From Teen Programs Affiliate Michael Hansen:
It’s 6:42 AM. I’m walking around the MPLS – STP airport with a bottle of overpriced iced tea in my right hand. I feel numb. I’m wearing an orange t-shirt with the words “YOUNGARTS” scrawled across the front in some abnormal font. I’ve been awake for a good three hours with nothing but a ration of granola in my system. I arrive at my gate and immediately spot a girl wearing a shirt identical to mine. She looks at me and smiles. She tells me that her name is Nicole, she’s from California, and she’s a modern dancer. I get excited. I name-drop Merce Cunningham to exaggerate my knowledge of dance. She replies with a blank face. I feel awkward. About 30 minutes later, we’re in the sky flying to Miami to participate as finalists in National YoungArts week.
YoungArts was founded in 1981 to help identify and support the next generation of contemporary artists working within the spectrum of literary, performing, and visual arts. Basically, a bunch of 10 – 12 graders (11,000 to be exact) submit their portfolios and audition tapes to the program, and then about a month or so later, YoungArts then narrows down those applicants to about 170 overall finalists. The finalists are then flown free of charge to Miami, FL during the first week of January to participate in National YoungArts Week, which includes MasterClasses taught by world renowned artists, performances, gallery openings, and a lot of free food.
Now, there are a lot of ways I could write this article. I could write about the classes I was involved in, the weather, the view from my hotel room, etc. To do so would be rather egotistical. Rather, I would like to introduce you to the next great generation of contemporary artists. Here is a quick list:
Voice: Maurice Johnson (Hempstead, NY)
Madison Russell (Lewisville, TX)
Mary Wichmann (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Mark Fleuridor (Miami, FL)
Jackson McGrath (Miami, FL)
“Song Book” performed by Tanner Tanyeri (Madison, WI) and Charles Lilley (Olney, MD), originally composed by David Maslanka.
“Pop Swatches” performed by Ying Li (Philadelphia, PA) and Jeremy Tai (Cupertino, CA), originally composed by Doug Opel
Myles Hunter (Los Angeles, CA)
Autumn Steed (Downers Grover, IL)
“First Light” arranged by John Michael Bradford, originally composed by Freddie Hubbard
Kai Williams (Bronx, NY)
Noah Dversdall, my roommate (Beavercreek, OH)
Dakota Murphee (Birmingham, AL)
Amanda Masis (Los Angeles, CA)
Yu-Hua Golnick (Palm Beach, FL)
“Overflow” by Ruby Drake (San Francisco, CA)
“Wings of Peace” by Danielle Stolz (Santa Monica, CA)
Wesley Goodrich (Brooklyn, NY)
Dara Brown (Chicago, IL)
Ciaran Bowling (Bronx, NY)
Finally, I’d like to finish this article with one thing. One small thing.
About three years ago, I failed my freshmen year art class. I hated my teacher, I hated my school, and I hated myself. It was just terrible. Disgruntled and just flat out bored, I visited the Walker. This was around the time the This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980’s exhibition was up. I walked up the giant set of steps into the Cargill Lounge and wandered around the first gallery I found. I didn’t really know what to expect, for this was my time at the Walker. I passively walked around the artwork. I wasn’t even thinking, really, I just wanted to kill time. After meandering around a giant Jesse Jackson painting, I noticed three photographs on the wall. These photographs were from the American Icons series by Carrie Mae Weems, and in these photos were salt and pepper shakers. I really didn’t have any understanding of the artwork itself or any of it’s racial and political underpinnings, but as I walked away I thought “how can a simple photo of a household object get into one of America’s greatest cultural institutions?” Later that night, I went home and stole my father’s film camera.
Three years later, I’m sitting 4 feet away from Weems, she’s looking directly into my eyes, and she’s giving me advice on how to succeed as an artist.
Thank you, YoungArts. Thank you for the experience. Thank you for introducing me to some of my lifelong friends. Thank you the free food. Thank you for the love. Thank you for the fun. And most importanly, thank you for patting me on the back and saying, “hey, you can do this.”
(The Author with Carrie Mae Weems)