Whitney Stevens

Name: Whitney Stevens

1. Considering all your experience with In Progress, what is one achievement that you personally are most proud of? Why is this achievement important to you? What does it represent?: Making my movies – that I learned how to make them. and that we could add pictures and change them up. Before I took the class I never that was possible. I learned more from In Progress than I did with anyone else

2. What did it take for us at In Progress to achieve this accomplishment? What strengths do we have that helped us succeed?: Artists actually helped us and pushed us to finish our work. Other teachers didn’t expect as much from us. I’ve been around In Progress forever. I know everyone here. It is like family. I am more comfortable here than anywhere else.

3. What do you think makes In Progress unique? What 2-3 things are at our very core that make us stand out from other arts programs or youth development programs?: The events we have like exhibits, family portraits – everything is free, not very strict, not a lot of rules. We have more freedom and more choices and more resources.

4. As you think about In Progress, what do you value most? What keeps you engaged here?:Kris, I trust her a lot. I can share my questions and get help when I need it. She helps guide my decisions. Staff is friendly and funny, and I don’t feel judged by them. Everyone here is pretty much just a big family of friends.


Joshua Strong

My history with In Progress began around 2000-2001 when I participated in a video made by my cousin. By 2005 I began to participate in summer workshops facilitated by the group every year here in Nett Lake. Initially the program allowed me access to expensive equipment to make videos influenced by action movies. By 2009 the program became a creative outlet through which I publicly came out as homosexual/Two Spirit. 

Point in fact, I've been fighting since then to make this program available to the Youth because I attribute it to saving my life. This outlet needs to be available to everyone one. What I'm doing at Nett Lake School is helping Kris Sorenson teach the students the techniques needed to create a Poster Series that will be featured at State Of The Band called "Health in Progress". The content the students are attributing to Health is truly outstanding and advanced in mentality for their young ages.


Serina Vue

My name is Serina Vue and I am a photographer and Intern at In Progress. I am 14 years old.  I was first introduced to In Progress by CHAT, Center for Hmong Arts and Talents in 2007. At CHAT, my sister and I learned about video. Each day, for a week, we would go and make a little bit more of our movies. When the week was done, we were a bit upset because we couldn't go downstairs and buy candy anymore. A month later, one of our video teachers, Kao Choua Vue, called and told us about In Progress. We jumped up and ran outside when we saw the car pull up. Our first day at In Progress was very different from our first day at CHAT. And from that day on, we just kept on going to In Progress, because it was different.


Mainou Vue

My name is Mainou Vue. I am 15 years old and I currently reside in St. Paul, MN. I am an artist and photographer at In Progress. In Progress is a place for aspiring artists that are interested in learning more about photography, video work, and music. I got started with In Progress through another organization called CHAT. CHAT stands for the Center for Hmong Arts and Talents. In the summer of 2007 I took a video class at CHAT that taught me the basic skills about video work. After that experience, I was offered a chance to learn about photography at In Progress, and I, out of curiosity accepted. Since that summer of 2007 I have continued to be a part of In Progress and I am currently in my 5th year here.

At In Progress, I am now an intern, and I am soon to be one of the instructors as well for younger artists. I have become a more experienced photographer because of the skills that I have learned and I am learning to be part of the planning crew for art shows and exhibits. In Progress is a place for me that continuously teaches me something new everyday and it is a great experience.

In Progress is a life-changing place. Not only have I officially become a part of In Progress, but here I have met many other young artists and I have grown with them throughout the years. When I am here I feel like family, and without In Progress I wouldn’t know the things that I do today. I plan on being with In Progress for a very long time ahead, and the love here is something that I want to experience for the rest of my life.


Kao Na Vang

My name is Kao Na Vang, and I am a Hmong American; I was born in Saint Paul, MN.  Growing up in MN, I was always aware that my parents weren't born and raised in the USA. Taking the advantage of a free public education system, my parents enrolled me into Saint Paul public schools. Through out my elementary and junior high school years I never really knew who I was, where I stand, and what I had to look forward to in the future, until I discovered photography my first year of high school. I experimented with modeling when I was 15 years old. I did a lot of photo shoots that were fashion and commercial related shoots. I discovered that I wanted more control of what was being captured, and from my modeling experience I started off my photography journey. As a Hmong American artist I

feel that it’s important to preserve our culture, even if it’s new emerging traditions unraveling before us.


