When I was a kid, I’d often pick up a pencil and try to draw the car that my old man drove. As I loosely connected curved lines, the finished product would always end up vaguely resembling a VW Beetle. Inspired exterior styling, state-of-the-art technology and a special focus on the environment did not mean much to me or my school buddies back in the late 1960s.
Kids today, however, appear to have very different ideas about car design and the potential ways they could benefit us all in the future. That’s something I found out as a judge for the Toyota Dream Car Art Contest that culminated in Tokyo.
Now in its eighth year, the art contest is becoming a major force in the world of children’s art. How important does Toyota think it is? The head judge is none other than company CEO Akio Toyoda himself. The eight other judges include three university art professors, a sculptor, one creative director, one art director, Super GT (Toyota) racing driver Juichi Wakisaka, and me.
Each year, Toyota sends out invitations for entries to schools around the world asking for artwork in three age categories: 7 and under; 8-11 and 12-15.
This year the contest received more than 662,000 entries from 75 countries. That’s up by about 50,000 versus last year. While artwork from kids in Thailand and Vietnam accounted for more than half of the entries, several countries had entries for the first time, including the Canary Islands, Ireland, Tanzania, Cambodia, Laos, and Qatar.
Whittling down the entries to 90 takes days. Then the judges, including Akio Toyoda, vote. And out of that process comes the 31 award recipients, who are flown to Tokyo’s Megaweb theme park for a ceremony.
Toyota says it has two main reasons for sponsoring such a contest. First, as a responsible corporate citizen (yeah, we know they’ve had to recall thousands of cars but they seem to have weathered that challenge), they want to promote safety, societal and environmental concerns, a fact that many entrants pick up on. And secondly, they wouldn’t be a carmaker if they weren’t aiming to — well, sell cars — and bridge the gap to the next generation of car buyers by instilling a sense of thrill and potential in kids from around the world. Right?
This year’s cross-section of winners was a true representation of what Toyota’s international art contest is all about. In the ‘7 and under’ category, Bui Thanh Mai from Vietnam took the gold award with her “Super Crab Car,” which can recycle straw and rubbish into paper and notebooks.
In the ‘8-11 year old’ category, Yodsing Jirawat from Thailand won the gold award for a painting called “Wat Pho Massage Car” which can help people relax while treating ailments using various Thai traditional massage postures.
Sixteen-year-old Romanian student Iasmina Raceanu, who was 15 when she entered, captured the gold prize in the ‘12-15 year old’ category with her whimsical painting entitled “Storyota.” Iasmina, whose strong spirituality is infectious for someone so young, believes that each of us has a special story to tell.
She was inspired by the form of a seahorse gathering stories within its body and transforming those stories into life. Her father, Virgil, said that his daughter loves to paint. “Sometimes she will spend 8 or even 10 hours in her room painting. She sometimes even forgets to come down for lunch.”
In addition to the three gold award winners, each category offered two silver prizes, three bronze awards and four ‘Best Finalist’ special mentions. And the winner of the “President Akio Toyoda Award” which features a 3D sculpture of the recipient’s painting, was 5-year-old Pha Mealaksey from Cambodia for her “Smart Fish Car.”
Considering that Asian entries account for the vast majority of artists and winners, the United States managed some 2700 participants this year, with three Americans picking up ‘Best Finalists’ recognition . They were 11-year-old Emma Hiilani Thain from Hawaii for “Construct-O-Mobile,” 12-year-old Teah Arlene Laupapa, from Hawaii for “Introducing the Pocket Car,” and 14-year-old Lauren Jiwoo Park for her “Toyota Camera Car.”
If you thought Romanian Iasmina Raceanu went to great lengths with her winning painting, then how about artwork by kids that depicts cars which fight cancer, save people in natural disasters, unite multi-racial citizens, collect used plastic bottles and trash and recycle them into building bricks for housing, transforms sad black and white landscapes into color and one painting that aims to stop violence and spread love.
One painting that really impressed me was by 14-year-old Qatar student Saji Kumar Deepak, called “Toyota Aqua Car” that works in hot, humid climates to absorb water from the atmosphere and redistribute the “Blue Gold” to turn deserts into lush pastures.
These days, we adults complain about kids spending too much time playing games and wasting time with facebook and twitter on smartphones and iPads. But there are kids out there who are really concerned about the world that we are leaving for them and want to express that concern.
Iasmina’s father concluded: “Thank you Toyota for giving these kids a platform to convey their ideas and hopes and dreams and maybe come up with some worthwhile solutions for the future. And, of course, thanks for helping us to understand Japan a little better too. Keep it up.”
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