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It Starts With You(th): Kathryn Lau and Anya Shukla

This dynamic duo cofounded a mentorship org to promote diversity in the arts for teens of color

Patty Lindley
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Published on: October 28, 2020

Kathryn Lau and Anya Shukla

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

Lakeside School seniors Anya Shukla and Kathryn Lau (both 17) are founding members of The Colorization Collective, a youth-run organization that aims to promote diversity in the arts by supporting teen artists of color through mentorship programs and original content production. We caught up with the pair to learn more about what inspires them as artists, what motivates their advocacy work and what fuels their mission. 

You are both artists in your own right. What forms does your artistic expression take?

Anya: I dabble in a lot of different art forms. But currently I think I’m most comfortable as a writer and a singer. I do enjoy visual art and I also enjoy dancing around to music in my bedroom.

Kathryn: I do a lot of performance arts. Anya and I both started off as ballet dancers. Following that, I dabbled around in a lot more different styles of dance. Since then I’ve also started doing more singing and acting. I also use a Bullet Journal, so I do doodles and small sketches on the side.

What inspired you two to conceptualize and found The Colorization Collective?

Kathryn: We participated in an acting intensive at the Seattle Children’s Theatre Young Actor Institute in 2018, and we were among the few young artists of color in that cohort. Through YAI, we also had the opportunity to speak with and work with a bunch of diverse theater artists from Seattle … [including] Sara Porkalob, Meme Garcia and Pilar O’Connell, as well as a few guest artists like the upstart crow collective. [After that experience], we came together and we were talking throughout our sophomore year. In April 2019, we filmed our first [episode of the web series] “Refocus” and we published it at the end of June. We’ve been The Colorization Collective ever since.

What is the mission of The Colorization Collective? What outcomes do you envision?

Anya: In terms of a mission, I think it is broadly to support teen artists of color or teens of color, providing them with resources and with peers and mentors in a community of people who look like them and who share their experiences. In doing so, we really hope that teens of color will feel that the arts are something they can participate in and potentially even have a career in. Hopefully, we can help to eliminate or ameliorate that pipeline problem of teens dropping out of the arts; and also, of having a lack of representation in the arts world.

Kathryn: The outcome is just more joy for everyone.

What are your current programs?

Anya: I think the biggest project that we’re working on right now is our mentorship program. We’re pairing 15 teens with three adult artists of color, and they’re doing online workshops every Saturday for five weeks. We’re co-producing this opportunity with TeenTix. At the end, they will perform their work at the Teeny Awards in late November [Nov. 21–22].

Beyond that, we’re also doing social media and blog features. We’re trying to bring back our “Refocus” web series in a socially distanced way. I think the last thing would be probably that we’re looking to start more of a grassroots movement [to found] chapters of The Colorization Collective in different communities so that we can expand to different cities across the United States and around the world.

How else are you thinking about perpetuating the organization as and when you move on to other things?

Kathryn: Anya and I mainly serve the teenagers — so 13 through 19 — and we’ll have aged out in two years. We’re hoping to establish more of an adult board by that time. We’re going to try to stay involved as long as we can, because racial equity in the arts is super relevant to both of us. We’re also trying to become a 501(c)(3).

Anya: Yeah, in terms of funding, it’s just a little bit more stable. Part of becoming a 501(c)(3) is having that adult board, even though we definitely want this to still be a teen-of-color-run organization. Potentially transitioning into that adult leadership as we age out will be really helpful.

What qualities do you think are fundamental to being a successful mentor?

Anya: I’ve been part of the youth board at TeenTix for the past four years. So, I have a close relationship with Monique Courcy, their executive director. And then also Mariko [Nagashimi], the lead of the teen writing program. Both of them have definitely mentored me in a way that I think is really central to TeenTix’s whole mission and the idea that the teen voice is incredibly important; no matter your age, you have ideas that are valid and beliefs that should be heard. Their mentorship is a lot of leading by example and just facilitating and supporting me in sharing my own voice. Three or four years ago, I was a very shy person — It’s definitely been a light touch, but such a valuable one as they’ve taken me out of my shell.  

Kathryn: I think there’s definitely been a lot of really strong adult figures in my life thus far. The first person who comes to mind when I think mentor is the first drama teacher I ever worked with. She was the one who really got me into acting and just having fun on stage. Which carries through to singing, dancing, everything. She was my teacher from K through fifth grade. We’re still in touch — she recently retired. Her main thing was just to have fun and find what makes you, you. But also continue to have faith in humanity, and know that you bring something really unique to every table. Bring that, and get as much joy as you can out of that work.

How would you encourage another young person to take action on their ideals and aspirations?

Anya: Break things down into small goals. … Then slowly expand from setting those small goals, reaching them and continuing from there to achieve a larger mission.

Kathryn: I think it’s really important to take time to just step back and feel accomplished, and to have the same level of pride in smaller things as you do in the big milestones. Be self-aware throughout the process of creating change or doing things — and savor it, because time flies.

What about a parent’s influence in supporting their child in feeling capable and competent to take action?

Anya: I think in terms of a parent’s role, just encourage your child to explore the interests that seem important to them. And also encourage them to try new things and explore a depth and breadth of opportunities.

Kathryn: Yeah, just like Anya said, be supportive of your child and allow them to explore. But also know that they’re going to come at things differently than from your perspective. Listen actively to what the other is saying and then find ways to make that happen in a realm of feasibility that is possible for each family, because it’s going to be different for every situation. Respect their space and allow them to find themselves before someone or something else defines it for them.

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