Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Anya Shukla and Kathryn Lau of The Colorization Collective Are Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Penny Bauder
Authority Magazine
13 min readMar 27, 2022


It’s okay to not fit in with traditional institutional norms. We see a lot of teens creating nonprofits quickly — which is totally their choice! But at this moment, we are choosing not to be a nonprofit because we feel that structure will be too limiting for our organization, especially because we are teen-run and teen-focused. This was a hard choice, especially given the push for all social change agents to start nonprofits, but we think we came to the right decision.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anya Shukla and Kathryn Lau.

Anya Shukla is nineteen years old and has been an artist for as long as she can remember: writing, singing, and dancing from an early age. She has been recognized for her work in racial equity by Prudential Emerging Visionaries, We Are Family Foundation, Princeton University, and Yale RITM, among others. Anya will attend Cornell University in the fall.

Kathryn Lau is eighteen years old and has been a performing artist for all her life, training in classical ballet before transitioning into musical theater and acting. She strives to make the arts inclusive for all audiences and artists regardless of race, and promote authentic representation. Kathryn is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in drama.

Anya and Kathryn came together to co-found The Colorization Collective, creating space for teen artists of color who, like them, may feel underrepresented in the art community.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

We both grew up in the Seattle area and were immersed in the arts at a young age. We started in ballet, and then moved on to different art forms: acting, singing, writing, and visual arts.

I (Anya) have a very arts-oriented family. Some of my earliest memories are of singing along to The Beatles with my dad, and I’d always loved to make up stories as a child. So it was no surprise that I ended up in arts extracurriculars in middle school. In high school, I ended up doing a lot more arts activism by volunteering at a local organization called TeenTix; TeenTix provides teens with $5 tickets to see art shows. By volunteering there, I got to know the Seattle arts scene really well… and also practiced writing arts criticism, planning events, writing grants, and running an organization. A lot of those skills have come in handy with The Collective.

I (Kathryn) similarly grew up doing ballet, then expanded to dabble in several other dance styles, before finally settling as a broader performing artist. Growing up in dance was super formative for me, and I have been surprised by how many ways it has served me inside and outside of the arts! I also participated in a lot of extracurricular theater along with competitive ballet, and getting to express myself through both forms of performance art has shaped the artist I am now. I had to leave competitive swimming for dance in middle school but got to rejoin the sport as a swimmer and diver during high school, which played a much larger role in my life than I could have ever expected. Despite being an individual sport, I found swimming to have an incredible team dynamic which showed me how to effectively lead, collaborate, and create a healthy ensemble.

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Definitely! Through our organization, The Colorization Collective, we address racial equity in the arts.

The arts are currently inequitable. In 2012, a study by BFAMFAPhD found 77.6% of all working artists were white. More recently, a 2019 UCLA study on diversity in Hollywood found that “people of color remain underrepresented on every industry employment front.” Furthermore, a pipeline problem exists: if teens of color lack role models and peers who look like us and drop out of the arts, a new generation of diverse artists fails to enter the workforce.

The Colorization Collective addresses this issue through our three programs: teen features and opportunities, mentorship programs, and educational initiatives. Under the teen features and opportunities umbrella, we feature teens on our blog and social media. We also provide opportunities for teens to showcase their work through our newsletter and collaborations with other organizations. Under the mentorship umbrella, we produce a biannual mentorship program that pairs together teen and professional artists of color, as well as post articles from adult BIPOC artists on our blog so youth can learn from their experiences. And under the education umbrella, we curate and share racial equity resources on our website and social media, have a chapter program so teens can educate their community at a local level, and partner with nonprofits and city governments to reduce systemic racism.

To combat the economic barriers that keep many people of color from the arts, all of our programs are completely free to participate in and attend, and we pay adult mentors for their time.

We believe that our work affects not only the arts but society as a whole. Whatever we see in the media, we all subconsciously perceive as real… for better or for worse. A 2009 study at Tufts discovered that when viewers saw racism in television shows, they ended up perpetuating that racism in implicit bias tests. What we experience in the arts inevitably affects our daily lives. When we push for diverse art, we promote a more equitable, racially just future.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Of course! As we mentioned, the two of us grew up immersed in art — we started in dance and drama before branching off into writing and singing as well. Art is incredibly personal to us, and we cannot imagine a life without it.

