Vanessa Leitman is Vice President of External Relation and Communication at the National YoungArts Foundation. She heads up communications and PR – she’s also known for her dance skills (more on that later). We’ve invited her today to tell us more about the amazing artists and programs supported by this fantastic organization. You can also buy products and support them at the YoungArts Zazzle store.
Zazzle: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Vanessa! What is the National YoungArts Foundation?
Vanessa: The National YoungArts Foundation (formerly known as the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts) was established in 1981 by Lin and Ted Arison to identify and support the next generation of artists in the visual, literary, performing, and design arts, and to contribute to the cultural vitality of the nation by investing in the artistic development of talented young artists. Each year, there are approximately 11,000 applications to YoungArts from 15-18 year old (or grades 10-12) artists, and from these, approximately 700 winners are selected who are eligible to participate in YoungArts programs in Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. YoungArts provides these emerging artists with life-changing experiences with renowned mentors, access to significant scholarships, national recognition, and other opportunities throughout their careers to help ensure that the nation’s most outstanding emerging artists are encouraged to pursue careers in the arts. YoungArts has honored more than 20,000 young artists with over $6 million in monetary awards; facilitated in excess of $150 million in college scholarship opportunities; and enabled its participants to work with master teachers who are among the most distinguished artists in the world, such as Marina Abramović, Zaha Hadid, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Plácido Domingo, Bill T. Jones, Robert Redford and Martin Scorsese. In addition, at the request of the Commission on Presidential Scholars, which is appointed by the President of the United States, YoungArts serves as the exclusive nominating agency for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, the country’s highest honor for young artists.
YoungArts acquired the iconic landmark Bacardi Tower and Museum building in Miami, Florida in 2012. This building has become the organization’s first national headquarters.
Zazzle: Tell us about the amazing U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
Vanessa: The 20 Scholars in the Arts, all 2014 YoungArts Winners, were nominated to The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars by YoungArts, and were selected based on academic, civic and artistic achievement. The award is the highest honor that an artistically talented graduating high school senior can receive. The 2014 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts represent 12 states from across the country, and are filmmakers, dancers, photographers, classical and jazz musicians, actors, visual artists, singers and writers. They join an illustrious group which includes Tony Award-nominated dancer and choreographer Desmond Richardson, American Ballet Theatre Chief Executive Officer Rachel Moore, novelist and National Book Award Finalist Allegra Goodman, Grammy Award-nominated violinist Jennifer Koh, BRAVO’s “Work of Art” winner Abdi Farah, OBIE Award-winning actress Donna Lynne Champlin, and recording artist Chris Young.
Zazzle: How can we watch tomorrow’s performance in Washington, D.C.?
Vanessa: On Monday, June 23 at 8pm, the Scholars in the Arts specializing in dance, jazz, theater, music, and voice will participate in “A Salute to the U.S. Presidential Scholars,” a free public performance that celebrates all of the awardees directed by Tony Award-winner, dancer, choreographer and YoungArts Artistic Advisor Bill T. Jones at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall. The performance will be streamed live on PBS’ Facebook page and YoungArts’ website.
Zazzle: Tell us more about the Smithsonian exhibition that is ongoing from now until August.
Vanessa: On Tuesday, June 24 at 7:30pm an exhibition of the work of the visual artists, writers and cinematic arts scholars will open at The Smithsonian Institution, S. Dillon Ripley Center and will remain on view through August 7.
Zazzle: So you have a store on Zazzle – which Zazzle product is your favorite?
Vanessa: We do. We love our Zazzle store and every day we think of more items we want to create and sell. My favorites right now are the kids t-shirts and little onesies. We actually just made a onesie for an alumna of ours who just had a baby. It is white & pink and says “Future YoungArts Winner in Theatre” on the back. The coffee mugs and clock are also pretty cool – they make awesome gifts.
Zazzle: What is your artistic talent?
Vanessa: I absolutely love music and dance and there was a point in my life that I thought I would make a career out of it. I actually tried out for Star Search when I was 10 years old – my best friend and I did a jazz routine to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” but unfortunately we didn’t make it on. I think that was the end of my dancing career! Now I enjoy watching all forms of dance, listening to music and writing.