VB Gives Back

VB Gives Back: Sarah Arison

December 1, 2018

Sarah Arison, photographed by Nick Garcia, courtesy of National YoungArts Foundation

Look around you—you're surrounded by the work of creatives, from the clothes you wear to the very building you live in. The impact artists make is immense. And yet, they often get the short shrift when it comes to real support and resources. Enter Sarah Arison's cause, the National YoungArts Foundation, which was founded by her grandparents. The charity not only identifies and nurtures artists across a number of fields, assisting them at critical junctures in their educational and professional development, but—and this is key—continues to guide them beyond the initial discovery stage. They have access to leading cultural institutions, grants, fellowships, mentors…. "YoungArts aspires to create a strong community of alumni,” says Sarah, “and a platform for a lifetime of encouragement, opportunity and support.”

Here, we chat with the arts patron, who also sits on the boards of the American Ballet Theatre and MoMA and is president of the Arison Arts Foundation. She tells us all about YoungArts, what to see during Miami Art Week this month and how she joined this family business—after a curious detour from med school.

Tell us about YoungArts…

The National YoungArts Foundation was established in 1981 by my grandparents Lin and Ted Arison 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. Through a wide range of annual programs, performances and partnerships with some of the nation’s leading cultural institutions, YoungArts aspires to create a strong community of alumni and a platform for a lifetime of encouragement, opportunity and support.

What inspired you to become involved, officially?

When I was 19 years old, I was a sophomore in college majoring in biology and planning on going to medical school. My grandmother asked me to go with her to the annual benefit for YoungArts in Miami in January, the Backyard Ball. I agreed to go with her, not because I was particularly interested in the organization or in the arts, but because I wanted to spend some time with my grandmother. While I was there, I was approached by the mother of one of the visual arts winners who had somehow heard my name and realized I was from the family that founded the organization. She grabbed me and said, "I just wanted to thank you so much for everything that you and your family have done for my son. He used to come home from school and sit on the floor and draw and I would yell at him to go do his 'real work'—his math or science… but seeing him here surrounded by the most talented young artists in the country, being recognized and mentored by luminaries in his field, being looked at for scholarships by some of the best universities because of his talent… I realize that this is his real work, and that I should support him in pursuing his passion." I was absolutely stunned by the incredible impact of YoungArts for the winners as well as for the perception of artists in our society. I realized the great importance of the work that YoungArts does, and feared that if someone from the family didn't get involved, it wouldn't continue to grow and flourish. The next day, I knocked on my grandmother's door and said, "Grandma, I want to help." I joined the board, went back to college and changed my major from biology to business and French with a minor in art history… and the rest is history!!!

Cry to Me by Alyssa Ackerman, photographed by Jason Koerner, from Education as the Practice of Freedom

Favorite part about what you do?

It is the most rewarding thing to see these incredible young people grow and achieve incredible things! Every day I hear from alums inviting me to their first time in a gallery or museum show, their first solo performance, or their debut on Broadway, or telling me about a fellowship they've won, or about a new project, or signing with a record label…. There is truly nothing better or more rewarding than seeing these incredible young people turn into the artists who are creating amazing work and having an impact in our world! I can't tell you how frequently I hear the phrase, "YoungArts changed my life," and I still cry every time I hear it! 

How does YoungArts continue to support artists after the discovery phase?

Once an artist is a member of the YoungArts family, they are a member for life. Our alumni network is comprised of more than 20,000 artists—from Academy-, Tony- and Grammy-Award and Pulitzer Prize winners, to accomplished visual artists, choreographers and curators, and celebrated educators across artistic disciplines.
YoungArts is committed to providing support throughout the artist’s professional journey, especially during vulnerable and critical junctures. Tools are designed to help artists navigate their careers, and include residencies, professional development symposia, presentation opportunities and fellowships, grants and resources. We also launched YoungArts Post this month—an online community where alumni can connect, collaborate and find opportunities in their respective fields.

Why is supporting the arts so important?

