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Asian American high school students produce art shows for young artists

Taylor Wang (left) and Alice Mao (right) are the co-founders of Student Art Spaces.

by Akemi Tamanaha, Associate Editor

When they’re not busy applying to college or studying for AP tests, high school students Alice Mao and Taylor Wang run an organization for young artists called Student Art Spaces. It is a non-profit organization based in Seattle that provides young artists with opportunities to share their work in a gallery.  

Mao, 18, and Wang, 16, met in an art class at Issaquah High School where they bonded over their love of art. Throughout high school, both have worked hard to get their art in shows. 

Submitting art to galleries is not an easy task, especially for a young artist. Submission, printing and shipping fees can add up. Opportunities for young teen artists are scarce. Mao and Wang founded Student Art Spaces to help young artists share their work. 

In the early days, Student Art Spaces was an organization of just the two of them sitting in Starbucks googling 501(c)3s and watching Youtube videos for financial advice. 

“Our initiative is very much homegrown,” Wang told AsAmNews in an interview. 

Several Starbucks meetings later, Wang and Mao had secured two grants from 4Culture and smART ventures. They started a Kickstarter campaign that raised about $1,000. In total, they had $4,000 to dedicate to their first project.

Student Art Spaces held its first show at the Seattle Artists League from August 31 to September 2. The show, titled The Modern Youth Identity, featured artwork from 43 different artists with an age range of 15-21. It will hold its second show this month. 

Meilani Mandery, a 20-year-old artist from Seattle who works with Student Art Spaces, believes the organization’s gallery showings are an important source of encouragement for young artists. 

“I remember seeing my name printed on the wall label in my first exhibition in 2017,” Mandery told AsAmNews in an email. “I felt so proud. I want other young people to be able to feel powerful and successful with their work.”

Mandery is also an assistant for a teen art program called YouthCAN at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. She encourages the students in her program to submit their work to Student Art Spaces. Mandery herself has submitted pieces for the upcoming show. 

“I’m quite proud of Taylor and Alice, the co-founders of Student Art Spaces,” Mandery said in an email. “I wanted to support all the work they’re doing to amplify the voices of young artists.”

Mao and Wang hope that the galleries will not only instill a sense of pride in young artists but also show them that art is a legitimate career path. 

Student Art Spaces’ first show “The Modern Youth Identity” featured artwork from 43 different artists.

“I know what really encouraged me personally was all the shows that I got into, getting to see my artwork on the wall, and hearing other people talk about it,” Mao told AsAmNews in an interview. “It was something that really made it crystal clear for me that this was a viable career for me. It encouraged me and my family that this was a good path for me to take.”

The co-founders hope that this message resonates with the Asian American community where a career in the arts is often discouraged. Many Asian American parents in their community want their children to pursue a career in STEM, not the arts. 

Keven Goh, a guitarist who will perform with his band at the opening of the second gallery, says that there isn’t just a stigma against careers in the arts.

“I think that pursuing a career — or not even just a career — just pursuing a passion in something artistic it’s definitely stigmatized a lot,” Goh told AsAmNews in an interview. “If you want to be a musician you definitely are idealistic and you don’t have real goals in life,”

He wishes Asian American parents would help their children develop a passion for the arts. As a young boy, Goh took piano lessons at the request of his parents. According to Goh, his parents told him music is meant to teach Asian American children discipline. It isn’t, Goh says, about a love for the arts. 

“I honestly think that’s kind of sad,” Goh said. “The way that most of this goes is that kids end up losing interest in music going forward and don’t really pick it up again despite all the practice they put into.”

Goh is currently a junior at Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington. He takes classical guitar lessons and may eventually study music in college. While he’s unsure whether or not he’ll pursue music as a career, Goh says he’ll always enjoy music. 

“I love doing this and I’m really happy,” Goh said. “Whether or not I go into it as a career, I don’t think it would affect my ability to enjoy music as something that I’m passionate about.”

He hopes that organizations like Student Art Spaces will encourage young Asian Americans to pursue their artistic passions. 

“Asian” by Jessica Lin.

The organization’s first gallery featured work from several Asian American artists. One of Mao’s favorite pieces in the gallery was from an artist named Jessica Lin. Lin created a series of mock magazine covers that explored colorism in the Asian American community. 

An artist named Angela Bi painted a portrait of two Asian women — one holding a knife — that looked both peaceful and violent. Wang says Bi discussed the culture of tough love within the Asian American community in her artist statement. 

 “Love” by Angela Bi

Student Art Spaces has not limited its focus to Asian American artists. A large part of the organization’s mission is to elevate marginalized voices. Its first show featured art from women of color and non-binary artists.

The organization hopes to provide young artists who are excluded from the art world with more opportunities. Mao and Wang both recognize that they enjoy many certain privileges that are unavailable to other students. Issaquah High School, they say, has invested a significant amount of resources in arts education. Other high schools have not. 

“We really wanted to recognize our privilege and reach and extend these opportunities to artists who aren’t as lucky as we are,” Mao said. 

Mao and Wang also want to celebrate local artists. Its second show, Coming Home, will feature artists exclusively from Washington. 

“Sure, we’re not New York and we’re not Los Angeles where there’s a super vibrant arts community but we have a lot of amazing young artists here with so much potential,” Wang said. “We wanted to highlight that with our theme coming home by asking our artists to respond to our prompt what home means to them and how home (Washington) can include all of us.”

The gallery will be on display at Shoreline City Hall from March 6 to April 1. Opening night will be held on March 6 from 5:30 pm to 8:30 p.m. It will feature performances from three different musical acts, including Goh’s band Box to Goh. 

“Coming Home” will feature only Washington-based artists.

Change is afoot for the organization. Mao will graduate from high school this spring. Wang will graduate in the spring of 2021. Both say they may attend East Coast colleges. Neither has any intention of letting Student Art Spaces die.

The pair have recruited new members to join their core team and have established a list of volunteers. They’re currently writing volunteer guidelines that will help the organization continue to run once they go to college. They hope to start multiple chapters throughout the country. 

“This isn’t just something that people perceive we’re doing just to get volunteer hours or recognition,” Wang said. “This is something we really do want to expand and continue throughout our entire lives.”

For more information on Student Art Spaces, please visit their website. You can also follow them on Instagram and Facebook

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