The National YoungArts Foundation announced last month that four Alabama School of Fine Arts students have been given awards designed to support young artists.
The YoungArts Foundation, by giving young artists scholarships and access to established artists, has provided support to students since 1981. Many winners of the National YoungArts Foundation competition go on to become leading artists in their field, including Grammy-nominated artist Josh Groban, Chris Dave, and Nicki Minaj. Outside of music, YoungArts alumni include actresses Viola Davis and Anna Gunn and television producer Jenji Kohan, best known as creator of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.
This year, ASFA was the only school in the state to have any students place in the YoungArts annual competition. In total, the foundation named 693 winners from 42 states, though according to the YoungArts website, this represents just 8.67 percent of the applicants for the 2017 competition.
Having ASFA students in the competition is nothing unusual; the school usually has at least one student who places in the running each year, and often more, said Ashley Jones, a member of the school’s creative writing faculty and alum of the Birmingham school.
“Since I was a student here . . . we’ve had winners coming out almost every year, so we do have a history of at least placing in some way,” Jones said. “This year we have three winners. Next year we’ll probably have somebody, because our students are some of the top of the country in talent, so it only makes sense that they would place.”
Three ASFA students were recognized for their writing, while the fourth won an award for her singing. Isibeal Owens won an honorable mention for her spoken-word poetry piece, and Jordan Harper received an honorable mention for his essay on how his medical history has shaped his growth as a young man. Kathryn Hargett won an honorable mention in poetry as well as a merit award for her creative nonfiction piece on “the intersection of mental health and Chinese girlhood,” according to T.J. Beitelman, the chair of the school’s Creative Writing Department.
According to Jones, every senior creative writing student at the Alabama School of Fine Arts is required to complete a “senior thesis” project in which they compile a substantive body of creative writing in the genre of their choosing. Isibeal, Jordan, and Kathryn each drew their winning submissions to the YoungArts competition from this larger body of work, which they will be required to present in its entirety in the spring in order to graduate.
Fellow senior Lillian Davis received an honorable mention in the Popular Voice category, which requires applicants to demonstrate their proficiency singing in a variety of styles.
“Students in this category are judged by their technique, tone production, diction, intonation, interpretation and phrasing,” said Kimberly Strickland, chair of the school’s Music Department.
All the winners of the competition are eligible to participate in the YoungArts Miami regional program in late February 2017, described by Jones as an intensive weeklong retreat in which the students workshop with and learn from not only fellow winners but also from established YoungArts alumni. Though the foundation has not announced which professional artists will be attending next year’s retreat, previous events have seen students working with prominent artists such as prolific conductor Plácido Domingo and author Rebecca Walker.