An internship program that pairs high school students with local professional artists

Story by Matti Pennington

Photos by Josh McSwain

ARTPrenticeship is a paid internship program that pairs students from Waco ISD with local professional artists. Together, they create works of art throughout Waco that reflect the community’s history, aspirations and beauty.

“The program allows [the apprentices] to work through a creative project from concept to completion,” program director Stefanie Wheat says. “In that, they get to build their professional networking skills; they get to be mentored by local artists and get that one-on-one engagement that can hopefully allow them to see what it is like to have a creative career in our community.”

Wheat has been with the program since Creative Waco brought it to the community in the summer of 2018.

“We partner with local businesses and organizations to create murals,” Wheat says. “They would donate the wall, and we would raise funds in order to pay our artist, our apprentices and cover our supplies.”

The first mural, created back in 2018 is located at Second Street and Jackson Avenue, is called “1000 Hopes for Waco.” The mural is of bright-colored origami cranes transforming into a light blue living crane flying over a dark blue river. The cranes are symbols of a bright and hopeful future for the Waco community.

In 2019, “The Color of Health” and “The Spirit of We” murals were created to reflect the work being done within the historical community. “The Color of Health” was painted on the side of Family Health Center: MLK Jr. Community Clinic, 1911 North M.L.K. Jr. Blvd. The mural combines different themes the apprentices came up with after listening to community leaders share their opinions about the clinic’s neighborhoods. It includes multiple black and white fruits next to a woman surrounded by vibrant colors. “The Spirit of We” is painted on the side of Brotherwell Brewing, 400 East Bridge Street. It is an abstract piece of artwork that includes numerous colors and rhythms.

“We are stronger when we rise together,” lead designer of “The Spirit of We” Richard C. Thomas says. “Together, we grow our families, our businesses, our faith, our quality of life and our community. Every man, woman and child is tied together in our shared destiny. What affects one affects all. We are on the move, and together we shall rise. This is ‘The Spirit of We.’”

The program focused mainly on creating large-scale outdoor murals for the first three years, but it has evolved over time.

“Those first couple of years were a fantastic experience, but we always said that ARTPrenticeship should go across all artistic mediums,” Wheat said. “In 2020, we not only did our largest mural to date for TFNB Your Bank for Life on Elm Avenue, but we also did a film component.”

Four audio film students from Waco ISD partnered with a local film mentor, Andreas Zaloumis, and created a seven-minute short film about the process of putting together the “Tree of Life” located at 715 Elm Avenue.

“That mural was cool to do because I went to school right across the street from that bank, and that place historically has not had banks or places that could give people loans to buy houses and have a place to store their money,” apprentice Tahlia Tran said. “I really enjoyed it because it was my first piece of art that was public where everyone could see it, and you also get to meet a bunch of people who do art professionally.”

The “Tree of Life” mural represents unity in community, wisdom and understanding. The wall is divided into seven panels for the seven days of the week. Vincent Thomas and Cade Kegerreis were the lead designers.

“The film really reflected on the community engagement aspect of the program,” Wheat says. “This year, we are repeating that. We have another mural we are doing but also hiring another four more audiovisual students to create another short film.”

This year the short film will highlight the scope of ARTPrenticeship and what the program is all about.

“It is basically giving them the experience of what it is like to do a long-form commercial or promotional reel,” Wheat says.

Fourteen apprentices are rising juniors and seniors from Waco ISD. Wheat said Creative Waco could jump headfirst into ARTPrenticeship thanks to Waco ISD already having an established summer internship program and helping them with the hiring process.

“We have been very fortunate to have Waco ISD as a partner over these first couple of years as we have grown out the program,” Wheat says. “We are now at a point where we are starting to expand out and look for partners who will help us grow the program so that we can hire from different school districts and even hire students from private schools and home school students.”

This year ARTPrenticeship is partnering with the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute.

“After having a great experience last year, I decided I wanted to be a part of ARTPrenticeship again,” Tran said. “Now we are doing a mural at the Dr Pepper Museum. It is a very similar experience, but every year they add more things, and the program gets stronger.”

Digital and comic book artist Rajesh Solanki became one of the three mentors this year.

“Prior to me being involved, I saw that the Dr Pepper Museum was having artists pitch their designs for a possible mural,” Solanki said. “I submitted a design to be considered, and mine was not ultimately chosen, but Stefanie found me and told me I should apply to be a mentor. The kids are actually executing the winner of the design contest for the Dr Pepper Museums’ mural.”

Since becoming a mentor, Solanki says he wants to be someone his apprentices can reach out to for help on any aspect of life, not only their art.

“It’s really cool working with high school students because you get a mix of those who are super enthusiastic about their art and others who are still working to figure out what their talents are,” Solanki says. “My job is to find out what the best approach to mentor each of them is.”