Pursuing A Legacy of Artistic Discovery
“To say that her name opens doors is a glaring understatement.”
Nicki Minaj, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Josh Groban, Oscar-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney (“Moonlight”), and many more super-talents received important training, mentors and other opportunities through YoungArts. “Be Discovered” is the organization’s slogan, plastered on airport ad posters featuring stars like Andrew Rannells. “The Voice” and “American Idol” often feature YoungArts alumni.
“To say that her name opens doors is a glaring understatement,” said Andrea Hershatter, Gozueta senior associate dean of undergraduate education. “When we took our Emory Arts Management students to New York for a trek last spring, she arranged meetings at MOMA and the American Ballet Theater, where we were welcomed like honored guests by hosts at the highest level of the organization—because of their esteem for Sarah. The people with whom we met are unbelievably accomplished leaders who unanimously raved about the hands-on impact and insight Sarah’s involvement has provided.”
The truth and beauty of art mean everything to Arison and her family, who are pioneers in the cruise line industry. An artist’s journey, and Arison’s, demonstrate that success is not defined entirely by where you land but how you navigate.
Patronage like the Arisons’ can be the critical break for any artist, and the family’s generosity is in their DNA.
“With my grandparents, and my family, community service and giving back through philanthropy was the norm,” Arison said from New York, apologizing for rushing to grab a cab while she talked. “Everything you do, you ask yourself, ‘Is there a way I can be a contributing part of the community? A way to give back? Is there a way to lead by example?’ That continues to be what I ask myself.”
"It was very much an a-ha moment, that of course this was what I was going to do."
Back to Emory
Atlanta, when Arison attended Emory, was the energetic center of a new music form: hip hop. OutKast and Ludacris seemed to be everywhere, and the arts as a whole were coming more into the city’s consciousness. She had picked Emory for small class sizes and proximity to her home state of Florida, and for the city of Atlanta.
“By the time we arrived on campus in 2003, the arts scene in Atlanta was starting to come into its own, with amazing small music venues, theatre and galleries,” said Davina Mazaroli, Arison’s roommate and best friend. “Atlanta was incredibly accessible to us as students. Sarah could take classes at Goizueta and then visit these incredible institutions—the High Museum was becoming more prominent—on the weekends. Academically, Emory helped build her understanding of business, while she observed first-hand how a city could be influenced and transformed by an investment in the arts.”
Arison didn’t see this path at first. The Human Genome Project fascinated her, and she spent her first three semesters in a premed track at Emory College.
“I have always been really interested in science as long as I can remember, even though it’s not really an interest within my own family,” she said. “The field is so cutting edge and has so many interesting applications for the future. This was the early days of mapping, and figuring out what comes from our genetics was just in the early stages.”
Everything changed her sophomore year, when Arison attended the YoungArts Foundation’s annual gala in Miami as a guest of her grandmother, with whom she is very close. Lin Arison and her husband Ted had founded YAF in 1981. Ted had been an aspiring teenaged concert pianist, but had been told that performing wasn’t a real job, and he never realized his musical potential. YA would bring raw artistic talent to the stage and help keep it there.
After Ted died in 1999, Lin took Arison, a teenager, on a tour of Europe that introduced her to some of the world’s greatest museums and pieces of art. Art wasn’t a personal calling—yet.
“I had a wonderful relationship with her and powerful experiences that were around art, but it was more something I enjoyed with her,” Arison said. “I had very much been a math and science student who fit into traditional academics, with standardized testing, and I was great at that.”
But at the gala, Arison recalled listening to a woman profusely thank her grandmother for launching her son’s visual arts career. “YoungArts changed my life,” were the four words Arison heard over and over that night.
“At the gala, I had a much greater understanding of what artists go through, and the transformation of the people and the value of the arts,” Arison recalled. “Also, there was the realization that if someone in the family didn’t step up, the organization would stagnate and not continue. That’s when I decided I wanted to leave premed behind and take over leadership of Young Arts for my family. It was very much an a-ha moment, that of course this was what I was going to do.”
"She connected with students from many disciplines inside and outside the business community, which is why today, Sarah is just as much at ease building a relationship with a corporate head of philanthropy as she is supporting the career of an artist or musician."
Following the call
Switching to a double major of business and French, with a minor in art history, Arison studied new concepts at Goizueta with purpose, balanced with trips to Miami for YA board meetings and her grandmother’s mentorship.
The class that helped her the most was in nonprofit marketing, in which she learned to approach that task and everything about running a nonprofit just as she would a for-profit business.
“She was so committed to her business school classes, particularly marketing and operations,” recalled Mazaroli, now the Head of People at Sidewalk Labs. “I don’t think she realized the powerful combination of arts and business; philanthropy was in her blood but she was still building an entrepreneurial muscle. Emory and Goizueta gave her a jump start—I don't think she would have been as successful, as quickly, if she had focused solely on fine arts or arts administration. She connected with students from many disciplines inside and outside the business community, which is why today, Sarah is just as much at ease building a relationship with a corporate head of philanthropy as she is supporting the career of an artist or musician.”
“No matter where Sarah went to college, she would have been successful, but I don’t think she would have thrived as quickly as she did at Emory.”
"We can’t necessarily count on the government to support art and art institutions. The private sector must come together and show that we value art in society."
Today in Manhattan
Just as an artist must show up to the work of making art, Arison is constantly in pursuit of support for young artists.
“Being present is the most important way that I support artists,” Arison said by phone from New York, where she lives. “I can’t tell you how much time I spend going to see our alumni, going to their performances and exhibitions, just showing up and being there for them. That’s what makes an impact for young artists—being present like that along their career path.”
Now in her mid-30s, she is a networker, building strategic partnerships with Sotheby’s, Sundance Film Festival, the Kennedy Center and other sources of support and mentoring for up-and-coming creatives. She has produced films related to lesser knows aspects of the arts, including The First Monday in May, which opened the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
By bringing attention to new talent, she also demonstrates the need for society to support the arts.
“It’s definitely under siege,” she said. “On a monthly basis, the government threatens to completely dismantle the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts]. We can’t necessarily count on the government to support art and art institutions. The private sector must come together and show that we value art in society.”
Arison’s closest contact at Goizueta is Hershatter. “I cannot tell you how much I admire Sarah,” she said. “She is an incredibly intelligent professional woman with amazing energy and an even bigger heart. Her work on behalf of the arts not only creates public access to works that might otherwise go unrecognized but also generates opportunities for young people to find positive pathways through their artistic endeavors. I would say that every day Sarah pushes the boundaries of what is possible and sets new definitions for where the line for ‘beyond’ is drawn.”
Arison sees affirmation of her calling everywhere, a message everyone should understand.
“Look at every aspect of your life. The house you’re living in is designed by an architect. A fashion designer designed the clothes you wear. A TV show needs a writer, director, actors, and a composer for the soundtrack. Not one part of life is not touched by artists. When you think of it that way, and recognize that artists are so vital to society, and how bleak and boring it would be without them.”
Whether it’s a breakout role on Broadway, a first gallery opening, or Oscar buzz [like Timothée Chalamet best supporting actor in 2018’s “Call Me by Your Name”], Arison’s return on investment inspires her to find new audiences—even the readers of this Goizueta Beyond story. Her final message: “Being there is really the most important thing you can do for artists. Go to museums. Buy tickets to performances. Just go.”