The National YoungArts Foundation, now in its 36th year, is a celebration of the arts and the impact that art has on our lives. Supporting and honoring high school students who will become future leaders in the arts and recognizing individuals who have paved the way for the next generation is a hallmark of the many facets of YoungArts, who now have broadened their scope to include New York and Los Angeles, as well as its home city of Miami.
While there are events that take place throughout the year, (thanks to the Chief Executive Officer, Carolina García Jayaram, these programs seem to be growing) the major event in Miami takes place over a one week period in January. This year, there were 691 young artists who were winners in literary, visual design and performing arts. These winners represent 42 states chosen from the largest pool of applicants ever. Included in the winners are 167 finalists, the highest honor that YoungArts bestows. Finalists had the opportunity to participate in the culminating week in Miami - a week of classes, lectures, performances, networking and camaraderie.
Three participants, from a student to an honoree, shared their perspectives on the benefits of the Miami experience: Darius Hickman, a student, was a contemporary dance finalist; choreographer and director, Jessica Lang was an Arison Award Honoree for her vital contributions and commitment to the arts; and legendary choreographer, speaker, innovator and director, Bill T. Jones conducted a master class and lecture.
Hickman is a student at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, and Florida School for Dance Education. He has already received numerous accolades for his dance ability. As we spoke, he was in his car heading to Miami from West Palm Beach to start the YoungArts week experience. He would stay in a hotel for a week, meeting other finalists in various disciplines across the country, and join them on a bus that would take them to and from various activities.
Hickman has a very good foundation of classical dancing but thinks contemporary movement is where he will ultimately be more successful. He loves performing and making people happy.
“I love the emotional background that it takes them through.” he says, “I love the feeling of making people feel something.”
Emotions and feelings ran high as the week began. Hickman was excited to see what notes and critiques he would receive to help him move his career along. He was also looking forward to meeting new people. With all the dancing, rehearsing, performing and taking many classes, Hickman was also getting an opportunity to see the other art disciplines.
Discipline plays a large part in building the foundation that Hickman speaks of. This was one of the major topics of conversation in the masterclass lecture hosted by Bill T. Jones, one of the many illustrious voices that students were able to hear in the course of the week. Jones is an “old school” advocate. Gay and black, he has never been afraid to speak his mind or to demonstrate what he is thinking through his work. He believes in honesty, hard work and discipline. His lecture was really more of a conversation, and perfect to provoke and challenge these young minds.
“What is important to you?” he questioned. “And what does it take to get there?” There were numerous hands lifted to offer thoughts and to get feedback from the voice of experience.
“Everything you do is original. Have some humility and don’t be afraid.” Jones empowered the students while giving them a sense of reality.
Yes, the students were fearful of next steps, but there was a freshness and a willingness to embark on their future journeys.
Representing one who has been a successful dancer, choreographer and now has made the transition to running a successful company, Jessica Lang is the director of Jessica Lang Dance, a company formed in 2011 to immerse audiences in the beauty of music and movement through the creation and performances of Lang’s work. At the week’s culmination in a huge dinner/performance event known as the Backyard Bash, Lang was given the prestigious Arison Award for her artistic achievements as a leader and role model.
Lang is a wonderful inspiration for students as they embark on the next phases of their careers. While many YoungArts students are present performers, most of them have an eye for what happens next. Lang can speak their language. After dancing, she spent about ten years as a choreographer, being a guest in everyone else’s company. It was successful, but she wondered if that was her role? She speaks of “throwing her thoughts out to the universe” to question what her future would be.
A Joyce Theater Residency award was the catalyst that propelled her to the next step in her life. She got a taste of working with her own group of dancers and felt that this new experience was the direction she wanted to go. Her company was formed a year later and the works that were created during the residency became the foundation. Now JLD successfully tours to over 29 cities with outreach and community building activities in each city. Having been a dancer, Lang is very proud that the dancers have competitive salaries.
Being the ultimate collaborator, Lang says, “Individuals the students meet now might be the person they work with in the future. They have to keep their eyes open to the entirety of the arts.”
“My language is dance, but I look at choreography as a visual art. We paint with the body, we sculpt with the body. I think everything is the focus and should enhance each element.”
Words that resonated with students of all disciplines.
As Hickman said at the end of the week, “I have loved every second, seeing my colleagues perform and learning so much. I am sad to see it all come to an end.”
YoungArts is only one week, but it is a catalyst, whichprovides a lifetime of memories.
On Wednesday, Feb. 15, YoungArts hosts its Salon Series at the National YoungArts Foundation, 2100 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33137. Bruno del Granado, the man behind Miami’s CAA, and producer Arthur Baker, known for his work with New Order and Afrika Bambaataa, in a conversation "Discovery + Emerging Talent," moderated by Victoria Canal (2015 YoungArts Winner in Voice and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts). Cocktails begin at 6:30 p.m. with the talk beginning at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. Find out more at www.youngarts.org.