In the summer of 2018, Seattle artist and activist Sara Porkalob spoke to a group of young artists at an acting intensive. She discussed her work and life as an artist. She also shared a simple instruction: Question everything. Those words landed as a spark for a couple of soon-to-be high school sophomores—Anya Shukla and Kathryn Lau.
They were some of the only people of color in the intensive. Porkalob’s words reminded them that it’s not only acceptable but encouraged to be critical of art, to have the necessary conversations with other artists about diversity, and reflect on their own experiences. Ultimately, Porkalob’s message served as a cornerstone for the pair to start the Colorization Collective, an organization aimed at fostering diversity in the arts, specifically with teenagers. As of now, most of the Colorization Collective's reach is local, although they have participants from around the country.
The Collective has two main initiatives: an online blog and a mentorship program. On the blog, writers discuss everything from personal connections to K-Pop groups to the message behind Larissa FastHorse’s The Thanksgiving Play. The blog also highlights artists, aiming in all areas for “diversity in diversity.” For example, Lau explains if feature pieces showed only East or South Asian artists then it’s not actual diversity since it’s showing only certain parts of Asia. “It kind of defeats the purpose of our whole mission statement.”
Through the mentorship program, students are matched with artists who work in their style of art. The mentors offer critiques, advice, and career insights. This year, the program has partnered with TeenTix, a Seattle non-profit that helps teenagers access local art through initiatives like reduced ticket prices for shows and arts leadership training programs (Shukla is on the youth leadership board).
Shukla and Lau, now seniors at Lakeside School, understand the impact that seeing yourself on the silver screen or in a book can have, especially when you’re a teenager. So Shukla and Lau find a way to balance classes and drama club to organize collaborations with other art organizations and write blog posts about the work of other teen artists. “When I see myself reflected in art or someone who shares my identity reflected in art,” Shukla says, “it’s kind of a validation of my experiences and my beliefs.”