Where you grew up and your background can often have surprising effects on our lives and careers. We’ve asked folks from the community to tell us about how their background has affected them.

Dave Whelan | Chief Executive Officer, BioscienceLA

I grew up in a small town in Central Pennsylvania (actually a borough, Lewisburg, which is the county seat of Union County, for those keeping score). While I was born in Germany (my father was stationed there with the Army) and moved around a few times on the US East Coast prior to Lewisburg, I lived there from 9 to 18, so that is what I consider home. Lewisburg is one of those towns where everyone knows everyone. In fact, for those who were born there, they are likely related to everyone. That means that everyone knows everyone’s business, but it also means that everyone is accessible. It means that everyone says hello to everyone on the street. It means that years later, I find myself commenting on Facebook about a barbershop that just changed ownership, which I never even patronized, simply because I remember a deer jumping through its window 30+ years ago. Yeah, it is also one of those towns where deer jump through barbershop windows. Since I wasn’t from there, I always assumed I would leave there, but while I was there, I learned the value of community. I learned that one can make an outsized impact. Read more>>

Colin West | Dog Hiker & Behaviorist

I chose this question because I think it’s relevant to the work that I do with the dogs now. I grew up in the Pacific Palisades, and I was always a bit of a free spirited, rebellious kid. In short, if I were a dog, I would have been considered a “bad dog.” I would have been one of the dogs that needed training, and by understanding myself, and having experienced what I have, I’m able to better understand dogs that don’t want to listen, because I was that “dog.” After being kicked out of a Christian school for not wanting to follow the rules, (training), I went to Paul Revere middle school, where, if you didn’t want to follow the rules, you basically didn’t have to, but you would, however, follow the rules of the schoolyard kids. That’s when I was introduced to a different set of rules, and those are, in a way, the rules of the jungle. You will  show respect to the kids who have clicked up in packs of 20+, and who have older brothers. Haha. I’m sure many people can relate. This is the environment I was drawn to; I was drawn to the power, and mainly, I knew if I was with the tougher kids, I would not be a target of them. Read more>>

Street Play | Local Band

We’re from west Los Angeles, California. Our adolescence and early adult life has consisted of going to and throwing local shows. Through this medium we have been fortunate enough to find a community of diverse artists to collaborate with and share a creative home within the city. Our upbringing in the city influenced our creative output in so many ways, whether through musical influence or our exposure to different cultures that continue to shape our collective voice. Street Play, as a name, directly represents all of our individual, yet different, experiences in the city that give us the freedom to express ourselves as young people. Like many other young people living in the city we found solace in the streets and back alleys of LA; the nooks and crannies that satisfied our lust for adventure. Being the big city that it is we have been able to explore a myriad of artistic mediums, from art galleries to warehouses to backyards and local record shops to express ourselves. Read more>>

Thomas Whittaker Kidd | Artist

My whole family is from, Fall River, Massachusetts. They emigrated in the 1880’s from Quebec, Canada, Ireland and Northern England. My mother grew up in the Sunset Hill Housing Projects in the Southend of Fall River and she moved me and my brother there when I was 7 to avoid the wrath of my father. Some characters at Sunset Hill were trying to teach me the ways of petty crime which seemed to be an interesting alternative way of existing but not a very effective means of income. Also, my being a daydreamer made me incompatible with the attention needed for this occupation. At age 14, I worked for my father in construction and found myself spending much of my time with old philosophical alcoholics and sensitive ex-convicts. All this seemed normal to me until I found myself at Parent Teacher Night at a private high school talking to parents about their kids that I taught art to. Their stories seemed mostly idilic but many had underbellies of struggle within their homes. These experiences fertilized my interest in anyones person story. Certainly, my stepfather who entered my life in my later childhood had a major impact on me. Read more>>

Sierra Campbell | Newborn and Family Portrait Photographer

I was raised in Park City, Utah. My dad was a photojournalist for one of the main newspapers in the state, as well as the sports photographer for the University of Utah and many different Olympics on top of other freelance work. I grew up going on assignment with him, carrying his large lens’ around the sidelines of football and basketball games, and earning money working in the darkroom by his side. The smell of developer and fixer will always bring me right back to my childhood. Read more>>

Cynthia Minet | Visual Artist & College Professor

I was born in New Jersey, but moved to Rome. Italy when I was 20 months old. After spending my childhood in Rome, my family moved to London, and then when I was 13, we moved to Los Angeles. I really don’t think I would have become an artist if it weren’t for my early exposure to art. I saw the ancient Roman ruins and Baroque fountains every day; a major aqueduct was visible from the school bus on my way to school. My elementary school had to halt a planned expansion of the facilities because they discovered an Ancient Roman villa under the ground of where they were going to pour the foundation. From that day on, we use to joke that orange peels found in the playground were Etruscan artifacts. My parents were friends with artists in Rome, in particular, Dmitri Hadzi. I think my visit to his studio when I was a child was one of the factors that inspired me to become a sculptor. Read more>>

