Monday, September 27, 2010

Reflection from an Artist Mentor

When I started as a mentor at New Urban Arts, I came through the doors thinking that this is a place focused on youth voice, creativity, and empowerment. And it is. But it took me a while to realize that it's more than that. It's not just a place for the students - it's a place for me, too.

As a new artist mentor, I approached this volunteer position as a way to give - I'm teaching, I'm contributing, I'm here for the students. I think a lot of volunteers don't want to seem selfish, so they don't think about or dwell on what's in it for them. I came in for my mentoring hours, taught projects, and watched students build their sewing skills.

One day, I came in and I was in a funk. My student, Stephanie, immediately sensed that something was different and asked me what was going on. I hesitated, wondering if I should "go there" with her - if I should tell her about how I was struggling with figuring out what path I should take in making my art into a business. I decided to try it out - I told her what was going through my head. She listened, and we had a great chat that ultimately helped me take a step back and gain the perspective that I needed to move forward.

That interaction was an "aha" moment for me. Because I realized that it wasn't a selfish conversation but rather exactly the kind of thing that should be happening at New Urban Arts.

New Urban Arts has a commitment to not only high school students, but emerging artists, too. We're part of the mission. The mentoring fellows, staff, and students are here to support us, converse with us, and help us grow in our creative practices. It is truly a community of learning where you are always both a teacher and a learner at once. I've realized that making it not just about the students' work, but mine as well, is not a selfish thing. When I bring my whole self to New Urban Arts as an educator, artist, and person, I'm ready to both contribute and take in. And the community is richer for it.

- Carole Ann Penney

Thursday, September 02, 2010

What We Make, We Make Together: A Reflection by Alumni Artist Mentor Zachary Clark

I’m invested in this notion that we are makers and that this is a good place to start. And on the other side of this singular acknowledgment – that we are, without exception, all makers – is a vague but persistent idea about community, about transformation, about significance. This is the first and fundamental belief. I start with this.

We should adventure, in some ways collective and otherwise alone. My grandmother lived on an acre of untamed land, dense and twisting and thrilling, where I would explore as a child. I think that I was an artist then. In crafting my own idea about what it means to be an artist, I cannot ever seem to divorce the notion of making from my romantic and long-held ideas about exploring. They are bound, merged, and I no longer seek to separate them.

My role as a maker exists in relation to the makings of others. There are projects crafted by my peers that I claim as partly mine, and works emerged from my own hands of which others claim ownership. This is right. I collaborate. And in that shared experience of creating, I find a familiar adventure – as if we’re climbing and unearthing, sunburned. My practice feels distinctly physical in this way, even when it’s not. Sometimes, especially when it’s not.

I think that beauty emerges from this pursuit, but that beauty is relative. I think that change is often born, but that change is not always obvious. I don’t propose a solution to individuals outside myself through my own practice, but I commit myself to helping them develop their own. I exist alongside my collaborators, not before or behind. This may be the most important facet of my practice, and for this reason I’m committed to its survival.

The following statement was written by alumni artist mentor Zachary Clark (2008-09) who participated in the first ever Institute of Other Significant Pursuits at New Urban Arts this past weekend.

Zachary Clark is now in Charlotte, North Carolina, working as an outreach artist through Freedom Schools and is the Outreach Coordinator at the Cabarrus Arts Council. He also teaches monthly painting classes on a farm in the rural Piedmont of North Carolina.

This statement was written in a reflective session after three intensive days of skill building workshops, discussion, and artmaking among nine alumni artist mentors from five states across the country. The Institute of Other Significant Pursuits is a new initiative at New Urban Arts dedicated to supporting the work of alumni artist mentors beyond the walls of our studio at 743 Westminster Street in Providence, RI.

Stay tuned to learn more about the Institute of Other Significant Pursuits and ways that alumni artist mentors from New Urban Arts are contributing to a wider conversation about contemporary community arts practices.