One of my very first memories of encountering a camera was when I was about 4; I remembered holding a Polaroid camera, snapping a picture and being amazed at the fact that I had frozen an image in time. I have had 4 years of experience with photography. Portraiture has always been my strongest in photography. I try to make a connection with my thoughts and my subject(s), and what I look forward to is the reaction of my audience.


Just because you don’t understand an image does not mean that it’s a poorly captured image. Photography can tell one story in a million different frames of images, but everyone can react and connect to each photograph in a different way. You can express anything with photography, but when you can express it with an image that burns into the eye of your audience that is art. 


Pajar Vang

My name is Pajar Vang. Before I started photography at InProgress, I had no interest in photography what so ever. I never really thought I’d had a creative side. but when my friends introduced me to In Progress I had so many ideas popping in and out of my mind. I have never heard of this program “InProgress”, but let me tell you this, when I saw my friends art work on that wall I was envious and wanted to have the same accomplishments like they had. My first art work was a series of photos about emotions. There were four photos, the first one was called “The White Monster” which was a photo of me wearing white, on a white background. White on white. That photo ended up on a postcard for the Saint Paul Art Crawl for In Progress. Ever since that series I kept going to the photography classes that they offered every tuesday and eventually ended up getting a SLR camera of my own to own. I started creating art work like crazy. I had a series of Hmong skirts framed up in the Art Crawl gallery, and those photos traveled to the Travelers Building in Downtown saint paul. I did Collaborations with other artistes at In Progress that had great meaning and ended up post cards too. Ever since In Progress happened to me, I’ve been successful in the path i’ve wanted to take. I, Pajar Vang, The girl who had no interest in photography, am now a photographer.


Lee Wai Chang

My name is Lee Wai Chang and I was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I am 15 years old, and also an Asian-American photographer that was raised in the city full of opportunities to be an artist. I am an upcoming sophomore in 2011-2012 at Johnson Senior High School. One of my friends, Gaona Xiong, who is another photographer influenced me by her artwork to become one myself. She introduced me to In-Progress. A non-profit organization that teaches music, video, and photography for many years now. One of In-Progress’s photography members, Raynie Vang, mentored me to become a photographer. I wanted to become a photographer because I wanted to express my feelings into artwork. 

My artwork has been shown in two Saint Paul Art Crawls, both spring and fall of 2010-2011. Some of my artwork were show in the Qhia Dab Neeg event, at Coco and Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul. Since then my artwork has been traveling to other places.

Photography impacted my life by giving me a better view to life. It showed me all the little details of an artwork. My perception now towards photos is that I shouldn’t judge how it looks like, I should listen to the story that lays behind a photo. A picture can mean a thousand words.I believe that if you truly love photography then you are able to show it on a picture. During training for becoming a photographer, I motivated myself into becoming a stronger and better photographer, as I am now.


Julie Xiong

I was eight years old when i started photography. I went to my cousin’s sweet 16 birthday party, and she got an Nikon for her birthday. I was so jealous that I beg my mom to buy me a camera. I did not have any experience at all, but I mostly liked to take pictures of landscape.

I began to lose interest in photography because I was more into singing. I met In Progress at a camp call “ Asian Media Access “ and it’s a program about making movies and acting. I got sorta bored when it came to photography, but I just wanted to try it out.

When I first took my first photo, it made me realize how much I miss photography. I almost shed in tears because I could of improve my work more if I haven’t quit photography.

After working with In Progress, I got up on my feet and started working more with photography, i always ask my younger sister to be the subject of my concept. I finally join In Progress and it changed my life. In Progress is a chaotic place, it’s different and I enjoy being here at In Progress because we treat each other like families. I’m the oldest in my family and I really wish i had an older siblings who I can look up to, but I can also learn from In Progress as well.

Even though I knew so much about photography already, I joined photo club at my school last year. I was split up in a small group with my classmate and we went to the library. My lip was dry so I pulled out my lip balm and the brand was “ Baby Lips “ and I accidentally dropped the cap. Right at that moment, my brain was exploding like a volcano because I had an amazing idea. I decided to take a picture of my lip balm and have the sun as the background, just within one shoot I was blown away with my work. A few weeks later, my teacher who taught photography told me that with the Lip Balm photo I took, is now traveling to New York City in a coffee shop! I’m very proud of myself because I never knew that this picture would go so far. My name is Julie Gao Choua Xiong and I am a Photographer.


