MADfest returns, boasting popularity in numbers 

By Daniel Morgan, Editor
 
The ever-popular West Virginia Media Arts and Design Festival (MADfest) is approaching its 17th year at West Liberty University with much anticipation for April 7, 2017. The maximum 325 high school student spots filled up in less than a week of pre-registration, and according to festival director Jim Haizlett, over 100 high schoolers are on a waiting list. 
 
Center for Arts and Education Director Lou Karas is responsible for high school registration, which was capped at 30 students per high school due to MADfest’s popularity. She has 13 high schools from Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania penciled in so far; Karas said the registration took off quickly once it opened on Eventbrite. 
 
Haizlett is pleased with the event’s growing popularity. He created MADfest in 2000 as an outlet of one of his courses so that students could have their work seen and judged by professionals. “I was teaching animation and saw these interesting projects that I thought the students did a good job with, and I thought it would be interesting for other people to see,” he said. 
 
It grew from a state-wide event into a six-state festival that included hundreds of animations from many colleges. Then, the event broadened its focus to allow high schoolers to compete and experience the professional media arts. Special guests and accomplished judges attend for students to engage with and learn from working professionals. 
 
“There’s a lot of real interest in high schools to get their students involved and learning about these professional activities in the media arts,” Haizlett said. “We have a lot of interest and we try to put on a great day for them. Part of it is exposing them to the campus, and we have seen students from all different majors where MADfest has been their first exposure to West Liberty University and meeting professors and seeing what West Liberty has to offer. We see it as a great recruitment opportunity but also a way to inspire students to let them see that you can make a living and a career doing media arts.” 
 
“A really special thing that happens is when the judge that picked a certain piece speaks directly to the student in front of a whole auditorium full of people. It’s just a very exciting moment for those students to get that kind of recognition.” 
 
“In the media arts, there’s a lot of work that’s done independently,” Haizlett explained. “You’re sitting alone working on a piece of art with your computer, and there’s not a lot of opportunity to get recognition for that. So, the awards part is probably my favorite part because it gives recognition to students. I’ve seen students use their awards on their resumes an when they go to apply for jobs, they feature that they’ve won an award. It’s nice thing to see it has that kind of weight to give some encouragement to students.”
 
This year’s MADfest winners will be decided by four jurors: motion graphics and visual effects artist Danny Johnson from Pittsburgh; musician and video artist Mark Snyder from Fredericksburg, Va.; comics journalist and illustrator Em Demarco from Pittsburgh; illustrator, photographer, and publisher Jesse Lenz, a West Liberty graduate. 
 
 When commenting on the possibility of increasing the size of the event in the future, Haizlett said, “We’re going to definitely brainstorm that because I think by the end we’re going to have to turn away two to three hundred students, which is unfortunate. It’s good in one way because it shows that it’s popular, but in the other way it’s unfortunate because there are hundreds of students who won’t be able to attend because they didn’t sign up in time.”
 
Haizlett credits a lot of the event’s success to Karas. “She’s been very helpful moving this along,” he said. “She’s been a very good connection to professionals in the Pittsburgh market, the Warhol museum comes down and they put on some displays, and she has a lot of great connections out there and has been very helpful organizing the event and registering teachers and schools, and even helping to fund some of the speakers that come in through the Center for Arts and Education. She’s very helpful to make this a great event.” 
 
MADfest will kick off at 8 a.m. with the final sessions wrapping up at 3 p.m. According to Karas, some of the hands on activities will include a collage/silkscreen activity with the Warhol Museum, a “What Does Your Voice Look Like” activity with SLB Productions, and a stop motion animation activity with the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley. 
 
All West Liberty students are encouraged to enter the competition; submission details can be found on its website. Entries close on March 11

Photo credit: westliberty.edu/MADfest

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