ICP Alumna Tori Hong Finds Her Purpose in Art

Tori Hong realized in her sophomore year of college that maybe it was time to switch direction. She was a biology student on the pre-med track, and while she loved the natural science courses, it wasn’t quite as fulfilling as she had hoped.

She was looking for a unique major that would allow her to explore a variety of subjects and found the Inter-College Program (ICP) to be the perfect fit. “Even though other majors make sense to me,” she says, “they don’t allow for all of these interests to be combined.”

A visit to an ICP information session sealed the deal. “I just really enjoyed the support that the staff was giving to the students and the way they really broke down what the major was.”

Finding Her Way

Tori Hong’s illustration Abolitionist Elder. An older woman knits a blanket that shows different scenes of people among a prison, houses, a garden, and a police station on fire.

The Inter-College Program allows students to take courses from across the University: you aren’t confined to one college or curriculum. Tori, with the help of her advisor Karolyn Redoute (now retired), decided to explore sociology and anthropology as possible focus areas. Tori took several social justice classes that reconnected her to the reasons why she initially wanted to become a doctor.

“I've always enjoyed being around other people, being someone who connects with others, and being of service,” she says. “I did end up choosing social justice as my main theme, and the two supporting themes were leadership and communication studies.”

Tori’s first job after graduating from the ICP major was as a field organizer for the Democratic Farm Labor party. She then worked for the Hmong American Partnership, a nonprofit organization that serves immigrants and refugees in Minnesota.

“Then I just realized that, again similarly with science and biology, it was really draining to me,” Tori says. “I was able to help people, but I wasn't being nurtured or supported in the ways that I needed to be.”

A Return to Art

Tori says she hit a “mental wall” and fell into a depression. She asked herself, what is the thing that’s going to make me happy? “And I just listened to my younger self, and it was art. In middle school I taught myself how to do digital art through online communities, and I just kind of lost my way.”

"I think this is the program where people can be themselves the most out of every other program in the University."

Mental health, Tori continues, is a big part of her journey. “When I was depressed I strayed away from art, and I was finally at that moment when I was like, this is the thing I need to come back to. I worked for a local social justice artist in the Twin Cities and eventually got my first freelancing gigs through my work and community.”

A poster of two woman holding raised hands with a police car in the background. The words "Stonewall 1969" appear at the top with "The 1st Pride Was a Riot" at the bottom. In honor of the unhoused queer youth & the rest of the Stonewall queens.

Tori became a full-time freelance artist in 2017. She is the artist behind Ntxoo Art (pronounced “un-Zong”) and partners with museums, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and news publications.

Just recently she took the leap into the NFT (non-fungible token) market after moving to San Francisco. An NFT is a digital asset that can be a piece of art, music, an in-game item, video, and more. Artists can list their work for sale, and collectors purchase it using cryptocurrency, providing a record of unique digital ownership.

“Here I met NFT artists and collectors who demystified my assumptions about the technology and the space,” she says. “So it's been really good for the NFT part of my career, because digital art, tech, and NFTs go hand-in-hand.”

“It's crazy, really fun, and wild,” she adds. “It combines my passion of building communities online and being able to connect with people from all over the world.”

Three Major Takeaways

Looking back, Tori is grateful that the ICP major provided:

A black and white drawing of a pair of hands washing rice in a sink.
  1. Creative and flexible assignments. She enjoyed the popular education approach taken in some of her social justice classes, where students actively participate in how the learning process takes place. Tori was able to complete some of her assignments by submitting artwork.
  2. Networking opportunities. Through optional service-learning coursework, Tori volunteered with local Twin Cities organizations, which often led to jobs after college.
  3. Applicable projects. In the capstone course, students write papers around a topic of their choosing. Tori wrote about Hmong womanhood and art. “That was a really great chance for me to delve into my own personal history, the political, cultural, social, history of the Hmong people, and interview family members and people that I admire about how art played an integral part of their life. It really prepared me for what I'm doing now.”

What She Loved About CCAPS

  • Your advisors are a really great resource. Our advising sessions were an hour long. You have time with someone who really gets to know you.
  • There are really great scholarship opportunities.
  • I think this is the program where people can be themselves the most out of every other program in the University. You take center stage on your degree.

 

Artwork by Tori Hong. From top to bottom: Abolitionist Elder, Stonewall 1969, Washing Rice. Web Are Web3 (below) by Meta Angels.

Self-portrait illustration of Hmong artist Tori Hong. She is wearing glasses and two gold necklaces. She is smiling with her tongue out and holding up two fingers in a peace sign.

“If you are a creative person, embrace that part of yourself. Don't be afraid to try on many different hats and commit to the things that you are passionate about. And lastly, this is my advice that I have to keep reminding myself, bet on yourself first.” - Tori Hong