Young artists contribute to local murals through ARTPrenticeship program

Vincent Thomas, one of ARTPrenticeship's artist mentors, meets with his group in their first virtual meeting. Because of the Waco High School and University High School shut down, the program pivoted their usual in-person workshop with virtual sessions. Photo courtesy of Creative Waco.

By Camille Rasor | Arts & Life Editor

More and more, murals have become an iconic piece of Waco culture. All sorts of artists have contributed to the many murals around town, and ever since 2018, local high school artists have been a big contributor to new pieces of art around town.

Each year, Creative Waco carries out a program called ARTPrenticeship, which gives local high school artists the opportunity to develop their artistic talents while getting paid to create a mural on a donated space provided by a local business. This year’s mural will be painting on a new building in East Waco recently purchased by TFNB.

Typically the program is carried out over the summer, but due to the pandemic, Creative Waco was forced to postpone the program until a plan could be made to keep everyone involved safe from infection from the novel coronavirus. Stefanie Wheat-Johnson, the director of ARTPrenticeship, said that this year has posed challenges to the program, but they have been excited with what the apprentices have been able to accomplish so far.

Usually, Creative Waco works with Waco Independent School District to recruit potential young artists. Though the program usually takes place over the summer, Wheat-Johnson said those at Waco ISD were more than helpful in encouraging students to apply to the program.

“Once we’ve made our selections we’re able to make the offers and they go through the same process as our creative team does,” Wheat-Johnson said. “They’re given the offer and they’re having to formally accept it so they have that experience. This is not summer camp, this is not high school. This is truly a chance for you to develop as a young professional.”

Maria Duarte Tavera, a senior at University High School and one of this year’s apprentices said she was thankful for the opportunity to make an impact on the Waco community.

“This is a great way for me to express myself, and that’s something people and students in high school need they need,” Duarte Tavera said. “They need to figure out how to express themselves and how to find relationships with their community.”

One of the program’s COVID-19 precautions, has included breaking up the apprentices into small groups led by a mentor artist, an adult who has experience as a professional artist. One of these mentors, Vincent Thomas, said he has had a great time so far working with these students and helping them develop their artistic skills.

“It’s honestly been such a huge blessing [to work with the students] because I felt like I would have wished that I would have had the opportunity to do something that was so creative but also career-oriented [in high school],” Thomas said. “This is a program that is preparing these young students to take their career and their art.”

Thomas has been working with Cade Kegerreis, another artist mentor, in developing the design for the final mural. Kegerreis said this opportunity has been an exciting way for the two mentors to work together on an artistic project, as they have wanted to work together on an artistic project for a long time.

“We’ve known each other for years, we’ve always talked about collaborating on a project. It’s really hard to do that until you have the opportunity to do so,” Kegerreis said. “This has just been the perfect timing, perfect opportunity for us to really just dive in and bring all we’ve got to see what we can create. We’re really hoping that this will make a mark for us, but mainly for the community.”

A big part of preparing for the painting the mural includes consulting with the community to create a design for the mural. Wheat-Johnson said Thomas and Kegerreis have been interviewing local Wacoans and business owners in order to create a mural that reflects the community of East Waco.

“We’ve also had a lot of individuals from the community who have been willing to connect with our mural designers,” Wheat-Johnson said. “Both of them have really dug deep into the whole process and have done a lot of social distancing friendly but in-person interviews with community members.”

Though the main project is the mural that will be located at 713 Elm St., the apprentices are also working on individual designs that Wheat-Johnson said will eventually be placed on utility box wraps around the city. Duarte Tavera said these trial designs they are currently working on before they begin painting the mural.

“I’m really excited about, obviously our main design project, but before that they’re having us do mock trials of businesses to see how we would collaborate with each other,” Duarte Tavera said. “And I think even though it’s practice, I’m really excited about our mock trials because that’s showing our raw artistic abilities.”

Thomas, Kegerreis and Wheat-Johnson said they have been impressed with the apprentices and the work they have done so far in the program. They said the level of dedication they have seen from the student artists has been inspiring, even though the project has just begun.

“We’re on week two of the whole process. Despite, or maybe because of 2020 and the pandemic, we have some apprentices who are just so committed and so invested in putting themselves into this program.” Wheat-Johnson said. “It’s been a real delight to connect with them, even across Zoom boxes. We’ve really seen some bravery and some vulnerability from these young people and excitement about getting to create something meaningful.”