Kristine Sorensen

I am an artist, a mentor and a professional. My life revolves around the work of In Progress and all of the amazing people that I have connected with through my role as a media artist and organizer. I made my first films as a child but did not seriously consider filmmaking as a career choice until my mid twenties. In the late 1980s I began working in the media education field and haven't looked back since. My love for this work stems from a genuine curiosity about people and the lives they lead. Since beginning this journey, I have witnessed the most amazing stories. I have laughed and cried, made friends, lost friends, learned about myself, and about the many ways we as human beings experience the journey of life. I am a fortunate individual.

I have been the executive director for In Progress since 2000. I give what time I can to work with our board of directors to progress the work of this unique organization. Because In Progress has no paid employees (we are all volunteers or contractors), I tend to take care of many duties. I designed and maintained the website; I order all of our supplies, I supervise contractors and volunteers, manage the books, write grants, meet with the public, write curriculum and administer a majority of the activities that take place at In Progress. Now don't get me wrong - yes I work hard, but I get to have allot of fun in the process. My passion is working directly with our partner communities as a mentor to young artists but I also enjoy the many other activities related to keeping In Progress "on the road." 


Tiana LaPointe

My name is Tiana LaPointe. I’m a fifteen-year old Lakota from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. In 2003, I began work on a video documentary entitled Keepers of the Stronghold Dream. It is a documentary about the Lakota people’s fight to protect sacred burial sites on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The video also explains the history related to a virtually unknown massacre on what is now known as the Badlands. During this massacre, the Oglala, Lakota, Peyote and other groups of Native Americans were thrown into ravines, persecuted, and murdered for practicing the Ghost Dance that they used to pray for a new and better life.

Since I began making videos, I have learned that no matter who you are or what you are interested in, you do have something to say. If you work hard at it, you can show people what you believe is important in the world. This can give people a different perspective on those things that are most important to you. I believe it is easier to help people understand you when you use video to tell your story. I also believe that you don’t have to be the most creative person in the world to produce amazing artwork-- you just need to be knowledgeable and believe in what you have to say.

Since becoming a teaching artist, my artwork has changed because I have had a chance to use more technologically advanced cameras and tripods. I also learned that you remember 90% of what you teach and 40% of what you are taught. By teaching others, I have become a stronger artist and student. I know how to say what I want people to understand and have a way to say it.

I see my self as a filmmaker and a mentor to others. My role as an In Progress Intern is to submit artist’s videos to upcoming festivals, to coordinate video screenings of young artist’s work and to lead the planning for a youth Indigenous Storytelling Gathering. I also am open to any creative opportunities that might come my way. I am willing to learn as much as I can from others. 


Kao Choua Vue

I am a first-generation Hmong-American woman from St. Paul, Minnesota.  I am a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and is majoring in the Bachelor of Individualized Studies in Cultural Studies and Comparative Languages, Sociology and Art. 

At the age of 14 I had my first experience with filmmaking and photography. I was 8 years old when she first worked with video production and 10 years old when I did black and white photography. My photography work was shown at an exhibition along with other youth at the Landmark Center. 

I found my passion for photography and video when I was introduced to In Progress at the age of 14. I started exploring digital photography and began looking at myself as an artist. I used digital media to speak out and capture the present time through the camera lens. A year afterwards I filmed, edited and finished a 10-minute documentary film based on my father’s history in the Vietnam War called Whispers From the Vietnam War. This film is the beginning of my journey as a documentary filmmaker. 

Currently, I am working on a documentary film called Niav Leej Tsaiv (Mother’s daughter) with interviews of Hmong girls and women ages 8-83 years old. The idea behind this film is to show the unique stories of each individual Hmong girls and women and how they are similar in many ways but how their differences separate them a part by history, time and location. I recently received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant to make a mixed media mural project. In this project I will compose of several families’ images from the Laos and Thailand before their immigration to the United States. This mural will travel in schools in the Twin Cities to provide an artistic approach to showing the history of the Hmong people before they arrived in the United States. The mural serves as a educational piece of artwork and for the audience to acknowledge the past and honor the Hmong’s bravery. 


