Katie Nguyen, Raj Makker, Jarek Keovilay, and Louisa Meng clean up after a YouthCAN workshop session in October. • Photo by Brie Ripley
Katie Nguyen, Raj Makker, Jarek Keovilay, and Louisa Meng clean up after a YouthCAN workshop session in October. • Photo by Brie Ripley

On the third floor of the Wing Luke Museum, a small room overlooking King Street serves as an artist’s emporium every Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for teens. Minh Nguyen is the Exhibit Developer and Manager of the award-winning YouthCAN program at the Wing Luke Museum—a seasonal creative workshop series geared towards underserved youth in the Greater Seattle Area.

On the second Friday of the series, a dozen teens gathered around Cambodian food from Phnom Penh Noodle House, and a projector displaying the guidelines for a challenge.

Students Jarek Keovilay and Katie Nguyen paired up to create an Instagram campaign focused on expressive noise communicated via color composition.

After completing the challenge, guest Teaching Artist Louisa Meng led a conversational review session on the teens’ work while simultaneously discussing personal branding strategies.

Between each student presentation, snaps and clapping ensued by the teens, for the teens, to show appreciation and admiration of their respective projects. After a few students presented, it was finally Keovilay and Nguyen’s turn.

“Jarek had a hard time deciding whether he wanted to be quiet or loud, so we decided there is a difference between how that’s represented in photos,” said Katie Nguyen to her peers.

The photo series depicted Keovilay looking into a window, laying on a floor between several windows, and looking out of a window. Each photo contrasted blue and yellow tones, creating a dichotomy between soft and harsh, quiet and loud.

“It’s immediately kind of profound, it’s great, and you did that all through composition,” said program teaching artist Raj Makker, remarking on the pair’s photoset.

First Lady Michelle Obama presented YouthCAN with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award back in 2010. The free workshops provide space for teens aged 15-19 to learn from mentor artists and develop skills for creative expression and civic engagement.

“We want to work with teens of color and female-identified teens to make art about their identities,” said Minh Nguyen.

Minh Nguyen developed this winter’s nine-week workshop series with Program Assistant Heather Chan, teaching artist Makker, and Youth Leads Tamar Manuel and Lillian Nguyen. This season’s interdisciplinary workshop includes resources and activities useful for professional development and portfolio creation.

“Power, oppression, race, and class and gender play into the art world,” said Minh Nguyen. “My hope is to equip them with the language and the tools needed to make informed decisions about what they get involved in so they don’t become tokenized or taken advantage of.”

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