Youth diversity art contest winners’ work will be seen by 1 million O.C. Fair visitors

A drawing from Seylah Bae, 13, took top prize at OCFEC's Youth Diversity Art Competition.
An untitled digital drawing from Fullerton artist Seylah Bae, 13, took top prize at OCFEC’s Youth Diversity Art competition.
(Courtesy of OC Fair & Event Center)

Three budding local artists will soon debut their work in grandiose fashion, taking their talents from the classroom to the fairgrounds to deliver a message of inclusion to more than 1 million visitors to the O.C. Fair.

An inaugural Plaza Pacifica Youth Diversity Art Competition sought visual art submissions from students ages 13 to 17 throughout the county focusing on themes of diversity, equity and inclusion with an Orange County flair.

Winners would receive $500 and the chance to see their creations displayed throughout the duration of this year’s county fair in a student art gallery, on buildings and larger-than-life digital screens and on the website and social media accounts of the OC Fair & Event Center.

Winners of the OC Fair & Event Center Youth Diversity Art competition, from left, Claire Chong, Seylah Bae and Vincent Pham.
Winners of the OC Fair & Event Center Youth Diversity Art competition, from left, Claire Chong, Seylah Bae and Vincent Pham.
(Susan Hoffman)

Natalie Rubalcava-Garcia — an OCFEC board member and chair of the board’s Community Affairs Committee, which organized the contest — said the idea was to explore themes related to diversity through the eyes of young people.

“It was really an opportunity to ask what they thought of diversity, equity and inclusion in Orange County,” said Rubalcava-Garcia, who is also a member of the Anaheim City Council. “We want to be able to engage our youth and make sure their voices are being heard.”

After receiving submissions from more than a dozen young artists, judges picked the top three entries, officially recognizing them in a board meeting Thursday with cash prizes and a certificate of recognition and allowing them to speak on what inspired their art.

Claire Chong, an eighth-grader at Irvine's Jeffrey Trail Middle School won second-place in an OCFEC youth art contest.
(Courtesy of OC Fair & Event Center)

Taking first place was a digital drawing created by 13-year-old Seylah Bae, of Fullerton. An eighth-grader at Kraemer Middle School in Placentia, she said she heard about the contest from her art teacher, Tayler Perez.

“My teacher likes to introduce contests to us,” the teen said in an interview Thursday. “She’d post contests on her Google Classroom [page] and tell her art classes about them.”

So Seylah got to work. An advanced-level art student, she uses many different media but especially likes creating digital art on applications like Clip Studio Paint, which allows users to use a stylus and pixels to draw on the canvas of a screen instead of a sketchpad.

Working about two weeks ahead of the contest’s Dec. 31 deadline, the student created a delicate rendering of people of many races surrounded by visual touchstones of California and Orange County, including poppies, butterflies and, of course, oranges, set against a backdrop intended to signify the Pacific Ocean and the sky at sunset.

“I knew I wanted to do something with humans — I feel diversity is best represented by people,” Seylah said of her subject matter. “I also included the landscape of Orange County, because that’s something I really enjoy.”

Taking second place in the competition was 13-year-year-old Irvine resident Claire Chong, who attends eighth-grade at Jeffrey Trail Middle School. Her work shows people of different ethnicities surrounding depictions of local cultural touchstones, including food and landmarks like the Santa Ana water tower.

Fountain Valley High freshman Vincent Pham won third place in a youth art contest hosted by the OC Fair & Event Center.
Fountain Valley High freshman Vincent Pham won third place in a youth art contest hosted by OC Fair & Event Center for a landscape rendered in paint and colored pencil.
(Susan Hoffman)

Third-place honors were awarded Thursday to Vincent Pham, a Fountain Valley High School freshman, who shared an artist’s statement about a peopled landscape scene with OCFEC board members.

“My painting represents a world where individuals coexist peacefully with one another,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your background is or your gender.”

Other initiatives spearheaded by the Community Affairs Committee — an amalgam of OC Fair & Event Center’s erstwhile Diversity and Community Engagement committees created in 2020 — include the flying of the Pan African flag marking February as Black History Month and declaring Women’s History Month in March.

Michele Richards, OCFEC general manager and chief executive, said the committee initially intended to commission a professional installation with a diversity theme to be displayed prominently at the fairgrounds’ Plaza Pacifica towers but had to pivot when the project became too unwieldy.

“The idea was to put art on the canvas of those light towers, but the costs were exorbitant and we thought that area doesn’t get used much during the year,” Richards said, adding that a youth art competition helps engage young people in the public programming being offered on the site.

“We can blast this all over the place — there are many applications.”

Seylah, for one, can’t wait to see how and where her own art will be displayed.

“I think it’s really amazing that my art will be shown to the public,” she said. “It’ll be really cool to go to the O.C. Fair and see my art.”