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These Miami high school artists tackle family life at a Design District museum show

Young Artists Initiative is a selective program for 10th to 12th grade high school students on track to study arts in college. Courtesy of ICA
Young Artists Initiative is a selective program for 10th to 12th grade high school students on track to study arts in college. Courtesy of ICA

For most artists, showing artwork in a museum for the first time is a huge deal. A select group of Miami teenagers are reaching that pinnacle this weekend.

Young Artists Initiative (YAI), a youth arts development program at the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, is opening its annual spring show featuring the work of 28 Miami high school students on Saturday.

The showcase, called “INTERFERENCE,” explores the nuances of family life, said Bodhi Martinez, a 17-year-old Design and Architecture Senior High student and a YAI intern. The show, on view until April 23, was conceptualized by the students and features their paintings, sculptures, photography and multimedia works. The opening event at ICA includes a panel discussion with the students Saturday at 4 p.m.

“A lot of times, young artists tend to get looked over because, ‘Oh, they’re children, so they don’t really understand the process to get to a very refined piece.’ I feel like that is completely incorrect,” Martinez said. “The students have done so much, and their work is exemplary of that.”

YAI is a selective, two-year program for 10th to 12th-grade students at Miami arts magnet schools who are on track to study the arts in college, said Lisa Fernandez, the ICA director of education and community engagement. The program teaches students about contemporary art, helps them build their art careers and introduces them to contemporary artists living and working in Miami, she said. Students participate in workshops and field trips to museums and galleries.

Students in the program also get the opportunity to show their artwork at ICA, a contemporary art museum in the Design District. That’s a major boost for young artists, Fernandez said.

“It’s huge,” she said. “We know from our students that this impacts not only what schools they get into, but also scholarships. We have at least two to three graduating students who got a full ride to the school of their choice.”

When it comes to the annual showcase, the students are given free rein to come up with the idea for the show, create their own pieces and bring the concept to life, Fernandez said.

Generally, students who participate in the program do not shy away from raising awareness for social issues that impact themselves and their communities, Fernandez said.

“These students are not afraid, and they have a voice,” she said. “This show is really their platform to use that voice to tell the community what they’re thinking about what’s going on.”

Martinez said that when the students were sharing ideas for the show, one theme kept coming up: family.

“That most people tended to talk about their parents, or their relationships with their parents, being out of the loop in their family, being the black sheep,” Martinez said. “I feel like a lot of art kids tend to not really coincide with the same ideals as their parents.”

The show tackles independence, growing up and challenging the idea of the perfect nuclear family.

For the show, Martinez made five shoe sculptures that hang on the wall. Each represents a different stage in life, from infancy to adulthood. The baby shoe is massive, large enough to “fit a baby in it,” Martinez said. The “adult” shoes become smaller and smaller. The artwork represents becoming your own person and how scary the future is, Martinez said.

Another student, Tainá Rocha, created an elaborate sculpture of a shelf with artistic renderings of her memories made with delicate beadwork. Vergil Vincent is showing a portrait of him and his mother. And Alexandra Prokofyeva made a “detective board” with red string connecting key moments of her life growing up.

“We tend to glue ourselves to our family’s lives and just determine everything off of that,” Martinez said. “These kids have grown away from that and truly cemented themselves as independent, newly grown young adults that need to be taken seriously.”

Young artists initiative spring show 2023: Interference

Where: Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, 61 NE 41st Street, Miami

When: Opening event April 15, 3-5 p.m.; student panel conversation at 4 p.m. Exhibition on view until April 23.

Info: Free and open to the public. https://icamiami.org/calendar/young-artists-initiative-yai-spring-show-2023-interference/

The artists featured in the show are: Abigail Velazco, Alexandra Prokofyeva, Ashani Lillie, Ognyen Atanaskovich, Paul Russel, Sara Barengo, Tatiana Multach, Angelina Valdes, Emmanuel Ramirez, Leah Roldan, Sofia Amaya, Thomas Pace, Raven Audevert, Maria Garcia, Martina Barreiro, Tyler Arceo, Ash Paternina, Davianna Inirio, Genesis Gallardo-Aliaga, Jet Scheingoltz, Julia Nikolaev, Layla Hanfland, Manola Silva-Hanson, Rosaly Almeida, Tainá Rocha, Uma Freitag, Vergil Vincent and Bodhi Martinez.

This story was produced with financial support from The Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The Miami Herald maintains full editorial control of this work.

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