Young artists bring refreshing perspective to national conversation

Dancer Hayden Hopkins soars during YoungArts Week in 2015.
Dancer Hayden Hopkins soars during YoungArts Week in 2015. Pedro Portal

As we enter the New Year as a nation divided, in need of reconciliation and healing, we look to artists —who take on the enormous task of interpreting and reflecting the world — to guide us through this time. Our collective concerns surface on the canvases of artists across the country and, perhaps, most poignantly from young emerging voices whose poems and stories respond to the world around them, shedding new light and bringing a fresh perspective to current events.

From Jan. 8-15, Miami will welcome more than 165 young artists from across the country will for the National YoungArts Foundation’s signature competition program, National YoungArts Week. Selected by a panel of some of the nation’s leading artists, these dancers, singers and songwriters, jazz and classical musicians, filmmakers, designers, visual artists and thespians — all 15-18 years old and hailing from 42 states — make up the exceptional pool of 2017 YoungArts finalists.

On the surface, these artists could not be more different; and yet it is precisely this kind of diversity — not only along cultural or socioeconomic lines, but also in thought process and worldview — that we cultivate at YoungArts. A key part of a young artist’s journey during the intensive weeklong program includes daily classes and mentorship opportunities with master artists, such as legendary artistic director and choreographer Bill T. Jones, incomparable actress Olympia Dukakis, jazz icon Jimmy Heath and influential photographer Sylvia Plachy.

The intensity of cross-pollination that occurs between artists of vastly different levels of experience, from distinct parts of the country, and informed by seemingly disparate influences teaches us about the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the arts, and, ultimately, how we can all find new ways to work and grow together.

For our first Miami Salon Series earlier this season, we presented the panel discussion “Artists as Citizens,” which explored how art has been a vehicle for change by examining, interpreting and influencing social and political currents, as well as historical and cultural contexts. Accomplished artist and panel speaker Chat Travieso discussed how his work in social practice has aimed to galvanize the communities with whom they are created: “The projects are meant as small interventions that can act as catalysts for longer-term projects and give people agency in defining their environment.”

In that same vein, YoungArts’ first film commissioning project, Transformations, which premiered last November, featured five shorts produced by teams of alumni artists from a range of artistic backgrounds.Tasked with creating a film that captured the transformative power of creativity, together they sought out Tap Connection — a social justice-oriented tap dance studio in Seattle — and weaved a powerful narrative addressing police violence, racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement. Their film, “Hell You Talmbout,” has been accepted in the Pan African Film Festival.

YoungArts Week will feature nightly performances that open to the public in voice, jazz, theater, dance and classical music as well as film screenings at New World Center and writers’ readings. A visual arts, photography and design exhibition curated by Pérez Art Museum Miami Director Franklin Sirmans will also premiere at the YoungArts Gallery and iconic Jewel Box. For tickets and more information, visit youngarts.org.

Our mission is to identify and nurture the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, design and performing arts, and assist them at critical junctures in their educational and professional development. We are acutely aware of this responsibility and the values of collaboration, communication, and validation that YoungArts Week represents beyond the creative community. They are principles that resonate with people from all walks of life, and are embodied — in theory and in practice — in the life-changing experience that is YoungArts.

Lisa Leone is vice president of artistic programs for the National YoungArts Foundation.