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


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