Meet the fairy godmother of aspiring and emerging artists across the country.
“Our human history is left by the creatives—the writers, visual artists, filmmakers, photographers,” says Sarah Arison. “It’s the soul of who we are.” And with that statement it is abundantly clear that Arison is doing exactly what she should be doing: guiding and celebrating the creatives of today. Arison is the head of the National YoungArts Foundation, an arts education nonprofit that identifies creatively inclined youth, nurtures their talent and mentors them throughout their professional development. In addition, Arison sits on the boards of the American Ballet Theatre and MoMA, and recently participated in VB Gives Back, a philanthropy program created by design duo Veronica Beard to recognize a woman and her mission to make a change in the world by donating to the cause she champions. Here we chat with the art patron about how she joined the family business—after a curious detour from med school.
YoungArts was founded by your grandparents Lin and Ted Arison in 1981. Was the plan always that you would become involved? SARAH ARISON: 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, 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 do his “real work”—his math or science... but seeing him here surrounded by the most talented young artists in the country... I realize that this is his real work, and that I should support him in pursuing his passion.’ The next day, I knocked on my grandmother’s door and said, ‘Grandma, I want to help.’
Favorite part about what you do? SA: There is truly nothing better than meeting our winners when they are 15 or 18 years old, and then watching as they 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. 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? SA: 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 the vulnerable and critical junctures. We also just launched YoungArts Post—an online community where alumni can connect, collaborate and find opportunities in their respective fields.
Who are some memorable alums? SA: We have thousands of outstanding alumni, such as actresses Viola Davis, Anna Gunn and Kerry Washington, and recording artists like Josh Groban and Chris Young.
Insider advice every would-be artist should know? SA: 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.’