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Teen photographer Akira Billie wins gold

Akira Billie, a junior at American Heritage School in Plantation, poses Feb. 12 at Young At Art Museum with her photographic triptych ‘Cozy,’ which won a Gold Key in the 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
Akira Billie, a junior at American Heritage School in Plantation, poses Feb. 12 at Young At Art Museum with her photographic triptych ‘Cozy,’ which won a Gold Key in the 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

DAVIE — A triptych of images titled “Cozy” won Akira Billie a Gold Key in photography, the highest award in the 2016 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. A celebration of all the winning teen artists in Broward County was held Feb. 12 at the Young At Art Museum in Davie.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have recognized student achievement in the arts since 1923. The awards give students in grades seven to 12 an opportunity to earn recognition and scholarships, exhibit and/or publish their work.

“I’ve been doing art my whole life,” said Akira, 17, a junior at American Heritage School in Plantation. “I love taking photos.”

The artwork of 138 Gold Key winners was exhibited throughout the Young At Art Museum galleries alongside the art of professional artists already on display. As the Broward County affiliate for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Young At Art has hosted the awards program for three years. This year more than 30,000 Broward students submitted art to the contest.

“We are very proud to help cultivate the next generation of artists,” said Mindy Shrago, Young At Art executive director and CEO. “Our mission is to teach kids how to think cognitively, dream and enjoy the arts.”

Akira’s favorite subjects are friends and family; Akira said she specializes in close-up portraits, adding she gets more emotion when she shoots someone up close, but she photographs a variety of themes.

Her winning submission depicts light and shadows created in her friend’s Aventura home in late afternoon.

As a Gold Key winner, “Cozy” will compete for national recognition.

Akira, of the Bird Clan, started taking photography classes at school during freshman year and learned to use film and digital cameras to create photos. Digital is easier, but she favors black and white film because it captures more feeling, she said.

Akira also enjoys making videos and drawing. Her next goal is learning to paint.

“She is always looking to see things differently,” said art teacher Susann Price, who has taught Akira since fourth grade.

Other awards Akira has received include best in show at the Broward Art Guild Youth Art Competition in 2014 and honorable mention in 2015. American Heritage photography teacher Teresa Smith considers Akira naturally talented.

“Her work comes from a deep place,” Smith said. “She’s able to tap into a part of herself that she isn’t really aware of. She doesn’t know her potential yet. I think it’s wonderful that she’s getting some credit.”

Her mother, Doreen Cypress-Torres, is Akira’s biggest fan.

“I’m very proud of her,” Cypress-Torres said. “She’s always been very creative.”

Notable past Scholastic Art & Writing Awards winners include photographer Richard Avedon; author Truman Capote; artist Andy Warhol; poet Sylvia Plath; author Stephen King; fashion designer Zac Posen; TV actress, writer, producer and director Lena Dunham; and film director and screenwriter Richard Linklater.

The awards are presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. According to Scholastic’s website, nearly 70,000 teen artists and writers are recognized annually. More than 1 million original works have been submitted and more than $40 million has been made available in scholarships and awards to winning students over the past five years.


Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at