An invitation arrived in the mail for the 18th annual Trustee Scholar Awards. “Creating a Masterpiece” was inscribed across the front with framed silhouettes of 12 trustee scholars. It’s the kind of invitation that leaves an impression and piques curiosity — as did the actual program Oct. 17.
In the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, two large video screens sat on either side of a narrow stage filled with elegant and eclectic chairs staggered in three rows. Trustee scholars sat in each of these chairs and told their stories.
Being named a trustee scholar is the highest honor at Ringling. These seniors are the cream of the crop, nominated by faculty based on talent, contributions and leadership.
After each scholar told his story, part of the elegant curtained wall behind them dropped to reveal an 18-foot-by-12-foot photo of the group.
In 18 years, this was the first time the students created something together. Past years featured individual photos of students, but nothing created by them as a collaboration. The concept for the masterpiece was for a group photo of the well-dressed scholars to suggest the transformation that takes place at Ringling and to show the caliber of students the college produces.
Ringling seniors Dehne Sibbernsen and Dylan Johnston were the two scholars selected to head not only the masterpiece project, but also plan the event’s program — each spending more than 120 hours to bring it all to life.
“Everything that you see tonight was produced by a Ringling student,” says Sibbernsen. The intention was to show the progression of a student from a freshman to a senior master — hence, the unveiling of the masterpiece.
“It was like a class of its own,” Johnston says.
The two Ringling scholars conceptualized the masterpiece, scouted the photo shoot location, contacted businesses to donate furniture, set up the shoot and planned the awards program. They oversaw every element and put their leadership skills to the test by directing a team of 10 crew members responsible for wardrobe, lighting design, makeup and photography.
The shoot was inspired by photographer Annie Lebowitz’s work. It was high fashion and looks like a spread in Vogue, with students wearing Chanel suits sitting on expensive furniture and Persian rugs, with the backdrop of the rusticated future home of Sarasota Museum of Modern Art on the Sarasota High School campus.
“There were paint chips literally falling off as the breeze was blowing in,” Sibbernsen says.
The group finagled its way onto the third floor, which was originally off-limits and isn’t air-conditioned.
But the duo had a hand in the smaller photo shoot decisions, too.
“Down to — who are we going to have with rose lips? … to whose bow-tie is tied, and whose isn’t tied?” Sibbernsen says.
Johnston directed the team shooting the photos, setting up the lights and the designing and constructing the set. He also oversaw the 35 gigabytes of photos that resulted from the shoot.
“I was art directing the shoot, but I was actually in the photo also,” Johnston says. “I had to run to look at the laptop and then get back in my spot.”
There was a lot of running around during the two days and more than 30 hours the shoot took place. And they did it on top of attending class and working on their theses.
Murmurs from the audience of “That was the best one yet,” “How neat!” and “Wait, students did this?” suggested the final result was worth the effort.
“I kind of left my mark,” Johnston says. “I was really happy to do it; to be picked for this. It was a huge honor.”
Sibbernsen nods his head in agreement.
“How we took an idea and to see it come to full fruition, to see the manifestation of the whole idea ... ” Sibbernsen says trailing off.
The students’ masterpiece speaks for itself.
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