YoungArts is a yearly program that is now accepting portfolios for all divisions. Anyone 15 to 18 years old (including first year college students who are still 18 years old) may submit.
Doug Blush is Supreme Co-Commander-in-Chief, along with his wife and partner Lisa Klein, of MadPix Films, an award-winning production and post-production studio specializing in documentary and independent feature projects including the Oscar nominated film The Invisible War (2012), the Oscar shortlisted film Iousa (2008) and the Emmy nominated film Outrage (2009). Their latest endeavor, Of Two Minds just received the LA United Film Festival Audience and Jury Award for Best Documentary (2012).
We met Doug and Lisa when we were all parents of students at the Sequoyah School. We heard about YoungArts through Doug and he was kind enough to expound on the program with which he’s been involved for 30 years:
HP: How did you become involved with this YoungArts?
Doug: I got involved in the YoungArts program when I was myself a high school student in 1983, only a few years after the organization (officially known as the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts) had begun its program. I submitted a portfolio of photography and short films to the visual arts division (at that time there was not yet a separate division for either discipline), and I was awarded an honorable mention for my work (one step away from going to the big Miami finals), and they even apologized that they didn’t have anyone at the time who really knew how to judge filmmaking! But the award became a great resume builder in applying to colleges, and helped in my acceptance at the University of Southern California Cinema School.
Nearly thirty years later, after the program had stayed in touch with me throughout the intervening years, I was very proud to become the chairman of the Cinematic Arts division of YoungArts, a position I’ve held for three years. We’re actually one of the smaller divisions at YoungArts, which also includes writing, dance, visual arts, jazz, classical music, theater, photography and more. In all, about 160 students get accepted every year for YoungArts Week in Miami, with costs fully covered for their trip. Hundreds of other students receive merit awards for their portfolios, along with admission into the YoungArts alumni family.
HP: Why do you think it’s valuable?
YoungArts is the top artistic honors program for high school students in the United States today, and is the ONLY route to an official nomination for a Presidential Scholarship in the Arts. Students who earn honors in the program for their work get great attention from top art schools and universities across the country, and more importantly, get a real sense of being an artist whose work is recognized at exactly the age when encouragement is needed most. We had over 5000 submissions last year, and the portfolios are judged at a VERY high standard, so it’s really an honor to get any level of award. For me, it helped a kid from Michigan think he might make movies one day.
HP: How much is work, how much is fun?
Doug: The YoungArts Week in Miami is absolutely overwhelming in terms of the intensity of the work, both for the students and the advisors…and every moment of work is matched by the fun. We treat the students like serious artists in all the divisions, and we push them VERY hard during the week. We also do interviews to determine their goals and ambitions, to help us determine who are the best candidates for the Presidential Scholarship nominations.
Probably the greatest moments of the week, though, come during the evening shows from all the disciplines. These shows are often the hottest tickets in Miami on those nights, and everyone is dazzled by the level of talent they see. The unwinding sessions after the shows at the YoungArts headquarters hotel are filled with some of the most joyous teens I’ve ever seen!
HP: Could you share a particular example of a kid or situation that illustrates the program’s worth or how it affects those involved?
Doug: I had a student a few years ago named Isabela Dos Santos, who was an incredible, self-taugh animator. She had very little help from the teachers at her school so she set up her own micro-animation studio in her bedroom, using a desk lamp and a point and shoot camera to record animation frames. But her ideas and techniques were so unique and full that her films caught all our eyes at YoungArts during the portfolio judging, and she became one of the top students to emerge from the program in my time. Because of the attention to her work from YoungArts, she ended up getting a scholarship to CalArts here in Valencia, a school considered possibly the best place for animators in the world. She’s also returned to the Miami program in these past years to mentor new rounds of students and create animations for the YoungArts gala shows, and more.
I’ve had other students go on to Harvard, USC, Stanford, NYU, and many other top universities. I’m expecting film festivals and Oscars with some of their names on them soon!
Thank you to Doug for taking the time to answer our questions so extensively.
Interested in learning more? Guidelines and application forms are available at YoungArts.org.
Other notable YoungArts alumni are Vanessa Williams, Jennifer Koh, Katie Finnerman, Viola Davis, and Raul Esparza.