When people think of Generation Z, one of the first things that pops into their heads is an incurable attachment to smartphones. Audrey Whitehead, Gwyn Dowdee and Sasha Lerman are trying to change that perception as cofounders of the Young Artist Society (YAS) in Hermosa Beach.
The three, all 18 years old and recent high school graduates, met at Resin Gallery, where they work and volunteer. One day after working at Resin, the three walked down to the beach just a few blocks from the gallery and an idea hit them.
“We saw the adult artist collective and thought, ‘How do we bring that to young people? How do we give them a way to show their creations in the same way?’” says Gwyn. “Some don’t have funds. They don’t have connections. Our goal is to give young people a starting point.”
“Being in a creative environment brings everyone together, and that is what we have. We aren’t letting each other go. I will give up everything before losing this.”
After getting support from Resin Gallery founder Rafael McMaster, they began to promote YAS on social media in July 2021 and since then have garnered 86 members. Most of the members are in their late teens, but anyone between the ages of 15 and 25 can submit their work to be included.
“It gives teenagers a positive community where different forms of creativity are welcomed and can help a lot of people,” says Sasha. “I feel like we have created a family-friendly environment that is still fun. All kinds of people show up.”
Things quickly progressed from there, with the first show happening last September. Two local bands performed, and a handful of young artists showcased their work. After a successful show in June called Sun Jam, the three quickly began planning for another event in July called Moon Jam. Moon Jam was their biggest event yet, a nine-hour happening with 12 local bands performing and a visual art exhibit.
“A lot of teens had a hard time getting back into the world. It has been easy to stay in your room the whole day. A lot of adults will look at Gen Z right now and think we are just connected to our screens and are anti-social,” says Gwyn. “When you have experiences like we did in July, not an iPhone was in sight. We cherish those experiences.”
There was a noticeable buzz in the air. Those who were not right near the stage were socializing on couches in the back, while others were scattered on the sidewalk listening on their skateboards and bikes.
All three said they found new friends at these shows who share similar interests and passions. “We got texts saying this is the coolest thing they’d ever been to,” says Gwyn.
After Moon Jam, YAS worked with local band Acolyte to throw another event in August called Music Mingle. Musicians could perform together, but they couldn’t play with their own band and nothing could be rehearsed.
Audrey, Gwyn and Sasha each have their own passion within the arts community, which is one reason why YAS is so successful. Audrey and Sasha plan to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn this fall, while Gwyn plans to stay in the South Bay and continue to work and volunteer at Resin and YAS. The passion Gwyn felt for planning these events with local musicians is something she wants to continue. Sasha’s focus moving forward is on illustration. She designs everything related to YAS and even designed T-shirts for Moon Jam that raised around $1,000.
“My dad is an immigrant and my mom is the child of an immigrant, so it has always been in me to remember and tell their stories,” says Sasha. “I want to listen to others and hold space for them. I want to be an illustrator so I can take stories and make them into art.”
Before Resin, Audrey didn’t do much to express her creativity. Now she’s more focused on that and in the future wants to help others by becoming an art teacher. She’s seen firsthand how much the arts can help people’s mental health.
Friends for about two years since meeting at Resin, all three believe that being in such a unique environment allowed them to become close very fast. “Being in a creative environment brings everyone together, and that is what we have,” says Gwyn. “We aren’t letting each other go. I will give up everything before losing this.”
Even though they will not all be in the South Bay this fall, all three are still devoted to YAS and want it to be more than just a local movement. “The South Bay will always be my home, and I feel so dedicated to making things better here—especially for the teenagers and young artists to help elevate their voices,” says Sasha. “Our dream would be to have that in the South Bay and beyond.”