Nicki Minaj, Josh Groban, and Kerry Washington all owe a bit of their success to the Magic City. These three superstars and countless others are all alumni of the Miami-based National YoungArts Foundation.
For 35 years, the program has put a spotlight on Miami as a place where young artists can receive unparalleled training and support by bringing a select group to the city for one week every January to collaborate and train. Throughout the rest of the year, the National YoungArts Foundation hosts three satellite programs in New York, Los Angeles, and of course YoungArts Miami, which is happening this week. As talented painters, musicians, and dancers from all over the country pour into Miami to train, YoungArts becomes a source of local pride.
“Seeing how people from different places were wowed by the city makes me have a better appreciation of Miami,” said current participant Cornelius Tulloch, 18, a visual artist and student at Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH). “Not many people are as fortunate to be surrounded by art as we are in Miami.”
Tulloch’s featured piece at the YoungArts showcase was an installation that reimagines what a bus stop in the Design District might look like. As a student at the nearby DASH, he noticed that “the Design District was picking up and people from all over were coming and redesigning the structures here.”
His work is an exploration of the changing architecture around him. Though it’s just a prototype design, Tulloch admits that he’d “love for someone to be able to build this bus stop” in the neighborhood which has inspired him.
Young, impressionable artists are particularly inspired by their surroundings, which show up in their work in a variety of ways, according to Lisa Leone, vice president of artistic programs for the National YoungArts Foundation.
“I think Miami’s young artists are really forward thinking,” adds Leone. “Miami’s at a point in time where anything is possible, and you can feel that in the work. It’s not a small town or one that’s oversaturated and overstimulated like New York. It feels very free and open and that comes across in the students’ works.”
For visual artist Hanna Ali, 17, another artist featured this week, living in Miami means that she gets to encounter people from all walks of life. She primarily paints portraits, and Miami’s ethnic and cultural diversity helps makes each piece distinct, she said.
Ali uses landscapes to frame her many subjects, an element she admits is inspired by growing up in Miami. “The tropical [environment] and being in a more open space, that lets me think a little bit,” she said.
Photographer Glenn Espinosa, 18, who moved from Mozambique to Miami just before beginning high school, agrees. As a newcomer, he was taken aback by the diversity in his school, which made him think more about the individuals who show up in his art.
“I used to think everything that made me common was common to everyone else,” he said. But as he asked his classmates at G. Holmes Braddock High School in Kendall about their lives, he realized how different people’s stories could be.
Now, he tries to get to know more about every person who shows up in his work, asking each subject to contribute a quote that he adds to the bottom of every portrait he shoots.
“Every person I make art with, I try to make it a portrait about them,” he said.
This year, roughly 800 winners were chosen out of more than 12,000 applicants in the visual, literary, performing, and design arts fields. One-hundred and seventy finalists are chosen from that pool and flown to Miami to spend a week collaborating and taking master classes free of charge.
At the end of that week, the foundation nominates 60 artists to be awarded the U.S Presidential Scholar of the Arts — the only program in the nation that is able to nominate artists to this honor, one of the highest for high school students. The White House commission then chooses the final 20. Last year Miamian Mark Fleuridor, a visual artist, was selected.
YoungArts does something else for its participants — it helps them make a case for taking their passion seriously.
“When I won [YoungArts] in high school, it helped me convince my parents to let me go to arts school,” said Naomi Fisher, an alumnus who is now a chairwoman of the visual arts panel. Fisher lives and works in Miami as a visual artist and is active in growing and contributing to that community.
“It can be hard to convince people to let that to become your path,” she said.
And it does something for the city, too, according to Marisa Fort, a designer at Arquitectonica, an international architecture and urban planning corporation headquartered in Miami that designed many of the city’s most iconic buildings. The company is leading its first master class at this year’s workshop.
“Miami is an ever-changing city. There’s so much opportunity for designers to make a difference in how this city works and operates. There’s few big cities that have as much to do as Miami, and the more artists and designers we have working here the better our city is going to become.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Fort’s title. It has been corrected.