At 18 years old, YoungArts exposed me to a world I had never experienced—one week in January 1990 immersed in the company of artists from all over the country. I was blown away by the intimate and meaningful conversations with my peers, painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers and writers. We were eager to share our stories in and out of the studios. We inspired each other on and off stage.
By that summer, YoungArts would launch me to be named a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, leading to an invitation to exhibit my paintings at the National Museum of American Art, known today as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, in Washington, D.C. Being an immigrant and coming to this country at a young age, it was surreal to receive the highest honors in the U.S. at high school. My accomplishments as a young artist were recognized by leaders for contributing to society.
Fast-forward 18 years later to 2008, I was celebrating the opening of a major solo exhibition of my sculptures and installations at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It coincided with the annual U.S. Presidential Scholars exhibition. I had arrived full circle with YoungArts in the same institution where I had my first museum exhibition decades ago.
Upon reconnecting, the YoungArts staff invited me back to serve as a National Selection Panelist. I built friendships with passionate colleagues— many artists and award winners themselves. I was now an integral part of the other side of the process—jurying, interviewing and deliberating on the winners.
After a National YoungArts Week performance, I met the co-founder of YoungArts, Lin Arison. I was struck by her founding vision and the incredible individuals that carry out the work. Unlike collectors, this support is not about owning art or building a collection of objects to admire; they invest in individuals, believing that artists matter. This commitment is sometimes intangible, but powerful nonetheless. They care for future generations to ensure that the important transformation and the gift of imagination are accessible to many at a young age. YoungArts empowers artists like me to keep our dreams alive.
Each year when I return to YoungArts as a mentor or guest artist, I am briefly yet magically transported to my youth, prompted to reimagine my 18-year-old self. What would I want to learn? What insights, experience, and wisdom can one artist share with another? In my workshops, winners partner up and interview one another, making time for conversations that in turn inspire the creation of an artist’s portrait. It is a practice of listening, being in dialogue with other artists and creating art inspired by another person’s story. We then introduce this artist to the rest of the group, and in doing so, we honor each other, our ancestors, our teachers and where we come from. Being moved by each other’s artwork and lived experiences, we establish the foundations of a rich artistic community. With this mutual understanding, we dream of building our future together. What is our definition of success? What is our role as artists in creating the world we want to live in? We are no longer in competition; we are a community.
Full circle, today I’m grateful to serve on YoungArts’ Board of Trustees. It’s an honor to contribute my voice to shaping the direction of an organization that has had such a formative influence on me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward to the next generation. I invite the extended YoungArts community to continue the conversation with us: How do we cultivate the conditions where artists are free to express, experiment, risk, imagine the impossible and make dreams into reality?
Jean Shin’s story is part of our season-long celebration of “40 years for artists.” Learn more about YoungArts’ four-decade evolution and the uplifting community of artists who have shaped it at our interactive history timeline.
About the Author
Recognized for her monumental installations, artist Jean Shin (1990 Visual Arts & U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts) transforms large accumulations of everyday objects into expressions of identity and community engagement. Shin’s innovative work has been widely exhibited in over 150 major museums and cultural institutions, including solo exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art in New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art in Arizona, the Crow Museum of Asian Art in Dallas; and Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York. In recognition of excellence, she has received numerous accolades, including two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships in Architecture/Environmental Structures (2008) and Sculpture (2003), a Korea Arts Foundation of America Award, a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, an Asian Cultural Council Fellowship and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Art Award.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in the United States, Shin attended the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in 1999 and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Science from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and an honorary doctorate from the New York Academy of Art. Shin is a tenured adjunct professor of fine art at Pratt Institute and a recipient of Pratt’s 2017 Alumni Achievement Award. Shin is president of the Joan Mitchell Foundation and serves on the Board of YoungArts. She lives and works in Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley of New York.
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