YA/YA's Young Apprentices


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In a colorful Baronne Street studio, YA/YA students work on projects for the organization’s summer fundraiser. Painted table and chair sets, clocks and jackets lie scattered around the room. One student sands a chair while sitting on a white couch decked out in colorful graffiti art. Ronnie Dents, an entry level artist in the program, is almost done painting the lips of a Mardi Gras mask on a chair. He looks around the large room and smiles, shaking his head at two other students by the window.


The students, New Orleans Center for Science and Math junior Avery Matthews and sophomore Jourdan Barnes are both laughing as Barnes picks Matthews up and squeezes her, his wet paintbrush just centimeters away from her clothes. Barnes’ last artwork for the fundraiser, a painted patio umbrella, is a few feet away from all the kicking and poking. Other students laugh at them. A student turns on a radio, and Lil’ Wayne blasts through the speakers.


“It’s a cool place to come and just chill. It’s kind of a family. Music is always playing...but at the same time you have to be able to come in and put in work,” Dents says.


For aspiring artists in area schools, Young Aspirations/Young Artists (YA/YA) offers skill development and guidance from art professionals as well as essential business training for careers in arts fields. Since its founding in 1988, the program has helped young artists learn the ropes of the arts business through projects within the community, nationally and even internationally. YA/YA also helps its artists gain commissions for original work, showing youth that the “starving artist” stereotype doesn’t have to be a reality for them.


This approach is what sets YA/YA apart from other arts programs such as the one at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), says Rondell Crier, YA/YA creative director and a program alumnus.


“Sometimes people compare YA/YA to NOCCA. I think NOCCA has more of a school setting, where it’s more a course outline that all the students have to follow,” he says.


“But at YA/YA there can be moments when it’s a team effort to work on a mural, but then there is that one student working on a commissioned work that only he has, and someone else may be making their own piece of artwork that’s not tied to a client at all. It’s that energy, it’s always different. And then the economic benefit — artists are paid for the work they do at YA/YA,” Crier says.


Pay for work can range anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the total price, says YA/YA Executive Director Stella Baty Landis. Artists may receive commissions from individuals or organizations within the city. They also may travel nationally and internationally through an initiative that students say is one of the best parts about working with YA/YA.


“What really stands out is that (YA/YA) helps us go to different countries,” Barnes says. “I did a project with (the artist) Jackie Sumell in Ireland last year, and we got to go over there for two and a half weeks.”


Workshops like these, where students meet with nationally known professionals in arts-related fields, give students networking opportunities that allow for quicker entry into arts professions upon graduation. Projects include YA/YA’s recent contribution to the city’s bid proposal for the Super Bowl 2013. Students designed logos for the bid proposal.


Barnes has been with YA/YA for two years and is considered an apprentice artist. Although the program takes students anywhere in age from 14 to 25, different opportunities are available for artists based on age, seniority in the program and skill.


“The ranges of artist levels are entry-level, apprentice, guild, and after high school the guild members are called senior guild,” Crier says.


Senior guild members have an opportunity to complete what an arts residency with YA/YA, he says.


“(Senior guild members) can come in and have a meeting, submit a proposal to YA/YA for a specific project. Mainly we support them by supplying the materials, and possibly an event location for the residency’s culminating event.”


Through opportunities like this, senior YA/YA artists learn how to market their skills and to potential clients.


YA/YA also has many opportunities for artists to give back to the community through mentoring. Urban Heroes, an initiative that sends program artists and alumni to area schools for in-school and after-school workshops, draws many new artists into the program annually. Barnes and Dents both became YA/YA artists through the Urban Heroes program. The program reaches more than 600 students annually, says Megg Lamb Gillette, YA/YA operations manager.


With the training students receive at YA/YA, they have more insight into their artistic futures. Dents, who is majoring in graphic design at University of New Orleans, says that now he knows how to use his skills for financial gain.


“With art, I can always do this on the side — I can always have a  hustle,” Dents says. “I may not be working with a payment schedule right away, but I don’t even really need to have a steady job and (my art) would keep money coming in.”


Barnes sees more opportunities for expanding his talent to different careers.


“I’ve always thought that art would be something I could do as a hobby,” Barnes says. “But coming to YA/YA, I can see that even though I wouldn’t want to pursue art as a major career, I think that I could incorporate it into the profession I really want.” — Jessica Williams



YA/YA’s “Just Say YA/YA!” fundraiser is 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, July 23. It features a sale of work by 15 current students and alumni. Liberty’s Kitchen and Cochon will provide food for the event. Attendees can also meet with students and learn about commission opportunities. Tickets are $30. Call 529-3306 for further information.



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