Performing Arts

YoungArts students take the stage in Miami’s Arts District

Andrea Fabbri, left, and Daniela O’Niel, right, dance to Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin during the YoungArts Miami’s Dance, Music, Theater & Voice Performance that took place March 14, 2015 in the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.
Andrea Fabbri, left, and Daniela O’Niel, right, dance to Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin during the YoungArts Miami’s Dance, Music, Theater & Voice Performance that took place March 14, 2015 in the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. Miami Herald Staff

The heart of Miami’s Wynwood Arts District and Arts and Entertainment District last week became a stage for about 100 National YoungArts Foundation winners, grades 10-12, as they showcased their talents in visual, literary, design or the performing arts during YoungArts Miami.

Philanthropists Lin and Ted Arison established the National YoungArts Foundation in 1981 “to identify and support the next generation of artists in the visual, literary, design and performing arts,” according to the website.

About 800 students are chosen from a pool of 11,000 applicants and are placed into one of three categories — finalist, honorable mention and merit — and are then eligible to participate in YoungArts programs in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Merit winners receive certificates of achievement, medallions, recommendation letters and the opportunity to participate in regional programs. Honorable-mention winners receive the same as merit winners, each with an additional $250 award.

Finalists receive an invitation to participate in National YoungArts Week in January to determine their monetary award levels, which range from $1,000 to $10,000.

“Every artist is different and we [the panel] try to keep that in mind when reviewing applications,” said Naomi Fisher, national selection panelist for visual arts and a 1994 YoungArts Winner from New World School of the Arts.

“We don’t judge based on who’s the best, we judge based on who’s the most advanced at the time of the application process.”

Master teachers

Students have the opportunity to work with master teachers, including Debbie Allen, producer and director of the TV series A Different World; Bill T. Jones, artistic director and choreographer; Martin Scorsese, director, screenwriter, actor and film historian; Quincy Jones, American record producer; Zaha Hadid, Iraqi-British architect; and Michael McElroy, a National Selection Panelist and 1985 YoungArts Winner in Theater from Shaker Heights High School in Ohio.

“It is important to recognize today’s talented students of the arts and encourage them,” McElroy said. “It’s important to cultivate the arts in our world.”

Students spent hours with their master teachers practicing for their shows. Sean Stack, a musical theater finalist from New World School of the Arts, had the opportunity to work with McElroy for Saturday’s musical performance.

“When he emailed us saying that he would be our teacher, I was so happy,” Stack said. “I had no idea what I was going to do for Saturday’s show, but I wasn’t worried because I trusted Michael and his expertise.”

In addition to working with masters of the arts, winners have the opportunity to earn college scholarships, including the United States Presidential Scholars in the Arts, which is the highest honor for student artists.

Every year, 20 students are chosen as Presidential Scholars and get the chance to have their work displayed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Inspires dreams

YoungArts is the only agency that can nominate students for this award. One of this year’s nominees is Paloma Valencia, a visual artist from Design and Architecture Senior High in Miami.

“This is my greatest accomplishment by far,” she said. “In the short-term future, I aspire to attend a design and architecture college to learn new ways to embody my ideas.”

With architect Frank Gehry, the foundation is transforming the former Bacardi Tower and Museum buildings at 2100 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami into YoungArts’ first national headquarters.

“This year we will have about 500 winners participate in our regional programs compared to 150 in the past 30 years,” said Paul Lehr, president and CEO of the National YoungArts Foundation. “YoungArts has always been good at identifying the future talent of the arts and we want everyone to see and experience this talent by getting involved.”

The program has already increased local activity in Miami with the opening of Ted’s at YoungArts, a lounge and eatery located on the seventh floor of the YoungArts Tower building, that features performances by students and alumni of the program.

There are also year-round programs that include master classes for local music students with Wynton Marsalis; a visual artist in residency program; and salons with today’s top artists at the Jewel Box, another building on the YoungArts campus.

With so many talented students and alumni, YoungArts has found a way to connect the future of the arts with the master artists of today. Through the expansion of the program, more students will get the chance to experience YoungArts and build relationships with their teachers and peers.

“The people that I have met through this program are friends that I will have for a lifetime,” DASH student Paloma Valencia said. “I am so grateful for the opportunity that YoungArts has granted me.”

To learn more

For information on how to apply or for reservations at Ted’s at YoungArts, visit

Related stories from Miami Herald