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The Art of Helping Others: Alumna and MD First Lady Yumi Hogan Makes Creative Connections

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Photo Credit: Steve Kwak, Executive Office of the Governor

Maryland’s first lady Yumi Hogan, CAS/MFA ’10, is a bridge-builder who makes a difference, using the creative and empathetic thinking she developed as an artist at AU. In recent months the first lady has been focusing her efforts on COVID-19 resources and recovery to keep Marylanders healthy and safe.

With her cultural, linguistic, and diplomatic ties to Korea, other Asian countries, and the Asian/Pacific American communities in Maryland, the first lady also has secured needed PPEs, test kits, and significant donations to combat coronavirus. Yumi Hogan uses her network and outreach to provide needed information and resources.

In April, she made headlines for her role in “Operation Enduring Friendship,” the state’s purchase of 500,000 scarce COVID-19 test kits from LabGenomics, a South Korean company. With a need to slow the transmission of coronavirus to ensure public health and ease reopening, Governor Larry Hogan sought to secure more tests. “Operation Enduring Friendship” involved weeks-long negotiations between Maryland state agencies and their counterparts in Korea. Korean-born Yumi Hogan was part of the effort from the start, joining her husband on the inaugural call with South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, and later working through language barriers, time differences, clearances, and regulations to secure the kits and help save lives.

Mrs. Hogan is the first Korean American first lady in the US, and Korean president Moon Jae-in recently referred to the Maryland governor as a “son-in-law” to the Korean people. These relationships paved the way for the unprecedented collaboration to handle the crisis in Maryland.

Yumi Hogan, a first generation Korean American, grew up on a farm in the South Korean countryside as the youngest of eight children. She immigrated to the United States over 40 years ago, where she raised her three daughters from an earlier marriage.

Hogan, who earned a master of fine arts at American University and is an adjunct professor at the Maryland Institute College of Art, is an accomplished artist. Her artwork, often created on traditional Korean hanji paper with sumi ink, has been featured in exhibitions in Maryland, Virginia, DC, South Korea, and beyond. It was at an art show in 2001 that she met her second husband, Larry Hogan.

Her career as a visual artist inspired another way to help others. During Governor Hogan’s high-profile battle with cancer, the first lady met many cancer patients of all ages. She said seeing the children bravely facing chemotherapy left her “heartbroken.” As an artist and a teacher, she knows the mental and emotional benefits of creativity as a way to work through the stresses of illness and treatment. “At least for a moment, I want cancer patients to be away from the pain they are going through,” she said. She launched the Yumi CARES Foundation in 2017 to provide pediatric patients at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital with a trained art therapist and needed art supplies to create artwork that expresses their emotions and personal experiences. Yumi CARES is an acronym for “children’s art for recovery, empowerment, and strength.”

“I'm not a politician,” the AU alumna said in a 2015 article in American magazine. “Before I was first lady, I was an artist. I was a single mom. I know how hard it is to survive. I can share my story.” In her public role as first lady, the AU alumna seeks ways to help others and link communities. Before the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, the first lady had a packed schedule, working on issues ranging from women and children’s welfare, to human trafficking, to opioid addiction. As a teacher and artist, another priority is promoting arts education. Hogan sees herself as a facilitator, connecting the wide array of people and organizations she meets throughout the state, and mentoring any who need advice.

Bringing groups together and making sure community voices are heard is especially important to the first lady. After rioting rocked Baltimore in 2015, Yumi Hogan reached out to impacted merchants, many of whom are Korean American business owners. The next year, she worked with the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) to engage the area’s diverse communities, bringing the neighborhood together and building mutual understanding after the unrest of the year before. The resulting UMB spring festival has become an annual event where cross-cultural food, dancing, and singing merge with community health resources like vision and blood pressure screenings.

Those who work with her note that Yumi Hogan’s training as an artist and a teacher influences the traits she brings to her work as first lady—observant, empathetic, innovative. She sees challenges and solutions in a different way, and is bring people together in creative ways. In fact, reaching out to others is advice Yumi Hogan shared with the AU class of 2020: “as a fellow alumnus of American University, I encourage each and every one of you to continue working hard and building connections as you begin the next exciting chapter of your lives.”