At Emory University, Sarah Arison, a pre-med student, took a sharp turn and became a double major in business and French with a minor in art history. She also joined the board of the National YoungArts Foundation based in Miami, where she grew up. Her grandparents — Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, and his wife, Lin — had established it in 1981 to identify and nurture high school students from across the country in the visual, literary and performing arts.
Ms. Arison changed course after a serendipitous conversation with a student’s mother about how YoungArts had changed her son’s life. “I had this incredible ‘aha’ moment of how important this organization was,” Ms. Arison, now 34, said, sitting in the Greenwich Village apartment she shares with her husband, Thomas Wilhelm, who works in finance. She has taken on the mantle of chairwoman of the board of the National YoungArts Foundation and president of the Arison Arts Foundation. She also serves on the boards of institutions including Lincoln Center and several museums.
The couple’s homes in New York and Aspen display some 60 works by artists she discovered through these organizations. Many are either by alumni of YoungArts, including Hernan Bas, Nicole Eisenman and Lee Pivnik, or master teachers the foundation enlisted as mentors to aspiring artists. The instructors include Teresita Fernandez, Mel Chin, James Rosenquist and the Haas Brothers — who currently have an exhibition at The Bass in Miami and will be honored at the foundation’s gala on Jan. 12.
“I love having a home full of pieces that make me think of the people that I’ve met and worked with over the years,” Ms. Arison said.
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Why did your grandparents start YoungArts?
My grandfather was actually an aspiring concert pianist, born and raised in Tel Aviv. He did not find the support to pursue a career in the arts. The response was, “Go get a real job.” He did. He came to the States and when he reached a point where he was able to give back, he looked at my grandmother and said, “I never want another young, aspiring, talented artist to go through what I went through. I want them to have all the resources they need to pursue an education and a career in the arts.”
When did you begin acquiring art?
In my early 20s, my grandmother gave me this [19th-century French landscape by Eugène] Boudin, which was very sentimental to her and my grandfather. She and I spent the summer traveling together in France right after my grandfather passed away. We ended up doing a little road trip to the South, stopping at all the Impressionists’ ateliers along the way. Every time I see this painting, it makes me think of that trip.
From there, I started meeting a lot of young artists and the mentors. I love spending time in their studios and getting to really understand where their art is coming from.
Have you met every artist represented here?
I would say 90 percent.
Do you consider yourself a real collector?
I’m not the person who is scouring each booth at Art Basel and going through auction catalogs. But with the very young artists, if you buy a piece, you are enabling them to pay another month’s rent or start their next body of work. You are really having an impact on their career.
Who are some artists here that you’re excited about?
Daniel Arsham went through the YoungArts program; it was transformative for him. This camera by him is made from a ceramic-esque material that looks like it’s been eroded. It’s called “3018” — so, imagining 1,000 years from now, what are going to be the artifacts from our time when you’re doing archaeological digs.
Do you have any role models in the philanthropic world?
Aggie [Gund]. I met her when I was a teenager. Aggie was on the board of YoungArts for years. She’s the chair at MoMA PS1 and I’m the vice chair, and we both are on the board of MoMA. What I admire most about her is her deep love of artists. You look at the lives she’s changed and it’s countless.