In 2018, we had the honor of participating in an acting intensive called Young Actors Institute through Seattle Children’s Theater. Through this opportunity, we spoke with many professional artists of color and reflected on our own experiences in the arts. We realized that we had experienced microaggressions and feelings of isolation in the arts that made us feel like we didn’t belong.

For example, I (Anya) remember a girl telling me that the only reason I received an acting role was that “the director wanted more people of color onstage.” Those words have had a huge impact on me — I found myself questioning my abilities as an artist.

I (Kathryn) remember asking a mentor for some monologues written for Asian American characters. I received very few — with not a single one written for a Chinese character — and even then, the written work did not seem to have the same depth or care that other monologues with white characters did.

When we talked with other teens of color, we realized that they also felt alienated in the arts world. Whether it’s cultural barriers, economic barriers, a lack of professionals who look like us and share our experiences, or bias, BIPOC youth face many obstacles to our arts participation. We wanted to address this issue, one that affects so many young BIPOC artists and causes us to question their self-worth. We wanted to show teens of color that we are good enough, that we are worthy.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

During the Young Actor’s Institute, we spoke with Filipina American actress Sara Porkalob.

As a person of color, Sara faced microaggressions at her majority-white arts university and decided to take matters into her own hands. We listened as Sara spoke about how she created her own solo show celebrating her cultural and racial identity.

Seeing Sara step up and make a difference was incredibly inspiring. Suddenly, a lightbulb went off in our heads. The youth art world also lacks representation.

Just like Sara, we thought we could also create a show that supported people of color. We first planned to create a theater piece entirely comprised of BIPOC youth, but upon further reflection realized that racial inequities affect people in all art forms. Because of this, we started by featuring teen artists of color through a web-series, and the organization expanded from there.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Honestly, we started by identifying who we wanted to serve — artists of color — and how to serve them. From there, we did some research to learn more about the organizations already in this space, just to make sure that we weren’t replicating something that was already out there. When we realized that no other organization is by teens of color, for teen artists of color, we just had to work up the courage to take the leap and go for it!

After we made our first web-series video, we created a website and social media page so people could find our work. Having one place with resources and ways to get involved is an easy first step that leads to a larger network and professional look!

After establishing our online profile, we began sharing our videos with artists in our network, as well as cold emailing individuals in prominent arts organizations and the city government to share what we were doing. That outreach was super scary at first, but it’s had a huge impact: for example, our work has been shared by individuals at nonprofit organizations around Seattle.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Hmm… it’s hard to think of the most interesting story, but a fun one that comes to mind is our TEDx Talk. We were lucky to be selected to give a TEDx Talk this past summer, which was super exciting! We went through the whole process of writing the talk, rehearsing and blocking the talk, and then we got to film in person.

Through that process, we not only shared our work with The Collective but got to reflect on how our work has impacted us as people. Primarily, we realized that our time with The Collective has given us a new perspective on racial equity and social justice: we do a lot of research on ways to make our organization more accessible and stay up-to-date on artists of color in the community. We’ve had the chance to not only learn from so many youth artists ourselves but use our organization as a platform to share their insights with the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

During our third web-series interview, we set up for filming in a reservable room in the public library. Unfortunately, the only room available was right next to the bathroom. Whenever someone had to wash their hands or flush, the sound carried directly into our room and was very clearly audible.

In the end, there was nothing we could do except adapt. We just had to stop the audio every time that someone entered the bathroom, and restart when they exited. That skill of adaptation has come in handy many times since — whenever we have a scheduling problem, have something we were planning on fall through, or are changing our programs to better support teen needs — which is definitely valuable.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

We are close with Monique (Executive Director) and Mariko (Director of Teen Programs) from TeenTix. As we’ve mentioned, TeenTix is an organization that provides $5 tickets to youth who want to attend art shows in Seattle. We reached out to Monique and Mariko to share our idea for the mentorship component of our work, and they were incredibly excited to partner with us. We now work together to produce our mentorship program. Whenever we have any questions, we know we can go to them for answers. They’ve helped us learn more about financial planning, event planning, grant writing, and more.

Alban Dennis, our high school drama teacher, has also been an amazing person we’ve turned to for guidance. When we were first getting started, he helped us network and find people to talk to, and he served as a mentor for our Washington chapter. Even now, Alban still provides consistent encouragement — which we are so thankful for!

