Hunter High student Romnel Tan hopes to become a Catholic priest one day.
It's a goal that led Tan to find an outlet for his passion: creating stained glass in art classes. He showcased his talent Monday during a competition at Taylorsville High that pitted some of the state's most artistic students against each other in a four-hour race to create unique works of art.
"Art Night Live!" featured 57 students from eight high schools who used mediums such as watercolor, pastel, oil, acrylic, charcoal, pen and ink, pencil and stained glass as they competed for $1,200 in scholarship money donated by the Granite Education Foundation.
In its 10th year, the contest drew local artists Al Rounds, Susan Jarvis, Nathan Pinnock and Nathan Newman as judges. They viewed students' newly created artwork and pieces the participants had previously created.
Students had a mix of inspirations.
While Skyline High student Hannah Moffat created art based on her appreciation for classic masters such as DaVinci, Michelangelo and Monet, student Sonearly Sokhom, from Hunter High, brought art into the digital age by drawing on a computer tablet.
Holly Nelson, a volunteer for the Granite Education Foundation who has helped to organize the event for several years, said it gives students who are gifted in the arts a chance to revel in the spotlight.
"We hear so much on high school football and all of the other sports," Nelson said. "This is kind of the one night when the arts students get their moment."
The event highlights the importance of arts in education at a time when arts programs around Utah have been put on the chopping block because of budget cuts, Nelson said.
A report by the U.S. Department of Education last spring revealed that fewer public elementary schools are offering visual arts, dance and drama classes than a decade ago. The percentage of elementary schools with a visual arts class declined from 87 to 83 percent. In drama, the drop was more severe: from 20 percent to 4 percent in the 2009-10 school year.
Utah schools haven't been immune to the trend.
For example, the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program in which specialists are teaching visual art, dance, theater and music in 75 Utah elementary schools saw funding dwindle this school year. That forced the program to split teachers' time between two schools each, which means in many cases kids are receiving art instruction half as often.
Program leaders had asked lawmakers for $4 million for this school year but ended up with $2 million. Some lawmakers were concerned that the program wasn't reaching enough kids for its cost.
Similar cutbacks have occurred in other districts.
Nelson said Monday's event was a chance to focus on the positive outcomes of art in schools. As students scrambled to finish their projects within the four-hour time limit, the judges offered advice and encouragement.
"This event is also kind of a mentoring experience for the students," Nelson said. "Usually as artists, we kind of work in a solitary environment. It's a little bit different at this event."