Nicole Staples

I am Nicole Staples, an Anishinaabe artist from Cass Lake, Minnesota. Ever hear of it? I have. I’ve lived in this small town most of my life. Growing up, all I wanted to do was to get out of Cass Lake, but I've realized that you can't run from your home, no matter what is there. You’ve got to face it with full force. You can’t give up. Being able to take photographs has become one of the reasons that I continue to stay here. I’ve been a photographer since 1998. I was seventeen then. Now, I’m twenty-five. I love taking pictures with a 35mm camera. I think that is the best way, it shows the real deal!!!


Philosophy as an Artist

My Love for photography began with an art class in school. I made this camera out of a box. I designed it and it worked. To be able to take a picture with a box was a powerful feeling. At that moment I realized that I wanted to become a photographer.


Taking pictures came naturally. I wanted to take all kinds of photographs - landscapes, portraits, everything. I didn't own a camera, so I only got to take pictures for school. Even so, something began stirring inside me. I got this feeling that made me curious. So I continued. Since that time I have used the camera to catch those beautiful, unforgettable, and sometimes, painful moments. It’s been a constant presence in my life when little else has. 


I think that my community has a lot to do with my artwork. It is here in Cass Lake that I become a part of Ogichidaakweg, or as we call it “Sisters.” It’s a program for girls and women that want to use photography to speak what they see and what they know. It has taught me how to step out into my community. It has shown me how to get important issues noticed. And getting things noticed is usually the first step to creating change. 

I am now a freshman at Leech Lake Tribal College, kinda’ funny considering the fact that I am so much older now. I lost more than five years to an overwhelming drug addiction but I’ve been in recovery now for two years (almost a lifetime). Now I am focusing on keeping myself on the road of sobriety. I want to stay strong for the youth that look up to me. I have so many younger cousins that follow in my steps, plus nephews and nieces. They don't need to follow the road of drug addiction like I did. I plan to use my talents as a photographer to remind them of that. 

All our Dreams can come true, If we have the courage to pursue them. ….Walt Disney


Phylis Nicole Isham

Aaniin danaa! my name is Nikki Isham, I am 20 years old. I am an Anishinabe woman. I live on Leech Lake Reservation but I grew up in Nett Lake Village on the Boise Forte Reservation. I’ve been with Ogichidaakweg (Sisters In Leadership) Program since 2000. I live in Cass Lake, Minnesota in my east end pirate house. I teach youth from Leech Lake and Boise Forte Reservation. I am also a student at the Leech Lake Tribal College. 


In 2002 I was invited to screen my first video “Walking Alone On The Road of Depression” at the Sundance Film Festival. I took a long break after that and just started producing again in 2004. It’s rough trying to make your art when you don’t have any tools. So whenever I get the chance I bury myself in my work. It’s not often. 


Right now I am working on a GRIP of prints and old pictures getting them ready to bring to CA. I have worked with both video and photo, but i prefer neither...i just take more pictures. Creating videos and photographs is flippin' AWESOME, i love it. I have a lot to learn still especially in terms of getting more comfortable with the computer.


Philosophy as an Artist

I always seemed to remember things as momentary flashes, or when I had seen things that maybe I would have preferred not to see at all- the image, the moment has been forever burned into the visionary recollection part of my brain. When I remember something, the scene plays in my head like a sequence. Some call it a photographic memory, or play-by-play-playback. Either way, this strange sort of thinking led me to grow into an image saver, a video artist, a bit of a manipulator, and as of now, a philosopher. 


I remember wanting to be able to accurately describe to someone something truly amazing, to advocate for a feeling or a belief. To SAY SOMETHING in a way that could make eyes open and ears listen. To inspire others to embrace the chance to do the same. 


