By: Maya Koehn-Wu
- Maya is a second year undergraduate majoring in Urban and Environmental Planning with a minor in Dance.
- In celebration of Youth Art Month, Maya shares more about how she was encouraged to be creative and engaged with her community during her teen years.
- Now she is bridging art and social justice issues as she continues using her creativity to change the world.
I consider myself an artist across multiple mediums. I draw, I paint, I dance, and more.
I began making art when I was young. In high school, I developed my own style, where my artwork depicted gestural figures in motion, dancing in a time-space continuum of energy. Creating and making such pieces became a way for me to create action in a space of stillness. It was a way in which to communicate the complexity and chaotic dimension of movement within a controversial space, within everyday life, within a dance piece.
My dancing simultaneously – whether it was within the studio or at community events (where our dance company would put on productions that told Latin folktales in order to share and teach about Latin Culture), became an extension of my art; bringing a shared energy of pastels and color to moving about on a stage. Dancing Flamenco became a passion; where stomping to a rhythm also was a way to tell a story through movement and not words.
Why Be Creative
Art for me has always been about creating a space for self expression where words often can’t, which is true for many young people. My high school teacher always said, “it is important to create something everyday.” I have since taken those words to heart.
Whether I am sewing, cooking, dancing, painting, drawing, or creating graphics for internships, I have always taken it upon myself to create daily.
I think adults should encourage youth to find creative outlets, to explore different avenues for expression, and foster the development of young artists to be creative.
In a world of standardized testing and schooling, there is often little room for subjective creativity and emotional intelligence. Creativity fosters skills that move people, skills that bridge people together, skills that foster empathy and emotion. It is this power to foster emotion and share common humanistic values that makes art so powerful.
Being an Active Community Member
Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to give back to my community. The Latin Ballet, the studio I danced at, was centered around bringing in the community. After each production we would bring the audience on stage with us to come learn some steps of Bachata, Salsa, or Flamenco.
This helped me connect with kids younger than me, but also share my talents to inspire the next generation of youth artists.
I became passionate about being an even more active member of my community. I worked as a kayaking instructor on the river, where I grew to understand the importance of conservation. I became an activist on fighting to mitigate issues surrounding Climate Change and became empowered by the power of Greta Thunberg’s voice shouting:
Youth CAN make a difference.
Within Richmond, VA I then began interning at a project directed towards studying urban heat islands, where I learned that impoverished neighborhoods and certain streets of Richmond were often 10+ degrees hotter than other parts of the city due to limited tree coverage. From that experience I learned that green space, poverty, equity, and resource access are all interconnected.
I became emboldened to be a voice and advocate for equitable change.
Bridging Art & Social Justice
It wasn’t until I learned that art and equity development can be connected that my perspective on the world transformed.
I have begun to work in a space where dance, music, and art drive my social justice projects. Today I work as an intern at the Sound Justice Lab, a social justice project affiliated with the UVA Equity Center and centered around amplifying voices of gender discrimination. I create graphics, flyers, website material, and visual content that incorporates my artistic passion to present expressive visuals that are measurable and meaningful.
I also work on a project called Project Drumline, where we teach kids rhythm with bucket drumming, music, and dance through City of Promise.
On my journey to become an active and artistic citizen, I have learned that art brings in a level of emotion and depth that sparks conversations amongst people, and conversations are the key to beginning to enact change. I have learned of the power of expression behind a piece of art. I have learned that being creative is a way for me to fight for change and to bring profound meaning to my causes.
Youth are looking for a place to express themselves, to find their own voices.
We want to be a force of change, and sometimes all it takes is putting some color on a piece of paper and other times it’s turning on music and moving your body.
Just remember, art can change the world.
Maya and her sister founded an organization, SistersProjectPeru, who’s ultimate hope is to build a sustainable medical clinic in rural Huacahuasi Peru in the hopes of increasing healthcare accessibility and empowering women on a global scale. Maya recently held an auction of her art to raise money for the organization. To learn more, please visit https://www.sistersprojectperu.org/.
Author Bio: Maya Koehn-Wu is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Virginia. Her intersectional identity as a multiracial female inspires her exploration of different cultures and drive to constantly be making global connections and impacts.Through dance, art, and creative social justice work, she seeks to experience the world outside of where she lives. In addition to being a globally minded, assertive, and politically vocal citizen, she is working as an environmental activist seeking to work within the global community to tackle climate change.