partners and cultural institutions, such as the Smithsonian Institution or the National Archives.

Mt. Rushmore
Mt. Rushmore NM

National Park Service

Competition Timeline

The Expressions of Freedom competition will be announced in the spring of 2012 with submissions due in fall. This offers an opportunity for both school and summer youth program participation.

Submissions in each category are due October 15, 2012, and will be juried regionally to be coordinated by a key participating park or park partner. Regional winners will be juried in Washington, DC. The winners will be announced in January of 2013 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 2013.

Spring 2012: Partnership, promotional materials development, and competition announcement
Summer 2012: Student art project development
Fall 2012: Submission deadline and regional juries
Winter 2012 -2013: Final jury and selection of winners

Badlands NP

National Park Service


The National Park Service, in partnership with the African American Experience Fund of the National Park Foundation, presents Expressions of Freedom. We also invite our partners, cooperating associations, the cultural and arts community, and educational organizations to be involved.

In addition, the NPS is seeking professional artists from within the NPS Artist-In-Residence program community, existing youth arts programs, and our museum partners to participate as mentors, as well as judges in the competitive jury process. The National Park Service is excited to collaborate with both local and national partners to connect America's young artists with the threads of history and freedom.

Last updated: April 30, 2018

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