Dwight Stuart Youth Fund grant equips creative kids with artist mentors

Saturday High student Kari Davis

Saturday High student Kari Davis

How can a good mentor change the way a young artist sees the world—and herself?  Just ask Kari Davis. The 12th grader and Saturday High student was recently paired with film instructor and Art Center alumnus Chris Gehl as part of Art Center’s Public Programs Mentoring Program, which helps teens hone their personal creative vision and learn about opportunities for college and jobs in the arts.

“Having Chris as a mentor is like having an art-focused sensei master giving you his undivided attention and support,” she says. “Every meeting is a field trip and a lesson. I feel like everyone at Saturday High is cheering me on and cares about my success not only as a filmmaker, but also as a person.”

A recent grant from the Dwight Stuart Youth Fund is helping to bring Art Center’s Saturday High and Art Center for Kids classes to students with creative prowess and financial need. Additionally, the grant is funding mentorship opportunities between Saturday High students and Public Programs faculty. The Fund is providing support for student scholarships and stipends for mentors. It is also the first non-College group to fund such activities as field trips to Art Center’s Hillside Campus and the publication of Voices, Public Programs’ annual collection of original Mentoring Program student work.

According to C.C. Ybarra, outreach program manager for Art Center’s Public Programs, “The Dwight Stuart Youth Fund’s grant will enable Public Programs to better reach an untapped community of kids who are creative and resourceful. These are kids who may already spend their days doing things like fixing broken bicycles in creative ways or using their artwork to barter with friends. But they may not realize that there’s an education system that highly values their talents, or that the art world and design industries value it.”

By supporting local children and youth from under-resourced schools, the grant is helping to meet the arts education needs of low-income kids who otherwise would be unable to reap the personal and educational benefits of learning through the arts and design. (Only 16 percent of low-income tweens and teens in California are enrolled in arts or design classes in school.)

This in turn enhances the quality of education for all Saturday High and Art Center for Kids participants.  “When we have students from a variety of backgrounds with a range of experiences who are able to see the world in unique ways, then the students sitting next to them benefit,” says Ybarra. “Everyone is better equipped to walk into the real-world and serve a client, paint a portrait or develop a new water filtration system.”

According to Davis, Public Programs’ instructors (all working industry professionals) provide an educational experience that is quite different from what students are used to. “In the Saturday High program,” she says, “your teacher may have just come from a film set or from a pre-production meeting. The pupil trusts the teacher’s real-world experience, the teacher trusts the student not to waste his or her time, and the lessons and resources never become stagnant.”

Working with industry professionals can offer other valuable insights as well. “Through my Saturday High classes and my mentorship experience with Chris,” Davis says, “I can now see how much the world leans on artists of every kind. Art Center has given me the confidence to pursue my artistic endeavors, and, most importantly, has taught me that my dreams aren’t irrational.”

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