Our human history is left by the creatives—the writers, visual artists, filmmakers, photographers…. It's the soul of who we are. And look at everything you engage with in your daily life. You get up in the morning and put on clothes; that's done by a fashion designer—an artist. The house or apartment you're living in? That's done by an architect—an artist. The television show or movie that you're watching involves writers, directors, cinematographers—all artists. The music that you listen to—composers, musicians and singers—artists. There isn't a single part of your life that's not touched by an artist when you really think about it.

Insider advice every would-be artist should know?

To paraphrase Derrick Adams, renowned multidisciplinary artist and YoungArts master teacher, with whom I had the pleasure to interview at Expo Chicago art fair: “My advice to young artists is to pursue their ideas and to develop a strong peer and mentor network. But most important—and no matter what—never stop making the work.”

Get Your Act Together and Cheaper by the Dozen by Clara Schoenbeck, photographed by Jason Koerner, from Education as the Practice of Freedom

Who are some memorable alums?

YoungArts works across 10 artistic disciplines so we have thousands of outstanding alumni, such as actresses Viola Davis, Anna Gunn, Zuzanna Szadkowski and Kerry Washington, and recording artists like Josh Groban, Judith Hill and Chris Young. I definitely have to include choreographer Camille A. Brown, who will be honored with the Arison Alumni Award at the annual YoungArts Backyard Ball performance and gala in Miami on January 12, 2019, and Academy Award-winner Tarell A. McCraney, who was the recipient of the award this year. I also would want to mention acclaimed visual artist Daniel Arsham, who created the “Daniel Arsham Fellowship, presented by the Ridinger-McLaughlin Family” for YoungArts in 2017 to support aspiring visual artists. The second annual Daniel Arsham Fellow will be announced at a private dinner during Miami Art Week. The inaugural Fellow is alumna SHENEQUA, who presented a new body of works at EXPO Chicago in September.

What's on view at the YoungArts Gallery this month?

Our current alumni exhibition Education as the Practice of Freedom, curated by Jasmine Wahi of Project for Empty Space, will be on view in the YoungArts Gallery until December 9, 2018. Inspired by bell hooks’s book that examines the purpose of education through the lens of intersectionality, the exhibition features works by 20 YoungArts alumni, from painting and collage to mixed media and sculpture.

And can't-miss events during Miami Art Week?

Education as the Practice of Freedom is a can’t miss exhibition. YoungArts will also have a booth at PULSE Contemporary Arts Fair, where we will present works for sale by 15 alumni in a salon-style exhibition that represents the intergenerational YoungArts ecosystem of support and reconnection over decades. At Bay Parc Apartments, Nadia Wolff, a 2016 YoungArts Winner in Design Arts and Visual Arts & U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, presents their installation A Place to be Held. The collage of works—including drawings, prints and sculptures—explores and re-imagines the Black Caribbean domestic space.

Monumental Womxn by Natalie Preston, photographed by Jason Koerner, from Education as the Practice of Freedom

What’s next in the pipeline?

Every January, National YoungArts Week, the organization’s signature program held annually in Miami, aims to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and community while offering approximately 170 YoungArts Finalists, ages 15 to 18, the guidance needed to prepare for the next stage of their artistic development. During the intensive, weeklong and all-inclusive program, artists across 10 disciplines participate in master classes and workshops with internationally recognized leaders in their fields. Throughout the week, their work is further adjudicated for financial awards of up to $10,000 and finalists are also eligible for nomination as U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.

How can we get involved and support the organization?

We have a robust membership program which offers ways to get involved at any level, whether for an individual invested in the arts or corporations. You can find out more about the exciting program at http://www.youngarts.org/support.
The performances and exhibition opening during National YoungArts Week are also a great way to be involved, experience the next generation of artists and support the organization. The performances, including jazz, theater, dance and classical music are open to the public and tickets are available for purchase. For more details and a full schedule please visit http://www.youngarts.org/national-youngarts-week.


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