Lai Jiang | Sound Designer & Editor

I was born and raised in Ningbo, a coastal city in eastern China that is “two hours by train from Shanghai and famous for its seafood”. That’s how I usually introduce my hometown to people that I meet, most of whom haven’t heard of the city. Growing up, I’ve always been afraid of being in the center of attention. My parents used to tell me, not everyone was born to be under the spotlight, and there’re always people needed to be in the backgrounds. Today as a filmmaker in postproduction, this makes more sense now. There’s always a saying in my family, “everything happens for the best”. I first thought it’s just an excuse for giving up on things. Later on, I realized it could be interpreted the other way. It doesn’t mean we let bad things happen, but instead, understand the reasons of why things are the way they are and will be. Read more>>

Marie-Michèle Jasmin-Bélisle | Filmmaker

I was born in Montreal, and raised in the countryside of Quebec, by two equally creative and outside-the-box parents. Both were/are writers and historians; my mother a journalist and a poet, my father a photographer, ethnologist and museum curator. Together they also launched La Belle Amerique (labelleamerique.com), a company devoted to honoring French heritage in North America through replicas of sailor wares and various Nouvelle France artifacts, and later through lectures and books through their publishing company. The house was filled with antiques, quirky stuff, mannequins dressed in theater costumes and a full size knight’s armor made of papier mâché. We also had -and still have- paintings from floor to ceiling, as my grand-father was a painter and a founding member of a very successful artist collective in Montreal in the 1930s. I left the house at 17 to go spend a year in Australia, where I got to make life-long friends from around the globe through the exchange student group I was a part of. That was the first eye opener. Back in Montreal, I started film school, graduated on to a degree in Fine. Read more>>

Ariana Alejandra Gibson | Documentary Filmmaker & Kindness Champion

I was born in San Jose, Costa Rica to an American mother and a Tico father. I only lived in Costa Rica for 1.5 years before my mother moved us to Prairie Village, KS—a place she had never been but where she had family at the time. I believe that everyone is a product of their lived experiences, and so my story is one that wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for my background. The combination of being raised in the Midwest but visiting my Costa Rican family regularly and staying closely connected to my Latin American roots shaped so much of how I view the world. Read more>>

Jennie Yoon | Entrepreneur & Jewelry Designer

I was born and raised in Seoul, Korea, and immigrated here when I was 11-years old. We didn’t come from a lot financially, so I’ve watched both my parents work hard and essentially learned my work ethic from them. I matured quickly, and always believed that when you set your mind to something, you really can make it happen. You simply have to trust yourself to take that leap of faith. Read more>>

Aline Smithson | Artist, Editor, Educator

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, Silverlake to be exact. It was an amazing place to grow up — it was filled with diversity and I grew up with a wide array of friends whose parents came from all over the globe. I also had an early knowledge of Neutra, Schindler, and Lautner as the mid-century modern homes were simply places where my friends lived. The other huge influence was the proximity to Hollywood. I was fascinated by the star studded streets and the facades of reality. Read more>>

Anka Malatynska | Cinematographer/ World Traveler / Teacher/ Maverick/ Mother/ Freedom Seeker/ Lighter of Flames/ Filmmaker / Story Keeper

I was born in Communist Poland, to two wildly adventurous parents. My father was a Himalayan Mountain Climber who died in the Himalayas when I was a baby, and that propelled my mother to find her way to the United States to secure a better future for myself and my brother. The country and world I was born in didn’t exist by the time I was 10, communism fell and I was brought up in a world of constant change and evolution. There is a magnificent force that lived through my father, it manifested as incredible ambition and fearlessness… this expressed itself as hight altitude climbing, the drive for first ascents in Himalayas. I believe it is this force which is the impetus for evolution. His presence changed my mom’s life and opened her world – like someone lighting a light that turns into a fire. That force continued to guide her life long after his death and it shaped my life – which while their life was expansive has given me a life of incredible freedom, physiologically, geographically and financially. A collection of their strengths now flow through me. Read more>>


