Penn State Musical Theatre student Maria Wirries has been named a finalist in the 2016 National YoungArts Foundation competition, a prestigious program whose previous honorees include Kerry Washington, Viola Davis, Josh Groban and Nicki Minaj. The competition, which includes cash awards of up to $10,000, recognizes 15–18-year-olds for their talents in the literary, visual, design and performing arts. One of 165 finalists selected from a pool of 12,000 applicants, Wirries is participating through January 10 in the 35th annual National YoungArts Week in Miami, which aims to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration and community while offering career guidance to participants.
Wirries, who enrolled at Penn State in the fall of 2014 as a 16-year-old freshman, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her father died when she was young and she was raised by her aunt in Florida, where she attended Manatee School for the Arts. “One of my biggest goals in life is to always make other people happy. I think that art reflects life, and I think it's our job to put a mirror up to people and say, 'This is what's going on right now.' My ultimate goal is to be the president of Haiti. Through art—being able to understand other people with compassion—that's how I will approach that goal.”
During YoungArts week, Wirries and the other finalists are working with such mentors as playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, hip-hop writer Joan Morgan, Sarah Lamb of the Royal Ballet of London, visual artist Jose Parla and Oscar-winning filmmaker Doug Blush. The finalists in the performing arts will perform for the public at Miami Beach’s New World Center.
The National YoungArts Foundation (YoungArts) was established in 1981 by Lin and Ted Arison to identify and support the next generation of artists in the visual, literary, design and performing arts; assist them at critical junctures in their educational and professional development; and raise appreciation for the arts in American society.
Penn State Musical Theatre student Talia Suskauer was a finalist in 2015.
For more information on YoungArts, visit youngarts.org.