Mason Hardin's art to be displayed in Washington, D.C.

One Columbus teen's artwork is getting national recognition.

Mason Hardin, a 15-year-old special needs student at St. Luke's School, was one of 102 students between the ages of 5 and 15 from across the nation chosen to have personal artwork displayed at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library as part of the 2012 All Kids can CREATE exhibition. The contest was sponsored by VSA, the international organization on arts and disability and an affiliate of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The theme of this year's exhibit is "What Inspires Me." Mason drew a self-portrait with her parents, writing "I will work hard like my parents do at their jobs. I will be a hard working student."

Mason was also one of 10 students selected to travel to Washington in August for the opening of the exhibit.

"She was thrilled," said Mason's mother, Becca Hardin. "She told all her friends she was going to Washington."

Mason has Mosiac Down Syndrome, a chromosomal condition associated with a delay in cognitive ability and physical growth. Hardin said, but they've made a point to keep her in inclusive classrooms, where she interacts with students of all abilities.

"Children with disabilities can learn and thrive and flourish like any other child," Hardin said. She said in addition to art, Mason also likes to swim, play with their dogs and is active in church.

To create the portrait, Mason copied a photograph of her parents and herself in pen and watercolor. Mason's art teacher, Sietske Johnson, submitted work from all her students to the contest. To have Mason's work selected out of 3,000 students is "fantastic," she said.

"It's pretty impressive," Johnson said. "She's a great artist and very dedicated once she gets inspired."

Art class is more free form than a regular classroom, Johnson said, and Mason will walk around during class and complement other students.

"She walks around and looks at other students work and says good job," she said. "She's swinging and singing and dancing. It's a very different atmosphere than a regular classroom."

Hardin, who will travel with her daughter to the opening of the exhibit in D.C., said Mason was excited about the trip.

"It's very special. The good news just kept coming," she said.

The annual "What Inspires Me" contest is part of VSA and CVS Caremark's All Kids Can CREATE campaign, which encourages learning and community engagement through the arts.

The program includes the Call for Art, artist-in-residence programs in schools and community events that expand access to the arts for students with disabilities.

Sara Pauff, 706-320-4469