“Over one summer you get to know so many incredible people: the staff, the visiting artists and most importantly the apprentices. You learn so much by being a part of this program, things you’d never have another chance to do,” says Maya Ruswinkle, who was an instructor for the Young Artists at Work (YAAW) program last summer.
YAAW is a six-week summer employment opportunity, hosted by The Arts Commission, for Toledo area teens. Teens are paid to learn, connect and create. YAAW is accepting applications for 2023 apprentices until March 17, 2023.
Natalie Gray is the youth services manager at The Arts Commission and 2023 will be her fifth year working with the YAAW program. The program helps young people learn professionalism while doing things they love and exploring careers in the creative industries.
“My personal favorite part about Young Artists at Work is—because I have been here for at least four years, I’ve been able to watch young people grow over their whole high school career and that to me is such a privilege,” Gray said.
What should potential applicants expect?
“If you have never been in Young Artists at Work before and you’re starting in 2023 as an apprentice, expect to work in a college studio setting and be challenged to learn new things and work under a deadline,” Gray says.
Apprentices work 30 hours a week, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Gray describes the day as “two three-hour work blocks with an unpaid lunch hour in the middle. They have an option to get a free lunch through Connecting Kids to Meals.”
Apprentices are split into teams. Each team works together on a project for a community partner. The apprentices then have to create a design and execute the project, pleasing the client, before the summer is over.
“This is not a young artist making something 2D, for themselves, for a teacher or in their sketchbook,” Gray says. “It’s something that they all have to make together and someone has to like it and approve it.”
“Over the 29 years, Young Artists at Work have done projects all over Toledo, and the area in general, including murals, videos, performance pieces. But if you drive around, even downtown you can see some,” she says.
Last summer, the program created a mural on the side of the Libbey Glass outlet, a mural on the United Way building, a mural installation in the Toledo Spain Plaza, a group of ten signal box wraps and an installation for the Art Tatum Zone.
Other recognizable YAAW projects include a mural in The Imagination Station, vinyl window installations downtown and painted street benches.
Andrew Winkler, PHS sophomore, was an apprentice last summer and says he had an amazing time. He was a member of the Peace Park Team led by artist Timothy Leistner. Their mission was to create a mural installation that would represent the themes of peace and healing.
“In between that we had many other projects, like making posters and any type of art piece we wanted to sell,” Winkler said, mentioning the exhibition apprentices participate in at the end of the program.
The exhibition allows apprentices to share what they have been working on with their friends and families.
For the event, young artists make pieces, like paintings, posters, embroidery pieces and others, to sell.
“You learn so much by being a part of this program, things you’d never have another chance to do. Last year we did Pakistani embroidery and glass blowing, the year before we learned how to navigate collaborative art in a pandemic,” says Ruswinkle.
Apprentices learn different techniques, like painting, drawing, fiber arts, embroidery, dancing and much more. In addition to these visual art skills, young people can learn skills that help them mentally and professionally.
“Oftentimes, YAAW is a young creative person’s first job,” Gray says. “So they learn all of the skills that they would learn at any first job—time keeping, punctuality, how to behave at work.”
“It changes every year,” Gray said. “But I think ultimately, the byproduct, you know the secret of the sauce, is that people learn confidence and learn how to communicate better, and to share their ideas and be vulnerable and collaborate on a team.”
“I love seeing [apprentices] form friendship and gain confidence over the few weeks that they’re together. YAAW connects artists to the community and creates this huge network of staff, apprentices and alumni that are always rooting for each other even years later,” Ruswinkle says.
“As long as you are 14 by June 26, you can work for Young Artists at Work this summer,” Gray says.
Students can apply until March 17, 2023, on theartscommission.org.
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