Over Summer, Juniors Work to Highlight Arts

Over Summer, Juniors Work to Highlight Arts

Ava Teasdale, News Editor

After clicking a link on their website, readers of Issue I of Saint Louis Youth Arts Coalition are greeted with a bright blue cover with splashes of orange, yellow, and pink. The literary magazine is filled with student work of all kinds: poetry, memoirs, paintings, and photography.

The STL Youth Artists Coalition, STLYAC for short, is “a local youth organization that aims to create a community for artists to learn, make connections, and receive art and writing-related opportunities in Saint Louis,” as stated on their website. The group publishes an art and writing journal biannually, and their first edition came out in August 2020. Their blog is also updated monthly and gives writers a chance to write on prompts that the editors announce.

The Coalition is run by three high school juniors, Jacquelyn Harris (‘22), Oviya Shrihari, and Kiran Khan, who met at Burroughs in seventh grade. Since Shrihari and Khan have departed to different high schools, the three have remained close friends as co-leaders of STLYAC. The idea was created by Shrihari, who has always been passionate about writing and the arts, but couldn’t find an organization that gathered artists from all across Saint Louis. Her aim was simple: “create a space for youth artists and writers to really be able to learn and actually connect with each other across schools.” After receiving a long paragraph over text explaining Shrihari’s vision, Harris (‘22) and Khan were on-boarded as co-leaders of STLYAC. Khan currently runs the monthly blog and Harris is the head activities coordinator.

The organization took off in mid-June and has had two major meetings since then. The first was an introductory vision meeting where members got to know each other as well as the organization. During the second meeting, members joined Netflix Party (a streaming service that allows multiple people to watch a film at the same time from different locations) and watched Knock Down the House, a documentary featuring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Saint Louis’ Cori Bush. Following the documentary, Harris facilitated a workshop and discussion, where members discussed activism, advocacy, and how students can influence society and government without voting. The fact that the three leaders attend different schools has become a huge advantage to spreading awareness about STLYAC. Between four and six different high schools are represented in their subscriber list, according to Shrihari. In the first issue of STLYAC’s literary journal, writers and artists from John Burroughs, Ladue Horton Watkins High School, Parkway West, and Desert Mountain High School all had work published.

Student work found in the journal and blog posts ranges from colorful paintings to poetry to photography. In response to a blog prompt, many students wrote powerful memoirs about their first experience with race in America. Indeed, many writers tackle heavy topics involving mental health, sexual orientation, and race. STLYAC is a platform for students to share their experiences in a very raw and authentic manner, and the leaders work very hard to empower their members. “Just reading everyone’s stories and seeing how vulnerable they are, it really does just touch my heart,” says Harris, who also published several pieces in the journal.

“I think that the whole STLYAC group does a really nice job of letting student voices be heard, and they’re all super inclusive. I’m really inspired by the creativity of everyone on the team,” says Sara Cao (‘22). Cao, a junior at Burroughs, wrote a piece entitled “My First Experience With Race”, and is grateful for all the support that the leadership team offered.

For the leaders of the Coalition, many writing journals can feel impersonal– students simply submit their work anonymously and risk never getting published. But with frequent meetings and opportunities to bond with one another, STLYAC works hard to provide an encouraging environment for their artists inside and outside of the journal. Shrihari is proud of creating a space that “feels really inclusive and supportive [for students] to share this really vulnerable work.”

So what can we expect from STLYAC in the future? Right now, the leaders want to continue conversations virtually, especially with the 2020 election coming up. Harris is planning to continue their movies series and facilitate “conversations about different groups of people.” The blog will continue to be updated monthly, and the editors are always looking for new submissions. Additionally, the leadership team is focused on expanding membership to new students and schools, especially outside of the suburban private school bubble. Once the Covid-19 pandemic has abated, the team wants to go on art museum trips, watch poetry slams, and paint in the park. Until then, STLYAC will continue finding socially distanced ways to connect young artists and writers.

STLYAC is grounded in writing and art, but creating new relationships between creatives across the area is extremely important to the Coalition. “I really wish I had this kind of thing coming into high school,” said Shrihari, who has enjoyed keeping up with old friends and meeting new ones through the organization, “so maybe I can give that to somebody else.”