Isabella Santoni

Isabella Santoni

Scottsdale teen Isabella Santoni, 18, was recently named one of 60 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts nominees.

Santoni is the only Arizona student on the prestigious list – and only one of three students in the nation to be nominated as a both a Presidential Scholar in the Arts and Presidential Scholar.

Isabela, a senior at Paradise Valley High School, admitted, “It is a bit nerve-wracking to be the only student representing Arizona on such a national stage, but I hope to put my best possible self forward and do justice to all of the incredible mentors and teachers who have helped me along the way.”

The National YoungArts Foundation announces the nominees for the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students who exemplify artistic and academic excellence. 

“It was beyond my wildest dreams to be nominated as a candidate, let alone a candidate in two areas,” Isabella said.

The 60 candidates represent 19 states and 10 artistic disciplines.

Isabella, who was nominated in the writing category, said the nomination means “an opportunity for community.”

She said that before she applied to YoungArts, her work was very private to her.

“I used writing to process my sexuality throughout all the years that coming out wasn’t an option,” she said. “It wasn’t until I applied to the National YoungArts competition and was named a Finalist in Writing that I realized just how much I had been craving community in my art.”

Isabella was one of 144 finalists across the nation who participated National YoungArts Week +, a virtual adaptation of National YoungArts Week.

She performed twice, once reciting her poem “Becoming Illiterate” and once as part of a group.

“Spending National YoungArts Week + with some of the most skilled youth and adult writers across the nation opened my eyes to how a community of artists is there to comfort in times of doubt and to challenge in times of complacency,” she said. 

YoungArts award winners are eligible for exclusive creative and professional development support including a wide range of fellowships, residencies and awards, as well as virtual and in-person presentation opportunities in collaboration with major venues nationwide.

They are also eligible for additional financial support and access to YoungArts Post, a free, private digital network for YoungArts artists to connect, collaborate and learn about additional opportunities.

Past YoungArts winners include accomplished, renowned artists such as Terence Blanchard, Camille A. Brown, Viola Davis, Josh Groban, and many others.

Isabella plans to study theatre and drama, alongside creative writing.

“As a spoken word artist, I work at the intersection between writing and performance,” she said, adding that after college, she plans to continue working in storytelling, “reimagining what these media look like in a digital age and using art as a tool for queer activism.”

“Telling stories with social impact is a major focus of mine, so even after the curtains close or the poem ends, I don’t see my work as finished,” she said.

To view her work: