Arts Fest returns to TJC after COVID-19 pandemic

Tyler Junior Colleges Arts Festival is returning after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 along with fan favorite events such as the Thunderdome Art Competition. 

The Thunderdome Art Competition will be held at noon on April 27 in the Jenkins Bell Tower Courtyard. Art students and Art Club members who intend to participate must arrive at 11:30 a.m. in the Jenkins Bell Tower Courtyard with a piece of art to enter. 

Photo courtesy of Derrick White

The Thunderdome competition brings two willing artists into the dome, with them knowing that only one artist’s piece will survive. The event is often surrounded by the phrase “two enter and only one leaves,” hinting at its destructive aspect.  

During the event, Art Department Chair Derrick White will select two pieces from the submitted work to present to the crowd. Three onlookers will deliberate and choose which piece they like the best. 

“I’ll have three judges randomly selected out of the crowd and they’ll vote on which piece they liked the best. It’s completely subjective. They get to pick it on whatever merit or reason. They don’t have to defend it or anything, so they just pick which one they like better,” White said.

The art piece with the majority vote will advance to the next round and leave the other to be destroyed by the volunteer “annihilators.”

“We have what’s called the annihilators. These are Art Club volunteers that will dress up in costumes and masks and all kinds of different things and they will lavishly destroy it however they see fit,” White said. 

This process happens round after round until there is only one champion. The winner of the Thunderdome will receive a winning piece from the faculty mini round, their own piece intact and $200. To add more suspense to the competition, the winner gets the opportunity to double or nothing their cash prize. 

“I’ll have four envelopes out there. Three of them say double, one says destroy. They get the option of choosing an envelope. If they pick a double envelope, they get $400 cash. But if they happen to choose that one envelope that says destroy they have to give the $200 back and they have to destroy their own piece in front of everybody,” White said. 

In the past 13 years the “destroy” envelope has only been chosen twice, once in 2017 and once in 2019.

Photo courtesy of Derrick White

The Thunderdome Art Competition started after a conversation between art professor Paul Jones and White 13 years ago. During their conversation, the consensus was made that art does not provide an adrenaline rush you would expect from things such as contact sports. 

“It was like, ‘How can we bring adrenaline to visual art?’ and we decided to have a Thunderdome Art Competition where we destroy the losing pieces,” White said.

The first Thunderdome started in 2009 and was so popular that it returned to TJC for each Art Festival up through 2019. The 2020 Arts Fest was canceled due to the pandemic, and so was the Thunderdome. Because of the two-year gap in events, the excitement boiling up for its return is fairly high.

“I’m feeling immense excitement, because one of the things that pandemic took away from us here in the Art Department is our sense of community,” White said. 

White goes on to mention how the Art Department serves as a space for art students to reside and hangout but when the COVID-19 hit and campus was closed, this space was taken away. The Thunderdome returning provides many students an opportunity to express the emotional turmoil felt during the pandemic.

“Thunderdome is going to be just kind of an emotional release of tension and stress of the semester and the stress of the last two years. And we’re going to have some fun and destroy some art,” White said. 

The importance behind the event is to teach art students a lesson on letting their pieces go and ensuring they do not get unreasonably attached to them.

“So, you have to be able to sell your work, send it out into the world or even have it destroyed, so that you can move forward in your creative process of making more work, making new work,” White said. 

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