“ALMA taught me to be a proud woman of color, to collaborate, to communicate, just gave me a sense of pride in my community.”

Every summer for the past five years, 21-year-old Jacquelyn Yepa has helped create public art mosaics across the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with Apprenticeships for Leaders in Mosaic Arts (ALMA).

“I was curious to see what it was like to do art as a summer job and was excited to have more experience with clay and what it takes to make a mural on a large scale,” she said. Along with learning art, the program taught him life skills, such as finances, communication, and how to promote himself as an artist.

“At first I was very shy, and over the years I’ve learned to be more verbal and to give good presentations,” says Yepa, now a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. , preparing for a degree in the studio. arts, business and entrepreneurship. “My goal is to build myself as an artist and take the ideas I have and turn them into reality. I want to do animations and claymations for young native people, and use the skills I’ve learned with ALMA and lead Indigenous youth in arts events to uplift young artists.

ALMA was founded in 1999 as a municipal program called the Mayor’s Art Institute. In 2015, the organization became a non-profit association. CDFI based in Albuquerque The Loan Fund served as a fiscal sponsor for ALMA and provided lines of credit.

the ALMA Summer Institute is a paid apprenticeship for youth ages 16-24 to create permanent handmade tile mosaic murals in Albuquerque’s public spaces. Students help finalize designs, handcraft tiles and install mosaics. They also learn skills, such as applying and interviewing, which will help them in their future endeavours.

“Apprentices work alongside a master artist and it teaches them, but also pays them for their work and gives them training in all of these transferable skills,” explains Vanessa Alvarado, Principal Artist and Director of Outreach at ALMA. She started as an apprentice with the program in 2006.

“IIt’s really deep mentorship,” she says. “While creating this public art for our community, it brings a lot of beautification to our community, but a sense of pride for young people and gives them hope for a career in the arts.”

This summer, the group began work on a multi-year project at Vallee d’Or National Wildlife Reserve. Several years in the making, the project began with a series of community conversations, says Margarita Paz-Pedro, ALMA’s director of operations and lead artist. The mural design centers around the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west), the four seasons, and the local wildlife that coincides with the seasons.

Two butterfly murals have been completed and work will continue over the next two summers, she said. Most of the tiles in the mosaic were made in a community tile workshop. “We invited the community to come and make a leaf for our butterfly, and our apprentices placed and installed them,” says Paz-Pedro, who joined ALMA in 2009 as a part-time artist and also works as a teacher of art. art in high school. .

Locations usually inspire mosaic designs, she explains. A mural at the Albuquerque Convention Center visually tells stories from New Mexico’s history. A mural in a public library centers on the state’s literary and oral history traditions.

“It’s about honoring the communities that live here,” says Alvarado, adding that she’s learned a lot from her time as an ALMA apprentice and in her leadership role, which she’s exercised in her career as a high school art teacher.

“It’s really hard to talk about the program without going on because it’s the love of my life,” she says. “It taught me to be a proud woman of color, to collaborate, to communicate, it all gave me a sense of pride in my community. It taught me to be a teacher, to be a better human being and to value many perspectives and places where people come from.

Alvarado and Paz-Pedro say they appreciate the opportunity to bring beautiful public art to the city that will exist for generations.

“I appreciate public art in the city because I feel like there’s a sense of pride in the community when there’s art and resources placed there,” says Alvarado. . “Our organization really appreciates the input of the community. And, because young people in our community created these murals, there is a sense of belonging.

This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lens of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is generously supported by Partners for the Common Good. Sign up for PCG’s CapNexus newsletter at capnexus.org.

Erica Sweeney is a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, AR. She covers health, wellness, business and more. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Good Housekeeping, HuffPost, Parade, Money, Insider and more.

Follow Erica