Brave and Daring–Growing Through the Mentorship Program
I joined my scheduled Zoom meeting with Hannah Jeffers the day after my family left. It was a joyful and chaotic visit, their first since I moved to the Bay Area, and now I was filled with a medley of expected emotions: relief, sadness, gratitude. A confusing and daunting acceptance of the newfound distance between us, as their plane touched down in New York.
Meanwhile, on our Zoom call, Hannah and I struggled to see and hear one another due to technical challenges. Nevertheless, we managed to finish the interview, and I was introduced to the amazing story behind the Artist Mentorship Program, which just came to a close in June. Hannah had been managing the program for the past six months.
ARTogether’s Artist Mentorship Program is a six-month program for immigrant and refugee artists based in Oakland. The program was piloted two years ago, when a future mentee reached out to ARTogether and inquired about creating a space of guidance for immigrant artists to further their careers in the Bay Area. As ARTogether looked into funding and gauged public interest, it became clear that many artists were craving this same opportunity.
Last year, ARTogether, in partnership with another amazing organization, Oakland Art Murmur, was awarded a grant from the City of Oakland Cultural Funding Program to establish the first cohort of mentors and mentees.
Currently, the program is structured around six one-on-one monthly meetings with an assigned mentor, as well as six gatherings with artists and art professionals, including three professional development opportunities (grant writing, portfolio review, and a marketing workshop), and some financial support.
The mentees themselves are all up-and-coming artists who are then paired with a mentor based on their goals and common experiences. Hannah, the program’s project coordinator, shared with me, “[The program] is about the individual artist. So we really look at who they are when we pair them with a mentor.” She later added, “It’s amazing to see the mentors and mentees connect and build together. By the end, I would hear things from the mentees like, ‘Oh, I finally finished my artist’s statement!’ or ‘I finally know what I want to do with my art!’”
Additionally, many of the mentees greatly appreciated the workshop on grant writing, led by Hope Mohr of Hope Mohr Dance. Hannah explained, “Since many of these artists don’t speak English as their first language, grant writing can be very daunting. But the workshop inspired many of them to go out there and fill out the applications.” This sentiment of newfound inspiration is reflected in the feedback ARTogether received as well. One mentee shared,
“… I really feel like I am gaining understanding about my goals, my visions and what I need to do next to obtain them! Also, I started writing my artist statement 3 years ago and I now feel like it is where I want it to be thanks to everyone’s input. Which is kind of a big deal because it was such a daunting task in the beginning. It feels really empowering to define and pinpoint exactly what it is that I want to represent.”
When I asked Hannah about the program’s challenges, she responded,
“One of the greatest challenges was COVID actually, and providing participants with a way to connect in person.” While in-person meetings picked up towards the end of the program, one amazing opportunity shared with both the mentors and mentees was the chance to have their headshots taken by ARTogether’s photographer, Sarah Dawson McClean. Hannah later sent me these photographs, and as I clicked through them on my laptop, I was struck by the different ways the mentor and mentee pairs posed for the camera. Sometimes they were together, sometimes apart, sometimes with their own creations, and sometimes with the sea or the trunks of Redwood Trees. Seeing this reminded me that art cannot be made without people, whether it’s the power we draw from within ourselves or from the people who inspire and encourage us. This, I believe, is the essence of the Artist Mentorship Program.
In the end-of-program survey, one mentee shared, “… [my mentor] was so extremely inspiring, his curatorial projects are impressive as well as his sense of community. He gave my cohort some amazing advice on how to present ourselves and our work in the most meaningful ways. Gave me so much to think about, and I just wanted to go straight to my studio and do more work, not any kind of work but be brave, daring… something I lost a bit during my immigration and reintegration process.”
Since the program’s end, many of the mentees and mentors have vowed to stay in touch, and there are even rumors of a mentorship program party in the works. Hearing this, I can’t help but feel second-hand excitement for the program’s participants, especially after their struggles to come together in-person. It’s as if a whole new chapter of the program has miraculously come into being.
ARTogether is currently looking for funding to continue the Artist Mentorship Program and to hopefully open up the program to artists outside of Oakland as well.
Emma Grover is a freelance writer from New York City who recently moved to the Bay Area after completing her degree in English and Creative Writing at Wesleyan University. She is passionate about the healing powers of written and artistic expression as well as highlighting the voices of underrepresented and diasporic writers like herself. She has a background in non-profit work and education.
Participants in ARTogether’s first Mentorship Program (January- June 2022)
Mentees: Sunroop Kaur, Jawn Wilson, Etty Alberto, Rene Revolorio Keith, Linah Sofi, Anita Sulimanovic, Juliana Mendonca, Sen Mendez, Ariam Weldeab Araya, Alisson Gothz
Marketing Workshop: Ari Takata-Vasquez
Grant Writing Workshop: Hope Mohr
Photographer: Sarah Dawson McClean
Oakland Art Murmur: Jean Marie Durant, Loretta Nguyen