• Millie Liao

To be an artist, I just have to be me

“Do I really belong in this world?”


I asked myself this question every day as I traveled from the run-down, trashed streets of my house in an “Asian ghetto” of East LA to the beautiful, shrub-lined campus of the top arts high school in the US.


Even as I led tours and conducted research for the Getty Museum, and planned a teen art exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I couldn’t help but notice that these huge, clean houses of art I worked in were so different from my own.


I spent my first year in LA struggling to find “belonging” as an artist, only to realize that my drive to create actually stemmed from my home - from its cultural diversity, communal unity, and acceptance of immigrant families like mine.


I made it my mission to shatter the idea of a shiny, exclusive art world, and show youth from similar backgrounds as mine that we can be artists of our own accord.


As a theater instructor for the nonprofit The Art Hour, I spent weekends teaching free art classes online for students from East LA, Detroit, and other “ghettos” across the US. After becoming the head of The Art Hour in 2021, I expanded the nonprofit to an international level, reaching youth from low-income communities in the Philippines, Mexico, and Taiwan.


The Art Hour became a magical place for these students, a constant safe haven amidst an ever-changing, unstable life. Students learn piano using keys drawn on a piece of paper, and draw masterpieces with sidewalk chalk we mailed to them.


For these students, we are more than a tutoring service - we are a symbol of hope, that no matter their background, wealth or status, they are entitled to claiming their own piece of the “art world.” Every student who takes an Art Hour class learns not only new skills and techniques, but also the intrinsic worth of their identity, and the power of where and who they come from.


Looking back on my growth as an artist, I owe it all to my own community - my tight-knit neighborhood of AAPI families, and my international Art Hour family of resilient students. These people continuously inspire me to create art meaningful to who I am, and show me that I don’t have to “belong” to some elite art world to be an artist; I just have to be me.


With love,


Millie


PS: me with art hour students on a past weekend<3