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We featured Sofia Dominguez, a Latina teen playwright, in our web-series. After her feature, she said that people from her school would come up to her in the halls and congratulate her on her work and accomplishments. “I never thought of myself as an artist before your video,” Sofia told us. “You made me think, ‘I could go into the arts in the future’… You made me feel seen.”

Sofia is now continuing to write plays in college, and we are so grateful to have shared her voice through our organization.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First, support artists of color! If you have the means to contribute financially, that is incredibly powerful, but you can also support BIPOC artists by going to their shows, following them on social media, and staying up-to-date on their work in the community.

Second, make the arts more accessible and sustainable for people of color. Hire BIPOC artists and make sure they are supported within your institutions — financially and emotionally. Compensate artists for their time and energy (unpaid internships, which are often the only way to get your foot in the door as an artist, are not viable options for everyone, especially people who face economic barriers).

Third, think critically about what kind of art you’re consuming. Do your best to get out of your comfort zone and consume art by a diverse range of creators. Seeking work by minority artists or artists with different backgrounds is a great way to expose yourself to new experiences and beliefs. (We have a list of BIPOC-written books on our blog if you’re looking for a place to start!)

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. It’s okay to not fit in with traditional institutional norms. We see a lot of teens creating nonprofits quickly — which is totally their choice! But at this moment, we are choosing not to be a nonprofit because we feel that structure will be too limiting for our organization, especially because we are teen-run and teen-focused. This was a hard choice, especially given the push for all social change agents to start nonprofits, but we think we came to the right decision.
  2. Your work will not always be easy. In 2019, before we were even a formal organization, we applied for a grant from Riley’s Way Foundation… and did not receive it. We stayed in touch with the organization and discussed improvements to our application, and in 2020 we re-applied for the grant and got it! You will face obstacles and rejections as you create change. These rejections will hurt — especially because you are pursuing something you care about. What’s important is that you don’t let rejection deter you. If anything, our rejected grant application added more fuel to the fire for us to keep persevering.
  3. Communication is essential. Most anyone will say that healthy communication is key to a healthy relationship… and that goes for professional relationships too! When we were first starting out, we weren’t very communicative with each other. We didn’t know what the other was doing and couldn’t collaborate effectively. But as we started to talk consistently, we could brainstorm more effectively and better use our respective skills to grow our organization.
  4. You will face naysayers. We have spoken to some adults who don’t expect much of us because of our age. Hearing their perspectives hurt, especially because we have put so much effort and care into this organization to build it up from scratch. But in the end, their words just made us work harder to demonstrate that even though we’re young, we can make an impactful difference.
  5. Listen to your community. In creating our mentorship program, we took note of what we and other teens of color wanted — connections and support from adult artists who looked like them and share their experiences. After the mentorship was over, we asked for feedback from mentors and mentees, using that information to reevaluate and revise our screening process and overall program costs. Now, we feel we have a much stronger initiative that is equitable, impactful, and fiscally sustainable.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

A quote by Audre Lorde comes to mind: “To refuse to participate in the shaping of our future is to give it up… Each of us must find our work and do it.”

If we do not take the time to make a difference about issues we care about, we allow others to dictate our future. Moreover, everyone can promote social change by taking advantage of their unique skill set. You all have something that you can bring to social impact work, whether it’s posting about a cause on social media or volunteering for an organization in your spare time.

There are so many issues to focus on in our world that it can feel overwhelming, but you all have something to contribute. You’ve got this.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

This is a super hard decision!

I (Anya) would have to go with Maya Phillips — she’s a poet and an art critic at The New York Times, and — as someone who reads The New York Times — I love her work. I feel like she’d have a lot of thoughts about the intersections of art and racial equity… plus she just seems so cool!

I (Kathryn) would love to meet Jackie Chan, the renowned performer. His work is a part of both my and my parents’ lives, and I’ve always looked up to him! I think he is so incredibly versatile in his ability, and the fact that he does his own stunts is especially impressive.

How can our readers follow you online?

Find us on Instagram and Facebook @thecolorizationcollective. We’re on YouTube too, and of course, our website has links and forms to contact us, be featured, join our team, and more. Find all of that at!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you so much!



Penny Bauder
Authority Magazine

Environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur, Founder of Green Kid Crafts