General Articles
Youth Poster Contest / by Jeff Woodworth / January, 2019

American author Ken Blanchard once said, “The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” Today’s youth are influenced by our sociopolitical climate, which can be exhausting. There are numerous outlets and countless pundits nitpicking tweets, statements and party policies—it’s far too easy for the message to get lost in the madness. Insert the Youth Poster Contest, created by Bruce Burtch, enables the Marin County youth ages 12 to 18 to focus on the subjects they believe deserve the most attention and require immediate action. Topics have included social justice, women’s rights, immigration, firearms regulation, climate change and other issues that affect their lives. Burtch emphasizes the idea that, “It’s not an art contest, it’s a messaging contest.”

In 2017, Burtch crafted the contest, which runs annually from January to May and is promoted in all middle and high schools in Marin County.  “A lot of social justice issues that were prevalent in my teens are still around today. I began to wonder what the youth of today thinks about. They can stand on corners and carry signs, but I wanted to give them a much bigger platform.

Burtch founded and serves as the volunteer producer of the Youth Poster Contest. He retired from his career as an internationally-respected cross-sector partnership expert and served as public affairs manager for Marriott Corporation, public relations director for the United States Olympic Committee and director of marketing and communications for the American Red Cross Bay Area. Burtch also founded two for-profit and three nonprofit organizations.

The contest, albeit only two years old, has garnered significant participation and recognition. Burtch modestly described it as “off the chart.” In addition to the 250 percent submission increase from year one, the contest was awarded a Resolution from the Marin County Board of Supervisors, a Certificate of Recognition from both the California State Assembly and Senate along with a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the United States Congress. 

Last year, contest winners and finalists saw their work presented in various newspapers, magazines, on TV, radio and social media along with a tour across the Bay Area in a four-location poster exhibition. First prize received $150 in art supplies to the winner and another $150 in art supplies to the art program of the artist’s school or organization. In all, the contest awards more than $2,200 in prizes each year. Specials highlights from this past year included an exhibition of winners and finalists at the 2018 Marin County Fair and a special exhibition in the gallery of the Marin Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Marin community has embraced this event with open arms, Burtch has partnered with RileyStreet Art Supplies, Bank of Marin, the Marin County Fair, Marin Community Foundation, the Haight Street Art Center and the Rock Poster Society—the world’s largest group of rock poster collectors, artists and dealers. A highly important partnership is with the Marin County Office of Education. They assist in spreading information about the contest throughout their school system and sent him a letter after last year’s contest calling it “amazing” and expressed plans to be a partner for many years to come.

As for the future, Burtch wants to expand outreach to at-risk youth and communities such as the Canal District, Marin City and parts of Novato. With a “Learning Through the Arts” grant provided by the Marin Office of Education and Marin Community Foundation, he hopes to “level the playing field” for at-risk youth with a series of workshops taking place at the schools he will visit. They will feature nationally renowned poster artists, free art instruction, free art materials for the school and a bag of art supplies for the participating students to take home.

He also hopes to increase corporate partnerships, continue outreach to underserved populations and expand the amount of participation. Burtch plans on continuing to engage students and encourage them to submit posters. While there are no plans to expand beyond Marin County, he’s not opposed to the contest growing. “If someone in Cleveland wants to do this, I’d send them a template.”