High school students from across the state descended on the Fort Hays State University campus Wednesday.

A total of 1,160 students had RSVP’d for the morning to take part in the 43rd annual High School Art Exhibit in Hays. Included in that total were a few high schools from Nebraska.

“It’s a big recruiting event, too,” said Karrie Simpson Voth, chairwoman of the Department of Art and Design at FHSU. “We actually get to see what kind of talent is out there.”

Along with the event being a time for FHSU faculty to evaluate students for possible scholarships, there also are awards presented to some of the students after the judging session, which lasts for two hours.

Starting with the hanging of the exhibition, the students from 65 high schools showing in this year’s event had a two-hour stretch to set up art on the tables made available at Gross Memorial Coliseum. More than 2,000 exhibits lined the track around the large coliseum.

Pieces of art, ranging from paintings and drawings to sculptures constructed from ceramic and clay and photography, were included.

“This is what they look forward to all year long,” said Edith Elder, visual arts instructor at Otis-Bison High School. “It’s my chance to get the kids to see other kids’ work. It’s also a chance to give them a tour (of FHSU). I’ve got some kids in graphic design, so it gives them more ideas there what’s possible. We do printmaking, sculpture, drawing and painting, so it gives them an idea of what the college level is like.”

Along with the opportunity for students to tour campus, Simpson Voth said they are able to visit art studios in Hays while they are in town for the day.

Between the hanging of the exhibits and the jurors deliberating between pieces, each school is welcome to participate in a sidewalk chalk competition outside of Rarick Hall, which is home to the FHSU Art Department. A different theme is given to the schools on arrival, and they have an hour within a restricted space to create an image of how they perceive the theme.

The theme this year was, “My America.”

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Kailin Loucks, a sophomore at Otis-Bison. “I just wasn’t prepared to do this all.”

While each school had their own depiction of the country, many of them used current themes, such as drawing bomb explosions to creating a wall, like what U.S. President Donald Trump wants to have built along the country’s southern border.

Many of the drawings were patriotic. One school created a hand forming the “peace” sign and colored in the U.S. flag red, white and blue. Another group drew a U.S. flag with a silhouette of an eagle flying in front of it.

“This is the first time they’ve ever done sidewalk chalk,” Elder said. “I’ve been collecting. Every year, I buy one box of sidewalk chalk so they all get a chance to get it done.”