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Teens Take Action: Meet Kaya Nieves

Local teens make change happen

Published on: June 29, 2018

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Kaya Nieves

Sponsored by: 
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Community: That’s what it comes down to for Bellevue teen Kaya Nieves. The recently graduated senior started getting involved with her community early and has no plans to stop. 

She’s one of many such teens leading the way and using their voices for positive change in our area and our country. Every month, we highlight such a young person in our regular series Teens Take Action.

These are Seattle-area teenagers who are making big things happen. Often, that’s thanks in part to their work with local programs, from the year-long service learning Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP) at the Gates Foundation to monthly commitments at some of our area’s best-known museums. 

By educating, engaging and empowering youth, these programs offer teens a way to take their ideas on how to improve the world and make them real. This month, Nieves shares her experience as an artist, volunteer and community member.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Who am I?

I’m Kaya Nieves. I’m 18 and a senior at Newport High School in Bellevue. I was a member of the Teen Arts Group at Seattle Art Museum (SAM) for three years; I recently graduated from the program. Next year, I’ll be going to Parsons School of Design [in New York City] to study photography. 

It was actually because of photography that I found out about the Teen Arts Group. I started doing photography in eighth grade and took classes with [the Seattle-based photography nonprofit] Youth in Focus. I volunteered at SAM for one of their Teen Night Out events where I learned about the arts group.

What I'm up to

I love SAM and I love art so when I heard about the Teen Arts Group, I was really interested and decided to apply. Anything I can do to be more connected to my community or art, I’m interested in.

During my three years [with the program], I helped host two Teen Night Out events each year, one in the fall and one in the spring or summer. I also developed and led several tours, which focused on a particular work of art or theme.

When the “Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect” exhibit opened at SAM, a friend and I developed a tour focused on the male gaze in art. How were women portrayed by a male artist like Wyeth as compared to when a female artist portrayed them? 

In one example, a female artist named Mickalene Thomas portrayed two women as clothed [editor’s note: The subjects were nude in the original photograph on which Thomas based the painting]. Thomas showed that the women had their own power and that they can make their own decisions. They were beautiful.

Want to get involved, too? What I recommend

Look for community events. For example, I know that SAM offers a lot of really great options that allow you to meet other people in the community and look at what other artists are doing locally. Another organization I know of: Youth Speaks. They’re really great because they help teens develop poems to present at a grand slam.

It’s all about community building; I learned that in the Teen Arts Group. I worked with so many teens and really got to learn about other people’s experiences and how they see their world. It strengthened my relationships with people and my skills on how to communicate and work together.

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