Skip to Content

National YoungArts Foundation: 1981–2016

Erica Ando

Rosie Perez
In January, the National YoungArts Foundation brought to Miami a select group of teenagers from across the country who competed for the honor in the performing, cinematic, literary, and visual arts. Throughout the week, the young artists participated in workshops and presented electrifying performances and exhibitions open to the public.

The artists radiated uncompromising commitment and passion. They also fearlessly engaged controversial subjects: the “Writers’ Readings” performance included the works of two young black men who tackled pressing issues with urgency and intensity. Antwon Funches delivered a pleading invective on the violence facing young black men: “Who’s next? Who’s next?! Answer me!!” Simbaa Gordon’s poem, addressed to an absentee father who suddenly turned up, ended in “I don’t need you,” a proclamation of defiant strength and independence. These performances inspired hope, not only for the future of writing, performance, and the arts in general, but also for the future of our society. They were powerful reminders of art’s ability to empower—both the artists and their audiences.

The level of achievement demonstrated by YoungArts winners is made possible only with solid support from families, teachers, and communities. For every “winner” there are countless “losers” who don’t belong to an environment supportive of artistic expression. While I’m still intoxicated by the energy of YoungArts Week, my hope for the future is that all young people receive artistic nourishment. I also hope that these talented young artists will continue to receive the necessary support to develop and that their exceptional art will be made accessible and affordable to all.


1981 – Ted Arison (founder of Carnival Cruise Lines) and wife Lin Arison establish the National YoungArts Foundation to identify and support young artists (15–18 years old).

1982 – The first National YoungArts Week is held in Miami with national finalists chosen in dance, music, theater, visual arts and writing. During this signature national program, award winners visit Miami for the weeklong program, where they work with distinguished master artists.

YoungArts assumes sole responsibility for nominating students for the U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts (PSA) awards and presents the first Kennedy Center performance featuring PSA winners.

Rachel Moore winner in dance and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
1984 Joins American Ballet Theater, New York.
2004 Named Executive Director, American Ballet Theater.
2015 Named President and Chief Executive Officer of Music Center, Los Angeles.

Viola Davis 1983
1983Viola Davis winner in theater.
2001 Wins Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role in King Hedley II.
2010 Wins Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her role in Fences.
2015 Becomes the first African American to win an Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Drama. In her acceptance speech, she says, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

1985 – Career advancement granting program for former YoungArts national finalists established.

1986 – YoungArts creates the New World Symphony, a separate but affiliated organization.

Desmond Richardson winner in modern dance and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
1987 Joins Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York, where he is a principal dancer for seven years.
1994 Cofounds Complexions Contemporary Ballet, New York, with the purpose of reinventing dance through a mix of methods, styles, and cultures.
1997 Joins American Ballet Theater, New York, where he performs the lead role in Othello. 1999 Receives a Tony Award nomination for his role in Fosse.
2015 Complexions Contemporary Ballet receives the YoungArts Residency in Dance, held at the Miami campus with an Outside the Box performance supported by ArtPlace America. Complexions co-founder and master choreographer Dwight Rhoden creates an original work that premiers at New York’s Joyce Theater. YoungArts Residency in Visual Arts at the Miami Campus hosts Emma Fee, Sarah Rara, and Michael Vasquez.

1987Dave Eggar winner in Music.
A musical prodigy in cello and piano, Eggar performed on Broadway and with the Metropolitan Opera at age seven and debuted at Carnegie Hall at age fifteen. During his career, he has performed and recorded with countless artists in diverse genres, from Josh Groban (fellow YoungArts alum) to Andrea Bocelli to Evanescence.
2011 Nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement for his solo record Kingston Morning
1988 In partnership with Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, YoungArts creates the Career Advancement in the Visual Arts program to provide financial support for individual visual artists through residencies in Miami Beach. The program is renamed Fellowships in the Visual Arts in 1997.

1991 – YoungArts establishes an affiliation with the International Association of Jazz Educators, enabling the program to add jazz music as a separate artistic discipline.

1992 – Applications to the program surpasses 6,000.

1994 – Photography becomes a separate discipline within the program.

Kerry Washington awarded in theater
2000 – Receives Teen Choice Award for Best Breakout Performance for work in Save the Last Dance. Begins career in stage, television, and film
2004 – Receives NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, the first of numerous awards and nominations by NAACP
2009 – Appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee of the Arts and Humanities
2011 – Returns to YoungArts as a master artist
2013 – Receives Emmy Award nomination and NAACP Image Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Olivia Pope on Scandal. Also receives NAACP President’s Award for special achievement in furthering the cause of civil rights and public service

1995 – Career development internships for YoungArts winners launched with the Utah Shakespearean Festival, Sundance Theatre Laboratory, and Socrates Sculpture Park.

