Skip to content

Walgreens art challenge empowers teens in towns across America

The Expressions Challenge also aims to transcend conventional artistic endeavors
Photo by W W:

If teenagers search for an artistic contest, they may stumble upon an unexpected turn down the digital aisles of the internet called the Expressions Challenge by Walgreens

Far removed from the assumed Walgreens drugstore shopping, this contest offers young artists a platform to explore and confront pressing issues like mental health, social justice and identity through creative expressions from visual art to spoken word.

What began as a local initiative by Walgreens in Chicago 15 years ago, providing an outlet for teenagers to express themselves through art on HIV and AIDS, has blossomed into a nationwide event since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Expressions Challenge also aims to transcend conventional artistic endeavors, venturing into the domain of mental health awareness and advocacy through a partnership with Mental Health America.

“At its core, the Expressions Challenge aims to provide a platform for young people to express themselves authentically,” said the Interim Director of Community Affairs at Walgreens, Lauren Stone. “We believe that expressing oneself through art can serve as a prescription for better mental health, particularly in light of the significant stressors that teens face today.” 

This contest provides teenagers with a platform to express their views on these issues and recognizes and rewards them for their creativity and courage with an opportunity to win up to $2,000. 

From visual arts to media arts, spoken word and creative writing, the Expressions Challenge offers students a myriad of avenues to express themselves creatively. Stone noted the flexible opportunity of the challenge, with students often exploring different categories from year to year based on their evolving interests and perspectives.

“We have many judges who come from an art background, who helped in the development of the program and putting those categories together,” Stone said.

From the bustling streets of Chicago to the quiet suburbs of Colorado, teenagers are seizing the opportunity to make their voices heard and spark meaningful conversations about the issues that matter most to them.

One of those suburban teens was Zia Oellig, a former high school student from Colorado Springs, who poured her heart and soul into her submission titled “Till Death Do Us Part” for the Expressions Challenge in 2022. Inspired by the tragic mass shooting at the LGBTQ+ club, Club Q, in Colorado Springs, Zia’s piece was a poignant tribute to the victims and a rallying cry for her community.

As a native of Colorado and a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, the devastating impact of the shooting struck Oellig to her core. Fueled by a deep sense of empathy and a desire to honor the lives lost, she turned to art as a means of expression.

Discovering the Expressions Challenge amidst her quest to share her artwork with the world, Oellig was drawn to infusing her creations with depth and significance. 

“I was not expecting Walgreens to pop up in my search, that’s for sure,” Oellig admitted with a chuckle.

Venturing into uncharted territory, Oellig embarked on a daring experiment, infusing her artwork with a dynamic 3D element using a precision knife to make a big hole in a canvas that resembled a gunshot.

“It was cool. It was interesting, a little scary because it was new and daunting,” Oellig said. “But the 3D aspect of it was definitely an experiment.”

Navigating the transition from high school to college, Oellig found solace and empowerment in this artistic pursuit, using the piece in her portfolio when she applied for art school.

For aspiring artists contemplating entering the Expressions Challenge, Oellig offered a heartfelt word of encouragement. Recognizing the natural inclination to second-guess oneself and seek validation, Oellig encourages future entrants to embrace authenticity and focus on their creative vision.

“If you’re worrying about what other people are thinking or saying, you’re not going to truly be thinking about what you’re trying to express, what your goal is … try to shove all of that out of the way to focus on what it is that you want to show,” Oellig said. “When there’s no filters, when you can create the pieces that you’re going to be most proud of, that’s when you’re gonna give your art the most meaning.”

The Expressions Challenge is for teens 13 to 18 and the last day to enter is March 31.