THE POWER OF ART: Serena Ding is a current junior at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Arts and Performing Arts, a specialized dual mission school in New York known for its prestigious arts education. Before high school, Serena always saw music and the arts merely as hobbies but nothing more. She was more focused on pursuing STEM and business-related activities and did not think she had much use for music or the arts besides school or a means of relaxation. Inspired by the documentary “Alive Inside,” which depicted elderly dementia patients “coming alive” to music from their childhood, Serena started volunteering for a local nursing home in her community.
She volunteered every weekend at the Pavilion at Queens for Rehabilitation and Nursing and was gratified to witness firsthand how music brightens the elders’ days and brings back old memories. Through volunteering she discovered a great new purpose for music and felt connected to the underserved and underrepresented elders. She decided to organize a service project which soon turned into an organization called United Under Arts. The project uses music and art to help dementia patients and foster connections between her peers and the elderly. Serena arranged a concert at the nursing home, the first United Under Arts event, and began expanding her organization internationally in January 2020.
Though they usually fundraise for arts organizations and collect arts supplies to donate to schools and other programs, United Under Arts instead turned to raising several thousand dollars to help fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in the past few months. Their money went to both assisting those battling COVID-19 on the frontlines and those that were affected by the disease. United Under Arts has created over 200 digital cards and 60 physical ones for the elderly in Queens, New York. Their North Carolina chapter has raised over $800 (aiming to raise $1,000 in total) to support artists affected by COVID-19 through art commissions and auctions. As an entire organization, they have raised several thousand dollars to buy and donate over 6000 PPEs, 50 stethoscopes, and 1 handheld ultrasound scanner (with a matching iPad) with a total market value of approximately 10,000 USD for frontline workers.
Their donation recipients include a fire department, two nursing homes and retirement communities, and one hospital. Additionally, they have officially launched free tutoring in 18 courses across the arts, humanities, and STEM for disadvantaged students and essential workers’ children. On April 18, they did a free online workshop for students to learn about the realities of going to an arts school, how to prepare arts portfolios and auditions, and extracurricular opportunities in the arts. Another program part of the organization is United Under Music, a remote music collaboration campaign started to bring comfort and joy to people through music and unite musicians from all around the world.
Serena is most proud of seeing United Under Arts’ impact on communities around the world and the connections across diverse backgrounds and ages that it has created. “It’s very heartwarming to see students from around the world working together to help others and building connections to other people along the way.”