By Brooklyn Presta

Through the years, Arts-FI has not only impacted communities from New York to Kansas, it’s also left a meaningful mark on the lives of each artist. Performing with the group is one constant during years of rapid change and personal milestones – everything from graduations, new friendships, jobs, and engagements. Here, several of the artists share their stories.  

Maria Im

Violinist Maria Im was one of the first members of Arts-FI, signing up immediately after talking to Kristen about a wild idea for a project she had. As if performing and traveling for the last several months weren’t keeping her busy enough, Maria also recently got engaged!

On her favorite part of performing with Arts-FI
There's such an immense amount of respect and unity in the group. I've never experienced a situation where a group of such strong, independent, and talented artists bonded immediately and worked off one another with a natural rhythm. I love working with the high school students we meet and seeing the shift of attitudes and interest as we spend more time with them.

What she’s learned along the way
The students taught me to push forward when someone may seem to be uninterested. When you really invest in those individuals when they seem to be the most disconnected, that's when there's the biggest breakthrough.

The biggest rewards
Being able to be a part of something that betters the community and society through our work with the students and presenting a work of truly creative and unique ideas has been an incredible experience. 

Kyle Weiler

This will be dancer Kyle Weiler’s third year performing and working with Arts-FI. He also recently graduated from The Julliard School with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Dance in May 2016! This summer, Kyle worked as an actor and apprentice at Theatre Aspen in Colorado. 

A whirlwind summer
[At theater Aspen], I performed in two shows (almost 60 performances!) and understudied the one man play Buyer and Cellar. During my time there, I choreographed a musical and helped create and perform in an evening showcase with my fellow apprentices. I also hiked a lot and met amazing people. 

Learning to listen
With Arts-FI, I’ve learned the importance of truly listening to the group and each individual before responding. Listening before responding is fundamental in any group, but when working with such motivated, accomplished artists, it is beyond imperative because you don't want to miss anything. You never know who will contribute the next wonderful idea. 

Arts-FI is a common thread each year
I like that Arts-Fi has been a wonderful constant the past three years. I adore the people so much. It has been a joy watching everyone's life and career unfold, to share in the victories, and to help each other during the difficult chapters. I respect and trust each one of them, and working with those two things is incredibly rewarding.

Cleo Person

Dancer Cleo Person has been an artistic member since the organization was founded in 2013. She recently graduated from The Julliard School and is embarking on life post-college! The lifestyle change also opens up some time for playing soccer again, a favorite hobby. 

Surprises from the community
Other people’s connection to what we’re trying to create always surprises me. If we’re being true in our art making, other people's connection to it is really just a signifier of their connection to their own humanity. And yet it always tends to strike me in a powerful way when some audience member or participant from a workshop gives us feedback that they felt something really strong and directly related to their own personal experience because of what we’ve created. 

Returning each year
It’s incredible to recognize that the way we can collaborate and share with each other though poetry and our art creates a space for us to continually learn more about ourselves and our experiences as human beings. I think this has also been the most rewarding aspect of my involvement with Arts-FI and why I want to return each year. 

Tiare Keeno

Tiare Keeno, a dancer, is staring her second year as an artistic member. This spring, she graduated from The Julliard School and was also offered a two-year contract with MGM Productions to be a part of a new show being created in Macau, China in 2017! 

During a serious time of planning for the future…
It's a real treat to come together with Arts-FI and have the freedom to simply play and create! Even with the responsibilities of our performances, workshops, and events, we continue to approach everything with so much passion and love for the arts so nothing feels like a burden, but rather a luxury that we can indulge ourselves in while continuing to grow as artists. 

Continually learning from the workshops
I'm always so excited to see what the students have to say. I'm continuously learning from what they share and I love hearing from their different perspectives. It's thrilling for me to see that moment when their eyes light up because they understand something in a poem or when they open up and begin to express their ideas and opinions without fear of judgment. 



Jake Nelson

A baritone singer and actor, Jake has been with Arts-FI since the very beginning.

Seeing students light up
I love when students’ eyes spark when they're learning something exciting. Our group has an incredible knack for opening minds up.

The energy of each year
Every year has a renewed energy because all or our artists go out into the world and soak up information – they return to bring forward the piece we choose [for our summer tour] into a new light. All of our years of intense training collide to make something beautiful.


More to come: new artists help Arts-FI continue to evolve

This season, Arts-FI welcomes two new artistic members, visual artist Valeria Lombo and cellist Nathan Chan. Nathan is thrilled to join his colleagues in multiple works featuring the cello and piano, as well as chamber music for piano trio and voice. “I've always believed in the power of learning about other disciplines in order to bring new ideas and perspectives into your own,” Nathan says. “Arts-FI captures this philosophy so amazingly by involving so many artistic worlds: music, dance, acting, spoken word, and the visual arts. “ Introduced by former artistic member and cellist Colin Stokes, Nathan is a seamless addition to the talent and passion driving Arts-FI, approaching the upcoming Kansas Tour with excitement and an open mind. 


Nathan’s ultimate goal to unify communities with the arts perfectly sums up Arts-FI’s guiding mission. “I think the most amazing thing about the communities we live in is that there are always advocates and activists for anything. I think our goal as artists should be to recognize where there are possible intersection points between any two communities and bring them together via projects. “