Striving for creative success in Mount Vernon: Team takes runner-up at State Visual Arts Competition

Senior Evanna Knecht earns Best on Show in Class B

033123.N.DR.MOUNTVERNONARTRunners Up.jpg
The visual arts team from Mount Vernon took runner-up in Class B at the 2023 South Dakota Visual Arts Competition. Pictured are Evanna Knecht, Josalyn Schroeder, Austin Froning, and teacher Dana Schuldt. Other members of the team not pictured include Jon Jones, Cole Sandland, Veronica Johnson, Damani Casillas, Morgan Hoffman, Isabella Fillaus and Katie Laufman.
Photo Courtesy of South Dakota Public Broadcasting

MOUNT VERNON, S.D. — Dana Schuldt thinks of herself as a guide, lining up her visual arts students at Mount Vernon High School with competition categories that complement their strengths and interests.

That approach proved highly successful for the second time in three years as the visual arts team from Mount Vernon brought home the runner-up trophy in Class B during the 2023 South Dakota State Visual Arts Competition in Rapid City recently. They came in just behind Northwestern High School in Mellette.

“It does feel really good,” Dana Schuldt, K-12 art teacher at Mount Vernon Public School, told the Mitchell Republic. “It’s really neat to see the feedback from the judges and to get that helpful critique and feedback for next year.”

Seven of her students placed in eight different competition categories, earning the team a runner-up trophy in the 2023 event. It’s the second high-placing finish for the group in three years, with the Mount Vernon team also bringing home the overall team champion award in Class B in 2021.

Mount Vernon’s success stems from a combination of student talent and Schludt’s philosophy of pairing students to categories that suit their artistic styles. The state competition is divided into multiple categories, such as crafts, colored drawing and functional ceramics, and Schuldt likes to find students whose skills work well with the style and materials of each category.


The next step in the process is fairly easy — she gets out of her students’ way.

“I kind of get a feel for which students would fit that category, and then we talk about it and come up with a couple of ideas. The student really chooses their own project, I just really encourage them along the way to keep going, to keep pushing through. Keep going, don’t hold back. Just keep going with it,” Schuldt said.

The team took an umber of champion, runner-up or third place finishes with their work, including:

  • Isabella Fillaus took home a runner-up finish in the crafts category with her work titled Warrior in the Wild
  • Evanna Knecht earned a third-place award for her work in digital media/graphic design with a piece titled Grieving and earned a champion award for her work in colored drawing with a piece titled The All Fall Down.
  • Jon Jones took a runner-up award for his drawing titled Body of Lies.
  • Veronica Johnson earned a third place finish in the functional ceramics category with her piece titled Gardening Woman.
  • Morgan Hoffman earned a champion award in the photography category with a photo titled Lies Within The Fire.
  • Damansi Casillas took home a runner-up finish in print making with a piece titled It’s All In The Eyes.
  • Cole Sandland earned a champion award for his work in traditional culture art with a piece titled Carrying on Tradition.

Knecht, a senior at Mount Vernon High School, also received the Best in Show Award for Class B. The award is given to one entry in each class, regardless of category, with the highest ranking from the state gallery judges. She earned the award for her colored drawing entry.

Evanna Knecht brought home the best in show award for Class B at the 2023 South Dakota State Visual Arts Competition.
Photo Courtesy South Dakota Public Broadcasting

Knecht particularly enjoyed working on the colored drawing piece that earned her a champion award and the Best in Show plaque. She was bitten by the art bug years ago and she has since cultivated her talents with practice and guidance from Schuldt.

“I started when I was little and just really liked it and continued to work hard and perfect myself. And I do have a lot of fun entering competitions,” Knecht said.

With her senior year winding down and graduation on the horizon, Knecht said the art program at Mount Vernon has impacted her educational experience and even helped her set some goals in the world of art. She has an application in at Northern State University and hopes to one day go into art education.

She credits the encouragement from Schuldt as a major factor in her positive experience.


“(She) was very supportive and kept me going. I procrastinated a little bit but (she) kept me in line,” Knecht said.

Schuldt tries to be that voice of encouragement to all of her roughly 160 students at Mount Vernon. Now nine years into her tenure at the school, she strives to connect her students’ emotions with their work and push through any artistic blocks they may encounter.

Creating art can be a very personal endeavor, evoking strong emotions in the artist. That is an important part of the creative process, she said.

“Especially for state, I want students to put their blood, sweat and tears into it. I really want them to push through any emotions they have,” Schuldt said. “I feel it really enhances their art — letting the student not hold back and letting them be themselves and really bring their style to the forefront. That’s what I want to encourage in my program.”

Even for her students who weren’t involved in the state competition, simply diving in and creating art for its own sake is a rewarding growth experience, Schudlt said. As long as it comes from within the artist, a piece of art can connect with an audience and move them in some way.

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They All Fall Down, a colored drawing by Evanna Knecht, earned best in show for Class B at the 2023 South Dakota State Visual Arts Competition.
Submitted Art

“Just putting your emotions on your sleeve. That’s what I strive for in my students, even the ones that aren’t in state,” Schuldt said.

The big event of the year is now in the books, but there is still some school year left to go. Her program will hold a K-12 art night April 24 at the Tom Young Community Center in Mount Vernon, where the work of her students will be on display for the public to appreciate. The event is expected to run from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.

In a special nod to her oldest students, the seniors will each get special tables to display their work.


“Their own art installation,” Schuldt laughed.

As a senior herself, Knecht will have a chance for the public to view some of her work that night, as well. She said she has come a long way as an artist through study and practice, and encourages younger students to explore their own artistic talents, even if they think they don’t feel much about their work.

“Everyone always starts somewhere. No matter how bad it looks at the start, it will always look better in the end,” Knecht said.

The students at Mount Vernon placed in the top-three in nine categories, winning five and capturing the Class B state championship on March 20 in Sioux Falls.

Complete results from the state arts competition can be found on the South Dakota Public Broadcasting website.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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