Last month, 18-year-old Cornelius Tulloch visited the nation’s capital for the first time. The Miami native, who grew up in Ives Dairy, had just won one of only 20 spots on the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts award list. As an honoree, Tulloch flew to Washington, D.C., to participate in a publicly performed piece directed by actress/dancer Debbie Allen and to display his art and architectural concept works at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
This prestigious program, which President Lyndon B. Johnson launched in 1964, aims to recognize the brightest high-school seniors in the nation. Each year, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects candidates based on their academic achievements, personal characteristics, leadership skills and service, and writing ability. The committee chooses 161 students each year — two from each state, D.C., Puerto Rico, and families living abroad, plus 15 at-large, 20 in career and technical education, and the 20 designated as Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
But just to be considered as a Presidential Scholar in the Arts is no easy feat. Interested students must first apply to the National YoungArts Foundation (based in Miami). Then, in January of each year, YoungArts blindly evaluates nominated candidates and recommends 60 to the White House Commission. At that point, the committee selects its final 20 arts scholars. Tulloch was one of five students from Miami-Dade County to earn this honor in the arts.
According to YoungArts alumna and panelist Naomi Fisher, she and the other judges blindly assess all of the initial applications. But once they made their selections, she says, “Cornelius' work stood out as truly original in its approach. Once the winners are named, we learn where they are from and then, when we finally meet them, so much more about who they are. When we met Cornelius, we were awed by his abilities as a thinker and the generosity with which he engaged with his peers.”
Tulloch, a graduate of the Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH) in the Design District, is both a visual artist and an aspiring architect. He’ll head to Cornell University in the fall to pursue a degree in architecture. But growing up in Miami and surrounded by it art deco stylings and cultural diversity inspired both facets of his creative expression.
“Besides being in Miami, a melting pot of cultures, my own cultural background of being a mix of Jamaican, Bahamian, and African-American really has an effect on me," Tulloch says. “I embrace my African-American cultural heritage, and I infuse my work with the vibrant colors, lively music and dance, and culture of the Caribbean. I am inspired by my cultural heritage, as it has produced justice seekers, freedom fighters, and people who revolutionized American culture with their ideals, music, and styles. Self-expression is a big part of these cultures, which is why I express myself in a creative way.”
But Tulloch recalls that his interest in art and architecture (and their nexus) began at an early age. “I have always had a passion for art since elementary school, maybe even preschool,” he says. “My first-grade teacher would always tell my mom how I would finish tests early and create elaborate doodles on the back of them.”
He won his first art award — third place — in a middle-school competition, but not until he was accepted at DASH did he begin to explore other facets of design.
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“For architecture, although it sounds a bit cliché, I had always enjoyed building things,” Tulloch admits. “But also, it was my dedication to academics and especially sciences that made me fall in love with architecture. For me, architecture seemed to be the perfect mix of art and science, which is what makes it so appealing as a strand of design. When I began the program at DASH, I had assumptions of what architecture was, but instead, it opened up my view of what architecture is and allowed me to see the many avenues of design that an education in architecture can offer.”
Tulloch’s goals for the future are clear, determined, and sprinkled with idealism. In college, he says, he wants to connect and collaborate with fellow students in other disciplines — artists, designers, and others. Through his own art, he hopes to raise awareness of a range of social issues, such as environmentalism and race relations. And in his professional life, he looks forward to combining his passions in some sort of interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial career. He muses about opening his own architecture firm that allows for positive yet practical design implementation. Yet he also considers starting an educational program not unlike YoungArts or DASH that helps foster creative thinking within the realm of traditional schooling.
Still, no matter where Tulloch ventures — Ithaca, New York, for college and beyond — Miami will always be home. He says, “After college, I intend to be back in Miami, the 305. It’s where I was born and raised, and I want to come back and contribute to making it an even more amazing city than it already is. Miami has so much potential, and I want to be a part of building it up. It is a cultural hub where creativity flourishes and people are allowed to express themselves artistically. Honestly, there’s no place like it.”
Applications to become a 2017 YoungArts winner (and thereby considered for the Presidential Scholar in the Arts award) will be accepted through October 14, 2016. Learn more at YoungArts.