ArtPrenticeship: delighting in the creative journeys of young artists

By Stefanie Wheat-Johnson
Project Manager, ArtPrenticeship

The dining room table is littered with paper, books and crumpled birds. The afternoon light catches an array of patterns over the beautiful paper, and makes my daughter’s auburn hair gleam. She is studious and diligent with her lips pressed firmly together in concentration and enthusiasm. My heart is so full when I think of her, folding and making and folding again. In the past seven years, my delight has been in parenting three children who glory in making and doing. It is one of the most satisfying aspects of being a mother – seeing them tell stories with whatever is at hand. As a creative who has not always found her footing easily, I have developed a quiet determination to nurture artists at any age on their journey. This summer it is my delight and honor to facilitate a program in which young creatives will get the opportunity to collaborate and tell part of Waco’s story under the guidance of four artists who share this passion for nurturing our young artists and serving our community.

Creative Waco, with the support of the Chamber of Commerce, has chosen to pilot the ArtPrenticeship program this year in the hopes that this will afford a myriad of opportunities for young people in the Waco ISD and professional artists in our community to create work of public art that will reflect and elevate our neighborhoods. The intended end product of this work is a beautifully designed and well executed mural in downtown Waco. This is a wonderful chance for Waco’s youth to engage with the public, develop skills and relationships that will only deepen with time, and afford them a chance to collaborate in telling a story through art in a public space.

The morning light is pouring through the windows into the airy second story studio space at Cultivate 712 and illuminating tables covered in paper, pencils and a colorful variety of markers. There are heads bowed over sketch books and animated voices discussing how to translate dreams and stories, images and reveries onto the paper in front of them.This is week two of ARTPrenticeship. We’ve hired 10 brilliant and passionate young artists through Prosper Waco and Waco ISD’s internship program, and already we are seeing just how they will fit into this beta test. We’re hearing some clever and intuitive minds open up and share their stories with each other and each of our apprentices has a vision of what Waco is to them. This summer, we’re privileged to hear and see some of that take form.

Among the dreams, there have already been opportunities for our apprentices to hear from local experts in varied fields about what it takes to prepare a site for a mural, how to engage with business owners and entrepreneurs from any line of work, and they’ve learned how to present themselves in a professional manner. Conversations about how artists really get work and support themselves have taken place, and a whole new world is being fleshed out before them. While they’re learning, they’re constantly challenging our team to be our best selves and to grow alongside them. Iron sharpening iron is a metaphor we’ve mentioned to each other more than once as we see dreams meet reality in light of learning new skill. The interaction strengthens all and prepares a great foundation for the work of bringing vision to life.

In my role as project manager, I’m delighting in the same joys I see in my home. This discovery of new concepts, a clarification of old ones, and a deepening of understanding and desire for growth and skill is unfolding right in front of me. Alongside our four mentor artists, I get the privilege of witnessing these young people bravely step up and volunteer their abilities and work hard to learn what all creatives must learn in order to reflect their community and tell their stories; they are learning to listen and to collaborate, and they are sharing their gifts and challenging their weaknesses. We are only at the beginning but what I see before us as we enter our design week, and support them through preparation to paint this mural, is beautiful.

Before the end of this month, all of Waco will see this work take shape as they enter downtown for work or pleasure, and visitors to our city will join us in witnessing the beginning of what I hope is a work with great future here. In the morning light, Monday through Thursday, these young people have committed to putting paint on walls and discipling themselves to follow technique that will create a quality work that will move us all. In the same way our mentors and staff are holding and sustaining these young creatives, I can feel our community gathering around to do the same from all directions. Each day our team remarks to one another, “it’s been a great day, and it’s only going to get better”. And that is what moves me: seeing each other, connecting and growing together, getting better, bringing color to the world around us and remembering why we are all here. Thanks for nurturing us.