Innovative AIM Program Reaches Thousands

In fall 2021 a number of young people in rural communities in eastern North Carolina were meeting artists for the first time, in spaces that were comfortable to them, surrounded by their peers. They might have been at a middle school that didn’t offer art classes, or maybe they hadn’t had an opportunity to make art in a structured environment since kindergarten. The goal of the NCMA Outreach Department was to change that.

The Artist Innovation Mentorship program (AIM) grew out of a desire to serve the creative needs of a middle school audience outside the confines of the school day. We conceived of a six-week residency in which students meet and explore materials with an artist who has worked with NCMA staff to create a new and unique program especially for those participants. These sessions are hosted locally after school and meet twice a week for 90 minutes. All costs are covered by the NCMA AIM program and include artist stipends, materials, transportation costs, and venue rentals if need be. Our goal is to go where the young people are, where they are comfortable, generally within existing programs, such as the Boys and Girls Club, or their base school’s afterschool program. We hope to create low impact on the sites that offer us a space to hold the program and high impact for the artists and youths involved.

This work is led by myself and AIM Program Manager Ashlee Moody. Ashlee comes to this work with a background in creative placemaking, as well as a love for creative community building. We collaborate closely with leaders of Boys and Girls Clubs, art teachers and principals, retired artists, and college-age artists. Our goal is that the artists will come from the same communities as the youths they’ll be teaching in order to create an environment that fosters and respects the unique talents of each community we enter. Rather than import a curriculum that we think is polished and perfect—with no input from those beyond our walls—we work to co-create each six-week residency with the site hosts, the artists, and the young people we engage.

To date we have offered paid artist residencies to 12 artists in eight counties, for small class–size residencies, reaching more than 170 youths. Over the next few months, we will be adding residencies in four new counties at six new sites, working with new and returning regional artists. 

When we work with a site, we understand that we will be impacting more than the students in the workshops. We want the whole community to be inspired by the work of these young artists, and we always look for opportunities for their artwork to be shown, whether in a street fair or an all-county art night. In this way we estimate the AIM program has touched the lives of at least 5,000 North Carolinians since it began.

Through generous funding by The Anonymous Trust, First Citizens Bank, and the State’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, we’ve been able to create a program that brings the joy, healing, exploration, and free expression of hands-on artmaking to an audience that has largely not been afforded access to the resources of the NCMA—until now. We seek to continue this work over the next three years, reaching new areas of the state, meeting new artists, and bringing the love of art to as many young people as we can!

To see our work in action and hear from the AIM students and artists themselves, check out this short film, AIM: Outside the Lines. We were fortunate to have the first year of the program documented by Aaron Thaddeus of Two Dots Studio

Angela Lombardi
Angela Lombardi is director of outreach and audience engagement at the NCMA.

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