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Their Art Club: Giving a voice to artists outside the art world

CAS senior Ivy Lee’s club seeks to create a space for student artists outside of NYU’s arts programs.

March 11, 2022

A collage of layered photographs. One image features the neck and torso of a woman. Another features a teal blue sky, and the last features multicolored textiles.
Artwork by Ivy Lee, founder and president of Their Art Club. (Photo by Ivy Lee, courtesy of Their Art Club)

During quarantine, everybody took up a hobby or interest they wouldn’t have normally had the time for. Some people stuck with it; others quickly lost interest. For CAS senior Ivy Lee, founder and president of Their Art Club, an idea was born that did not burn out. 

In their sophomore year at NYU, Lee decided they needed something to strive for. 

With plenty of time to figure out what they wanted to pursue as a result of COVID-19, they started thinking about how best to develop a community of like-minded artists.

“My main goal in life is to be a cute little grandma living in their hometown [in] Korea hosting art residencies,” Lee said. “It makes me so happy. My dream’s end goal is to ultimately watch people make art.”

While numerous art-oriented student clubs and groups exist at NYU, Lee noted that many are associated with NYU’s art or art-adjacent schools — Tisch, Gallatin and Steinhardt — which, as a psychology major in CAS, Lee wasn’t associated with. This ultimately led Lee to create their own art club, the fittingly named Their Art Club. 

“I want to create a general art club that was helping students that were not in the art track but were still interested in art,” Lee said. “I always loved creating art, so I wanted to make sure I had a space to do that.” 

It was difficult to get the club going at first. According to Lee, the process of validating a student club at NYU is unnecessarily lengthy; they refer to this period as “the probation era,” since the beginning of their junior year was spent trying to validate the club. On top of that, with the ongoing pandemic, it was hard to recruit people remotely across different time zones. 

A black-and-white photo of Asian men cooking outdoors over large pots. Behind them is a brick wall and a mountainous landscape.
Artwork by Sue Bin Lee (Photo by Sue Bin Lee, courtesy of Their Art Club

Because of all these constraints, Their Art Club wasn’t able to create any large-scale projects during the probation era. Instead, they engaged in lively discussion via Zoom to make the most of their time.

“We talked about the movies we were watching and the art we’d been into recently,” Lee said. “It was just kinda like talking about art for a while.”

Discussing different art mediums allowed them to set the stage for what was to come: actually producing art in a variety of different mediums. Club members spend meetings sharing ideas for pieces they are interested in creating and listening to the advice of others on how to improve their artwork. 

“Through past experiences, I found that art really crosses over in every media,” Lee said. “Whether it’s through a photo or some form of writing, it still catches the eye and tells a story … ‘Just bring in any media and we will grow with it’ is my motto for the club. The end purpose is just to really bring us together through art.”

This year, with the return of in-person club meetings at NYU, Their Art Club amassed a group of consistent members who are putting together their first exhibition, a collection of portraits they hope to display in NYU’s LGBTQ+ Center at the Kimmel Center for University Life. The collection will not only include traditional portraits, but also poems, photographs and other art forms. After all, the thing Lee most hopes to accomplish through Their Art Club is to bring people together and publish their work.

“We are not the students that are specifically art-oriented, so publishing is kind of a serious and daunting thing for our members,” Lee said. “A way to publish art should be readily available to everyone who is creating art, because art for the purpose of art is for it to be interactive.”

A studio portrait of a girl with her eyes closed. She is wearing a cream sheer blouse that ties in a bow at the neck. She is also wearing thick black eyeliner and glitter across her cheeks.
Artwork by Kaylee Smith (Photo by Kaylee Smith, courtesy of Their Art Club)

The upcoming portrait collection will show how the artists see themselves. Since club members range from incoming first-years to graduating seniors, a diversity of perspectives is present in the collection.

“Witnessing the work of all these different generations is awesome,” Lee said. “It was really amazing to see all the subtleties and each person’s identity coming through in their creations.”

Lee’s dedication to Their Art Club is inspiring and underscores their passion for creating art that’s more than a hobby. Despite creating the club at a difficult time, they have remained committed to maintaining the high morale of, and active contribution from, members of the collective. 

“Everyone grows together through collaboration,” Lee said. “Collaboration really does rely on personal action and expression, allowing you to actually get to know your identity and put your thoughts out there. Collaboration, for me, is very active and very much prompt action from others too.”

Collaboration is especially important for Their Art Club, as the collective’s primary goal is to highlight marginalized voices, especially those of LGBTQ+ artists and artists of color. 

“It’s supposed to be bringing the collaborator that has always been in the outskirts of the group, and kind of forcing them into the focus and the main stage, the spotlight,” Lee said. 

Lee said they hoped to pass the torch to another member through some sort of voting system. 

“I want to make sure this club is given to someone who can actually take on the task of putting a lot of time into it,” Lee said. “The role of the president is kind of this semi-curator because you’re putting everything in the collection or exhibition together.”  

Although Lee is graduating this semester, they are planning on keeping tabs on Their Art Club members — or, as they call them, “minions.” Lee looks forward to seeing Their Art Club’s first big project come to fruition and hopes to continue nurturing the collective they started into the future.

Contact Shreya Wankhade at [email protected].

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