Taylor Wang (left) and Alice Mao (right). Photo courtesy of Student Art Spaces.

When aspiring artists Alice Mao and Taylor Wang recognized the lack of representation for young artists of color in the creative world, they decided to rewrite the narrative. Now holding their second gallery on March 6th titled Coming Home, the teenagers continue to fight for opportunities for young and diverse artists to showcase their talent.

Mao and Wang share the passion to create. A senior at Issaquah High School, Mao has submitted her artwork to various galleries and publications. When she began to doubt pursuing art as a career, she relied on the rush of excitement derived from seeing her art showcased in a show or magazine. However, as she submitted to more and more shows, she realized the fees of submitting art added up. Between submission, shipping, and hanging, she would spend around $60, money that many artists her age might not have. She wanted to provide the opportunity for her fellow artists to show their work and feel the same pride she did, but without the financial hurdle.

Wang, a junior at Issaquah High School, recognized the same privilege in her pursuance of art. She believes art is the most powerful way to communicate with others, and anybody moved to create has the right to share their art, no matter their class standing.

Beyond funding, Wang and Mao have experienced the challenge of being an artist of color. As two Asian-American women, they are often questioned if pursuing art is practical, and if pursuing passion in general is a good idea. Mao says people hint that, “pursuing art professionally is an ‘unreliable’ career choice,” but she is lucky to have a family who is very supportive.

Facing the same discrimination, Wang aims to use her art to offer a humanized version of Chinese life in America. This includes the pressure to hold a respectable career, and the stigma of discussing mental health.

“As an Asian girl who is very involved in politics and art, I definitely feel like a black sheep in my community,” Wang said. “Through my work, I hope to reveal the issues that our community faces and break down the stigma around talking about Asian discrimination.”

From these shared experiences, Mao and Wang decided to band together to create their nonprofit organization Student Art Spaces. Based in Seattle, the nonprofit works to create opportunities for young artists to show their work through galleries and other community-oriented projects.

Their first gallery, The Modern Youth Identity, which occurred in August 2019, accepted work from young artists around the world, aiming to capture voices of all backgrounds. By reaching out to all areas of the community, the art bridged a gap between the younger and older generations by presenting thoughts of Gen Z that can’t be contained in statistics.

“Most of our artists were women of color, and the work reflected that,” Mao said. “We were specifically interested in uplifting their voices, and showing what ‘identity’ means for our diverse, radical, queer generation.”

“Representation is important–many of our attendees, particularly older ones, told us that they felt moved by the messages our young artists had to share,” Wang added.
After large success in the first gallery, Mao and Wang are holding their second gallery, Coming Home, on March 6th in Shoreline City Hall. The theme uses a loose version of the idea of “home,” and encourages artists to think about what home means to them personally. Unlike the first gallery, submissions are limited to local artists. Wang hopes the gallery will open a discussion about how Washington is, or is not, home to young artists.

For Mao, the idea of “home” is, “unique and nebulous, an amalgamation of different cultures and imagery, nostalgic sights and smells.” After growing up in Nanjing, Dublin, and Issaquah, she is excited to see how other artists interpret the theme while delving into her own.

Both Mao and Wang hope Coming Home continues to bring together Seattle and PNW artists, and amplifies the voices of diverse young artists like themselves. Mao also believes Student Art Spaces can act as an educational opportunity for artists, where the two can share the technical aspects of running a nonprofit with interested students. Above all, the nonprofit wants to support young, local artists.

“What started out as a hobby between Alice and I has now grown into something much bigger than any of us,” Wang said. “When I see artists’ reactions to their work at the gallery, the proud photos on Instagram, and the excited comments on future plans, I feel motivated to work even harder and go that extra mile for Student Art Spaces.”

The gallery will take place at Shoreline City Hall from March 6th to April 1st, with opening night from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m.

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