KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- This weekend a select group of teenagers with terrific photography skills already will start a special and exclusive learning experience at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. It will culminate in a rare opportunity for any artist -- let alone a high school age one -- a gallery showing of their work at the Nelson, an internationally-renowned art museum.
This week's Fox 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever is one of them.
When Schlagle High School in Kansas City, KS needs student photos taken these days, odds are they turn to one of their own. JaWuan Wallace has been busy lately snapping cap-and-gown portraits of his fellow seniors for the yearbook but for months he's been called on to shoot official school photos at sports events and other activities. He especially likes portrait work.
"It's just really funny, having fun with them," says JaWuan, "trying to get them to laugh. A real smile is what makes a picture."
JaWuan picked up photography not that long ago but he proved to be a natural.
"I can't really fathom it myself," says Schlagle High School business teacher Tim Sostarich who supervises JaWuan on the school photo projects. "I worked in advertising for 20 years and you name the top 10 photographers in the Kansas City area and I worked with them all and there's one thing JaWuan does better than almost anybody I've ever seen and that's, he can just pick up the camera and point it and click and what he gets the shot, the way he composes the shot, it's truly uncanny. I don't know how he does it."
JaWuan has built up an impressive body of work already. A professional photographer has mentored him and he got a great opportunity to participate in an art appreciation for youth program at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. JaWuan caught the eye of experts at the Nelson and now he's been invited back to an exclusive five-weekend workshop at the museum called the Photography Scholars Program to learn high level photography.
"They looked at his work and the quality of his work was part of the reason he was asked even to apply," says Schlagle High School art teacher Cathy Hotz. "His work was above and beyond what the educators there had ever seen in a high school student."
JaWuan will be one of only 15 in the program. And it all ends with an exhibition of his work at the Nelson, leaving him almost speechless.
"I mean, how many 17 year olds can say, 'I had my own showing at the Nelson?'" says JaWuan with a hearty laugh.
"I personally don't know any artist that has a gallery opening at the Nelson Museum of Art," says Hotz with a chuckle. JaWuan is a man with a plan. It turns out not only is he brilliant artistically, he's also very business savvy.
"I'm working on my website," JaWuan tells a visiting reporter as his fingers race across the keyboard of a small laptop computer in a classroom at Schlagle High. JaWuan has been studying in the school's Youth Entrepreneurs classes, learning the ins and outs of starting and running his own small business.
"He's a straightforward person," says Schlagle High School Youth Entrepreneurs teacher LuJuana Hopson. "He drives on determination. He drives on commitment. Creativity."
JaWuan's already been dabbling in taking photos for a fee and now he's ready to launch Studio 1995, his own portrait photography business. And with an incredible opportunity to show at a renowned art museum, JaWuan is just a click away.
"It means so much to me for them to actually pick me," says JaWuan.
JaWuan will have his showing at the Nelson on Thursday, April 11th from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. And as he moves forward in his career, besides portrait photography, JaWuan plans on doing fine art, family photos, fashion photography and maybe even news photography.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 5 p.m.