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Meet Isabela Dos Santos of National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Isabela Dos Santos.

Isabela, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I taught myself how to do stop-motion animation when I was 16, bored at home in Weston, FL. I was into arts and crafts, dance, writing and physics, so animation was a natural convergence of all those interests: storytelling through visual art and movement. Over the next two years, I created a few short films and began submitting to competitions and scholarships and one of those competitions was YoungArts. I was chosen as a finalist in Cinematic Arts and invited to a week-long, all-expenses-paid program in Miami alongside 150 artists who were just like me: all nerdy, ambitious, talented, thoughtful, funny teenagers from around the country. We spent the week watching each other in awe, bonding, workshopping, collaborating and understanding what it meant to be artists.

YoungArts has such a rich network and alumni community of 20,000 genuine artists, it quickly became my entire resume. I got a gig animating for renowned choreographer Camille A. Brown (also a YoungArts alumna), created videos for pianist/composer Conrad Tao (a fellow winner at YoungArts in my year), and got a letter of recommendation from Academy Award-winning documentary editor, my YoungArts panelist Doug Blush (also a YoungArts alumnus) for college. Just to name a few.

I went to CalArts to study animation from 2011-2014. I also kept working on projects with or through YoungArts, and over the summers at home in Florida I began interning and working part-time with the YoungArts communications team. I graduated early, spent a summer doing a digital marketing internship at the amazing Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and dove straight into my true home: a full-time job working in social media and video at YoungArts, where I am today.

On nights and weekends I continue to create films, designs and miniatures. I recently received a Borscht Film Co. grant for a film of mine that’s still in progress, created a collaborative short film for YoungArts’ Transformations Film Series, and designed limited edition flip flops for Samba Sol, through a partnership with YoungArts.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I had a really hard time in college realizing my dream of becoming a stop-motion animator wasn’t going to make me happy. The industry is still really bro-y and the craft is quite lonely. I fought depression at CalArts trying to insert myself into a community that didn’t make me feel understood, but YoungArts was always my breath of fresh air to remind me about the people and values that mattered to me, and to remind me that there were many ways for me to exist and make a living in the art world.

Now, I am much happier with the stability and family I have at work, but I have bouts of insecurity that my artistic career is crawling too slowly. My full-time artist friends are jealous because I have a steady income, and I’m jealous of them because they create more work — it’s always going to be one or the other. But thanks again to YoungArts, I continue to receive opportunities and connections to progress in my artistic career while having this job.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) story. Tell us more about the business.
The National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) is a non-profit organization that identifies and supports the nation’s most promising artists, beginning with a competition for 15-18 year-olds and throughout the winners’ entire careers as artists. YoungArts has been around since 1981, and currently serves ten different artistic disciplines across the visual, literary and performing arts — it’s the only organization that awards every one of those disciplines, and the only one that follows its alumni throughout their careers to offer ongoing opportunities and support.

I have talked to winners who applied to YoungArts or alumni who took up an opportunity just because they saw one of my social media posts online and that makes me extremely happy to know that our content is speaking to the right people and helping more artists get the same experiences that affected my life so beautifully.

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
With mainstream animation, I’m excited that it is already becoming more diverse (with movies like Moana and Coco). I hope there will be more people in key positions who are not men, and I would hope there would be more variety in aesthetics for mainstream animation. I think people will get to a point where something that doesn’t look like Pixar will be refreshing, but there will probably continue to be a rise in very glossy computer graphics. I think the use of handmade animation in live action movies (like Diary of a Teenage Girl and Life, Animated) could make a splash, and I would love if shorter-format animation could find more of an audience (like having short films before features or TV shows on major distribution).

This also applies to my thoughts about social media and digital content. Tech companies will continue to advance the ways content is delivered, social media platforms will continue to cycle in and out, and in turn I think people will yearn for more authentic content that speaks to something more permanent and real. I think the brands that will rise to the top are the ones whose values and products exist outside of digital media but who genuinely find ways to express themselves on whatever platforms are hot at the moment, without breaking from their values or looking like #posers.

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