My high school offered photography as an elective class, and I took that class in 10th grade. Ms. Ross (Mrs. These days) taught the class, and she was a new teacher. On the first day of class, our instructor seemed excited as little by little students wandered into her classroom. The class was rambunctious at first, and it took her a bit to get everyone settled down enough for her to welcome us to photography. After a gradual hush followed Ms. Ross explaining the birth of photography, starting with the evolution of the pinhole camera into the 35-millimeter cameras we would be using during our time in this class. On the table in front of her, students were listening while observing an original pinhole camera that was very old. The instructor went on about the elements of the camera; how it worked, what made it work. While we handled the camera, she walked over to the windows and shut the curtains one by one-then walked to the door and shut off the lights. The only window left open was the one directly in front of where we studied the camera. When she came over to us, she explained that as human beings, we can store images in our heads in the same way that the pinhole camera was made to, and how that greatly influenced how the camera was made. She stood in front of the window, and told us all to close our eyes, that she was going to completely darken the room, and that she would tell us when to open our eyes. It was clear that she was going to show something to those that wanted to see, and others were simply missing out. I closed my eyes, and heard the curtains shut. She counted to three, and told us to open our eyes for 10 seconds, and close them immediately. Then she quickly opened the curtain and shut them. At that moment, I understood what she was showing us; after I opened and re-closed my eyes, the image of the window and what was outside was there in full sight even though my eyes were closed. The concept totally blew my mind, and I took that class two years in a row. I was completely smitten, the passion was fueled every time I cradled a camera or successfully developed my film. 


My grandma bought me my first camera, and loads of film. I had a hard time with those rolls of film, I know that some of those rolls of film are complete losers but it was a learning process for me. (I never developed ANY of that film.) At times I took that camera to places it probably shouldn’t have been, nor should I but that’s beside the point. I would always run out of film too soon.


The last time I took photography in high school, Ms. Ross told me about a lady coming here during summer, that she was an artist from the cities and would be accompanied by youth mentors to give a workshop on digital photography. (digital?) She said that if I wasn’t doing anything that I should stop by that maybe I might enjoy it. First of all, I had no interest at all to do digital photos, to me it seemed that it was cheating to be able to manipulate an otherwise permanent image on some computer program, it just wasn’t my thing. It also would mean that no longer would I be working in a darkroom where I observed the whole process of my images being developed. (Control freak) Later on that summer, I went to the workshop anyways, that was where I was introduced to Ogichidaakweg. The program was explained to us, and then a run-down of the equipment they were making available for us to use. It was there that I began my integration into digital art. I made a movie that summer about depression; its purpose was to show it in its truest form. I had problems in my life, and it seemed so difficult to tell the people that worried about me and loved me what was going on with me. The movie I made was way helpful, for those people and myself. Later more people would awkwardly give me kudos for my film, and to tell you the truth I never even thought it was that good.


The things that inspire me to take photos are the moment itself, sometimes everything just seems to fall into place with the natural photography that I do. A lot of times my intentions for digital manipulation inspires me to take photos of things that I can play with on the computer-other times with the digital manipulation, I am looking for something specific. Most of the time, I just get into the mode where everything that is around me is jumping out at me- colors, people, moments, everything. I travel around all over with my camera and just take pictures. When I look at them on the computer later, I get excited because I remember exactly why I took the picture, what I may have been feeling, I remember almost everything about them. So unless I am looking for something specific, my influences are everywhere and scattered about everywhere I look.


Sai Thao

My name is Sai Thao. I am a Hmong media artist. I have been producing work since I was 13 years old. I am now 25 years old and currently working on a video called Hidden in my Heart (an unwritten letter), a 30-minute experimental documentary on families ties. Most of my work is experimental dealing with the struggles of being a Hmong American. I was born and raised in St. Paul, MN. I graduated from St. Paul Open School in 1999 then went to college for a year and studied film. But then I decided I wasn’t ready for college yet and left to pursue other opportunities and seek my path as an artist. I began traveling and teaching media arts with Kristine Sorensen in 1999. Then in 2001, I was awarded a grant from the Jerome Foundation to travel to Laos with my mother to explore and see the land where my parents were born. In 2002 and 2004, I was very fortunate to be awarded a grant from NAATA and the MN States Arts board to produce Hidden in my Heart. The last few years have been struggle. I have been faced with many personal challenges but living as an artist, as a work in progress, I have over come many of the struggles I have faced. In the fall of 2004, I married the man I loved and moved to Texas. I continued to create work and challenge myself as an artist while living in Texas. I am now back living in St. Paul. I hope to complete Hidden in my Heart this 2006 year and travel with the film.