Ms. Vernon said that Suitland’s program helped her step outside traditional art. At the Queens Museum, Ms. Vernon’s “Louis & Sam,” in the International 2016 show, plays off Louis Armstrong’s little-known collages. For the Brooklyn Museum, she produced a black-and-white series of drawings and designs on vinyl; it is in “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art,” a show exploring the evolution of the mask and contemporary forms of disguise that opened on Friday. And in an artistic trifecta that many more mature artists can only envy, she recently mounted a 12-foot-tall black-and-white collage for a pop-up exhibition at the Kings Theater organized by the singer Lauryn Hill as part of her recent concert.
Mr. Mack, 28, was recently named to Forbes’s “30 Under 30” promising talents in visual arts and design, wrapped up a fellowship at Studio Museum in Harlem in 2015 and is represented by the Los Angeles gallery Moran Bondaroff. For one recent piece, he bought men’s jackets secondhand and used grommets to outline what looked like bullet holes in the fabric. “It’s the body kind of dealing with a subtractive form, which in itself is an inherent, violent act,” he said. “And it transforms the body into another space. What people ended up bringing to the piece was it was like the body being shot.”
Mr. Mack got his first taste of art as a child, visiting the National Gallery in Washington; his father was a security guard there and his mother worked in the archives. When it came time for high school, his parents wanted him out of their tough Capitol Heights neighborhood. His brother had been a student in Suitland’s main building, so Mr. Mack knew a bit about the arts program. Once there, he focused on photography, sculpture and painting, which influence his work today.
“A lot of my work right now has to do with imaging, re-presenting everyday images and surfaces,” Mr. Mack said. The Suitland teachers encouraged students to get out of their classrooms and see the works up close. In addition to the National Gallery, Mr. Mack discovered the Hirshhorn Museum. “I saw newer, more controversial works that went against the grain,” he said. Those visits helped him realize that he could “antagonize and interrogate the tradition I was used to understanding in painting.”
David Humphrey, a New York artist and curator, first met Ms. Vernon and Mr. Mack as graduate students at Yale, where he served as a critic on review panels. Both artists, he said, “are very cogent and motivated,” adding, “They have the kind of focused tenacity to ride all the ups and downs and turns of their careers.”
At Suitland, teachers hope the program survives long enough to produce a few more like them.