Off the Clock - Sarah Leen Addresses Visual Arts and Design Showcase

Feb 9, 2017

National Geographic is well-known for its photography. University of Missouri alumna Sarah Leen was the first female director of photography for the magazine. She recently took time out of her travels to give a keynote address at the 2017 Visual Arts and Design Showcase at her alma mater.

Credit Josh Murray / Office of Undergraduate Studies

National Geographic has sent Leen to places like Lake Baikal in Siberia, the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia, and a volcano in Mexico called Popocatepetl. Recently the Missouri School of Journalism graduate returned for a visit where she addressed 400 people at a student visual arts and design showcase that was last Friday in Jesse Hall. Up to $10,000 worth of scholarships were given by chancellor Foley on behalf of the university. Two $3,000 grand prizes were awarded for applied design and artistic expression. Before Leen’s address, Chancellor Hank Foley introduced her.

“I particularly have a fondness of art because my mother because my mother attended the Rhode Island school of design so it’s our chance to affirm, as a university, that painting, photography, graphic design, thermal lighting, textile, design and apparel management, architectural studies, documentary and digital storytelling, and floral design are very much valued pursuits on this campus. The $10,000 that are available in the professional development funds for our winners, really drives home our commitment at Mizzou to [artistic] pursuit, I hope, in a tangible way. This is only one week out of the year, and today is only one day of course, so you’ll need inner motivation whether you win, lose, or draw, when you get back to your classes, meet your deadlines, and do what you do every day of your lives,” Chancellor Hank Foley said.

Leen talked to the audience about her career pursuits, her accomplishments, and future goals as a photographer and artist. Leen talked about National Geographic’s mission statement and her own professional development.

“What is the best medium to tell this story? Now more than ever, we need to break through the millions of images, news, and stories bombarding us every day. We need to create content that is relevant to our reader’s lives. It’s a great responsibility that we do not take lightly,” Sarah Leen said.

Leen also pointed to the intersection between art and journalism as a way to improve. Leen says that telling stories and making art is good, but, to her, doing these things alone isn’t enough.

“I believe beauty is a powerful tool. It’s about making you feel something when you look at an image. To want to know more; to want to understand what is happening here. It’s all about balancing the wonder and the worry. For me, the sweet spot is at the intersection of art and journalism. It’s not enough to just tell the story or to make the art. You have to get your work out there. It needs to be seen. You need to take it to your audience and not wait for them to find you, so believe in yourself, in your art, in your message, and push it out there on every platform. Know yourself, follow your bliss, find your community, and then some partners who are as crazy as you are. You can make yourself heard.”

The call to action by Leen drew thunderous applause as she walked off the stage, giving chancellor Foley one last hug before the awards ceremony.