YoungArts L.A. Teaches Teens How to Be Artists

Jazz students at YoungArts L.A., 2013. | Photo: Katherine Bollens, courtesy of Young Arts.

On March 18, an esteemed group of high school students will arrive in downtown Los Angeles. For the next five days, they will live together, eat together, learn together and work on art together. They will become part of YoungArts L.A.

Founded by Lin and Ted Arison, National YoungArts Foundations is dedicated to furthering the artistic pursuits of some of the most talented teens in the country. Nicki Minaj is an alumni. So is Kerry Washington, who now stars on the popular TV series Scandal. Every year, thousands of students apply for YoungArts honors. Out of 11,000 applicants in 2013, 687 teens from 46 states were selected. The winners fall into three categories: finalist, honorable mention and merit. The finalists can go on to YoungArts Week in Miami. Every winner has the chance for a spot in one of the regional YoungArts programs, which includes Los Angeles.

YoungArts has been around for more than thirty years, but the Los Angeles program has only been in effect for two. Lisa Leone, Vice President of Artistic Programs, helped launch the program out here. It's done pretty well. In its first year, YoungArts L.A. brought in 40 students. This year, there will be 100 participating. "Last year, I had one photographer," she says. "This year, I have 12."

The participating students are primarily from Southern California and come from diverse fields of study. There are writers, actors, dancers, visual artists and musicians. Leone says that the interests of the students change from region to region. For example, she says, Miami's regional event is a hotbed of visual arts. Here in L.A., there are a lot of classical musicians. In fact, they have 22 classical music students this year. It's changed how they're organizing performances. "Usually, we have interdisciplinary performances, but there was such an overwhelming response in classical that I just put them as a whole separate program for the show," she says. "That was exciting. I was very surprised about that."

Throughout the week, the students will partake in Master Classes given by an array of local luminaries. Musician Dave Stewart, best known as part of Eurythmics, will talk to them about what to do after school ends. Debbie Allen will teach dance. Ron McCurdy will teach jazz. The schedule is filled with big names and intense sessions.

A vocal performance at Young Arts L.A., 2013. | Katherine Bollens, courtesy of YoungArts
A vocal performance at Young Arts L.A., 2013. | Photo: Katherine Bollens, courtesy of YoungArts.   

L.A.-based artist Anna Sew Hoy will be leading up a group of young people whose interests are in the visual arts. She will take them on excursions to museums and artist studios. She also planned what they're doing this week, in terms of classes and field trips. Jeff Ono will lead an eight-hour sculpture class. They'll work with Sumi Ink Club on a group drawing. They'll meet with curators and artists. They'll even take a writing course with Laurie Weeks.

"I think that it's really important for a young artist to try as many media as possible," says Sew Hoy. "Just because you call yourself a painter doesn't mean that you should not try other things."

Sew Hoy says that exposing the artists to other disciplines isn't just to help them figure out what they want to do. It's to help them excel in their current chosen field as well. "Working in other media will always inform your primary work," says Sew Hoy, who is primarily a sculptor, but also performs and draws. "I think that they'll find that they will be tackling the same issues that they are working on in their own work, just in another medium, and it will help them see what they're doing in another way."

The visual artists will participate in a group show on Friday at Los Angeles Theater Center. John Tain, curator for modern and contemporary art at the Getty Research Institute, will work with them on the show. He and Sew Hoy selected the portfolio pieces that will be exhibited. "This is the first time that I'll be meeting the artists after I've already seen their work," says Tain.

The exhibition will give the students a chance to learn how to present their works. "I think that it's also great for them to have this professional experience of working with a curator in terms of thinking about the framework, the context in which their work is exhibited," says Tain. "It's hopefully giving them a taste of what it's like and work in this setting or manner will prepare them for their future careers."

Also part of the program are eight creative writing students. Amongst them are three poets, one non-fiction writer, one playwright, two short story authors and a novelist. They'll be working under the supervision of playwright Ruth McKee, who also teaches at Cypress College and California State Summer School of the Arts. They'll take master classes from a variety of writers and work towards their live reading performance, which will take place on Friday at the Los Angeles Theater Center.

McKee, who was part of YoungArts L.A. last year, says performing can be the most difficult aspect of the program from writers. They'll be working with a vocal coach and learning public speaking techniques while they are here.

YoungArts, though, is giving these talented students more than opportunity to learn under distinguished instructors. It's more than simply the chance to make their work public. They're learning how to become working artists. "If you don't know how hard it is, it is easy to be discouraged quickly," says McKee.

But YoungArts goes beyond the lessons. McKee sums up the experience from the perspective of the writers, although this could be the case for any young artist. "They tend to create lifelong friendships and lasting relationships with each other because when they go home to their communities, where they might be the only writer, now they have people that they can share with," she says. "They're finding their peers and that is such a rare opportunity."

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YoungArts L.A. 2014 Performances at Los Angeles Theater Center

Friday, March 21, 6 p.m.
Photography and Visual Arts Exhibition
Direction and Parking
Admission: Free

Friday, March 21, 8 p.m.
Jazz Instrumental Performances, Writers' Readings, Cinematic Arts Screenings
Admission: $10

Saturday, March 22, 8 p.m.
Multi-disciplinary Performances by 2014 YoungArts Winners in Dance, Theater and Voice
Admission: $10

Sunday, March 23, 2 p.m.
Classical Music Concert
Admission: $10


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