1996 Voice becomes a separate discipline within the program.

Hernan Bas awarded in photography

1997 – Applications to the program reach 7,000.

Camille A Brown and Dancers in Mr. TOL E. RAncE with projection by Isabela Dos Santos_by Christopher Duggan
Camille A. Brown winner in dance and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts
2001 – Joins Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, A Dance Company, Brooklyn. Over the years, commissions choreographic works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco!, Urban Bush Women, Complexions, among others
2011 Returns to YoungArts as a master artist
2016 Miami-Dade College Live Arts presents Brown’s Black Girl: Linguistic Play

1998 – Applications reach 8,112.

2000 – YoungArts forms a partnership with the Music for Youth Foundation to provide $25,000 cash awards exclusively to YoungArts winners in music, voice and jazz. Film and video becomes a separate discipline.

2000 – A regional, two-year pilot program is established, serving Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

2001 – YoungArts celebrates its twentieth anniversary by presenting the first Arison Award to Quincy Jones at the annual gala. Given to an individual who has made a significant impact to the artistic lives of America’s youth, the award carries a $10,000 donation to the winner’s charity of choice. To date, Arison Award winners have included Jacques d’Amboise, Roberta Guaspari, Placido Domingo, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and others.

2004 – The $10,000 YoungArts Gold Awards established to be given for extraordinary achievement to a national finalist in each of the nine disciplines.

2007 – Martin Scorsese returns to YoungArts as a master artist in cinematic arts. In presenting awards to winners, he tells the audience, “In 1963, when I made my first film, I was lucky enough to get a $500 scholarship. It was the greatest encouragement for me and my parents. I’ve lived on that encouragement for the past forty years and I hope the same happens for the award winners tonight.”

James Allister Sprang_by WRE
2008James Allister Sprang winner in visual arts.
2015 Moderates YoungArts Salon Series conversation with Fab 5 Freddy.
The YoungArts Salon Series, launched in 2013, is sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and brings together creative art luminaries, offering audiences an opportunity to engage with internationally renowned artists. Previous salons have featured Marina Abramović and Matthu Placek, Sibylle Szaggars Redford and Robert Redford, Justin Peck and Sufjan Stevens, Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, Edwidge Dandicat, and others.

2011 – YoungArts New York regional program established.

Isabela Dos Santos headshot
Isabela Dos Santos winner in cinematic arts and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts
2013 Shortlisted for Student Academy Awards with short film i, which was inspired by and set to a song by fellow YoungArts alumna Kate Davis
2015 Collaborates with Camille A. Brown, 1997 winner in dance, on Brown’s Bessie Award-winning “Mr. TOL E. RAncE”

2012 – YoungArts acquires the iconic Bacardi Tower and Museum buildings in Miami and converts them into the YoungArts national headquarters.

YoungArts expands its regional programs in Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.


Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner

2014 – The first annual YoungArts Awareness Day takes place, including a salon and exhibition in Miami, a cabaret in New York, and a disco pop performance in Los Angeles.

Kira Bursky winner in cinematic arts
2015 The HBO series YoungArts Masterclass wins an Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Program for “Alan Alda and the Actor Within You: A YoungArts Masterclass.” Other YoungArts Masterclass specials have featured Olafur Eliasson, Renée Fleming, Josh Groban, Bill T. Jones, Liv Ullmann, and others.

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner winner in music

2016 – YoungArts celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary. Applications reach a new record of 12,071.


Robert Wilson

• January 3–10: National Young Arts Week brings to Miami 168 finalists, selected in ten artistic disciplines. Seventeen are students from the Miami area. Artists work with master artists including MacArthur Foundation Fellowship winner Tarell McCraney, visual artist Mickalene Thomas, and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Doug Blush (1984 winner in cinematic arts).

• March 8–13: YoungArts Miami, exhibitions and performances at the YoungArts Campus and the Colony Theatre.

Tony Yazbeck2

Tony Yazbeck

Arison Award Alumni Award Honoree is Tony Yazbeck (1997 winner in theater). Other Arison Award Honorees are theater and visual artist Robert Wilson and actor and director Rosie Perez. Perez tells the audience of 2016 winners, “Push through your fears and slip into greatness. The world will open up to you and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Erica Ando is an arts writer and arts advocate. She believes in mandatory arts education.