JAKEYA | Alternative Soul Artist, Vocal Coach, Songwriter

I was born and raised in Philadelphia PA. The beautiful city where so many of the greats in the music and entertainment industry are from. Growing up in the church, music was always around me. I’m birthed from a musical family.  My father and his siblings were the band at church.  My dad would play the bass guitar and sing, my uncle Isaac would play lead guitar and sing, my uncle Charles played the keys and sung, my aunt Betty was the lead vocalist, and her son, my cousin Cory, would play the drums. When they would play the music and sing songs of praise, the entire church would be on their feet, clapping, moving and singing along. There was such an overwhelming presence of love, joy and freedom that filled the sanctuary. It was magical. The art of music was something I could never escape. Its in my blood. Aside from playing the bass, my father also played the drums, keys and brass. He instilled a lot of knowledge and music history in me. He even thought me how to play the drums. Read more>>

Bianca Turner | Artist, PhD in International Economic Relations

I was born and grew up in Romania (Europe), during the Communism regime. Life was very tough for me then, because I didn’t have the freedom of expression, I had to be extremely disciplined otherwise I would have risked to be punished by the Communist Party, or my parents would have suffered tremendously, and I had to follow orders to a T when I was in school. Everything was unimaginably harsh in my childhood, from not having any heat in schools during extremely cold winters to studying at candle light every night because the Communist Party was giving all the water and power to the USSR. Daily, I lived with the fear that my parents would be arrested and thrown in jail as my grandfathers were, one of them never making it out and being a political prisoner for life. After I graduated college, I had the opportunity to immigrate legally to the US, with a Diversity Visa Program (the DVP offers Green Card to the immigrants and the American citizenship after five years of being in the US). Read more>>

Judeus Samson | Account Supervisor, Photographer, YouTuber, And The Occasional TikToker

Before I transferred to our agency’s Los Angeles location I worked in our main office in Downtown Detroit. On one of the floors I would pass this one poster hanging on a wall near the entry. It wasn’t a heavily art directed piece, very simple with bold text, but I always liked walking by to read the quote from writer Elmore Leonard, “Most Cities Get By On Their Good Looks. Detroit Has To Work For A Living.” It resonated with me because it was a simple summarization of work ethic I was raised in. My family is full of blue-collar workers. We all worked hard and took pride in it. My dad worked at a stamping plant for Ford, my mom, sister both nurses, and lot of my relatives in the same fields. I grew up with that same work-hard mentality. My first job in high school was constructing stages for our school’s theater class. For over 13 years I worked through the blazing summers and blistering winters in UPS warehouses loading and unloading trucks to get through college. Looking back it was difficult working those jobs, but it helped build my character and work ethic. Read more>>

Gopi Shah | Potter

I grew up as a child of immigrant parents who came to the US like most immigrants – in search of opportunity and a better life for their children. As such, my sisters and I were raised with a mindset that education is the most important avenue for success and stability. My parents worked hard to get us into an incredible high school that had a ceramics and glass studio. This is where I built my foundation and skills for my career in pottery.  However, I went to college and ended up in the non-profit sector working for public health and environmental organizations rather than pursuing a career in the arts. I was taught that job and financial security was very important, and starting a business or being an artist happens to be very risky. Therefore, when I did finally launch my business and my career in pottery years later, I was very risk-averse and still am. I’m also very good at being organized when it comes to accounting and taxes, thanks to my mom who was an accountant. Read more>>

Benjamin Rebs | Aspiring Master Artist

I am Benjamin Rebs and I am from Grand Terrace CA, when I was in highschool I had an art teacher with red hair who I had for 2 semesters for 1 period and the 3rd year i had her for 3 electives so i sat in the classroom for 3 hours every day to draw while the other periods left and entered her art class each period. She helped reignite my passion for art. She helped me to think out of the box and express my ideas while remaining within the rules of the certain art styles she was showing me. Its come to impact my art in ways I could never imagine. My ability to think about the box that she helped me learn has caused to me start experimenting and developing my own art style, an art style that is ever flowing and keeps the viewer entertained and in love with the pieces. My relationship and my love for art which my teacher helped me find is expressed in every stroke I take of my pen and each intricate nick and detail in my artwork is all an expression of my love for the artwork because of how it allows me to express my truest emotions in forms of abstract shapes and colors that entrap the viewer in whatever emotions I am feeling when I create my pieces. Read more>>

Mary Hurlbut | Laguna Beach Portrait and Event Photographer

I grew up in Laguna Beach and I’m blessed to still be able to live here. My parents encouraged my decision to graduate from college with a Fine Art Degree and loaned me $3000 to start a stained glass business in their garage. I paid it back from my profits after my first year exhibiting at the Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach. The second best influence was meeting Spence Hurlbut, a fellow exhibitor and full time sculptor. Not only did we marry, but he was the business manager most artists desperately need, He built me a beautiful workspace in his home and forced/encouraged me to learn time management, true expenses and how to price my work to make a living. Read more>>