January Artist Spotlight: Gifted Writer & Storyteller, Saymoukda Vongsay

* Hey Saymoukda, can you tell us what your art form is?

I'm a poet, storyteller, and playwright.

* Do you remember how you first became interested in the arts?

I was a skilled fibber when I was young, always telling stories. Lucky for me, my family nurtured the storyteller in me but the liar thing, they nipped that in the bud real quick. The first poem I wrote was about a man on a boat. That was in second grade when my English was still terrible. My English is still pretty bad but that's seen as creative license now.

* Will you share a piece of advice for aspiring playwrights or writers in general?

Sit down and write! If you don't start it, it will never finish! Accept criticism and use it to get better!

* How does teaching your craft to youth affect your own art?

Young writers are brave and creatively open and that's contagious and inspiring. They remind me that it's more than okay to break out of a construct sometimes because something innovative and interesting might happen to the poem or the play.

* By the end of a week with you, what are a few things you hope most students have learned?

I'd like for students to walk away with a better understanding of play-writing and poetry, to gain more confidence in their own ability and voice as a writer, and to realize that writing can be super fun - especially if there are kung fu zombies involved! Or slime-shooting crocodile robots! Or clumsy goblins! Or...or...or...

* What does being a COMPAS artist mean to you?

COMPAS is a respected organization that is a leader in arts education. Being on the roster has broadened my network of creatives - established artists, young artists, and folks who are also committed to regular art-making.

* Why do you think arts education is needed in our community?

There is a Buddhist saying that goes something like, "Your task is to discover your work – and then with all your heart to give yourself to it." I understand that sentiment as, "My gift is my creativity and I can live a fuller life by embracing it."

* How do you practice creativity in your everyday life?

I write a short-short story once a week, I take photos of moments that I'm touched by with my phone, I read a different book a week, and I hang out with people who I know can inspire me to think that new thought that would've never surfaced if not for their spirit. Also with four new plays to write this year, I'm in no shortage of creative opportunities!

* What do you hope people take away or learn from your work at the Refuge of the InvisibLao Exhibition?

That often the most invisible people have the most pressing questions to ask and the most important stories to tell. Give them the platform. Listen to their stories. Know who they are. Find the connective tissue that makes you just like them. Doing that expands empathy and sometimes I have to remind myself to do that within my own community.

Check out Saymoukda’s work in the Refuge of the InvisibLao Exhibition at the Vine Arts Center in Minneapolis.  Exhibit on display through January 24th.