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These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

New Mentorship Program Aims To Boost Charlotte's Next Generation Of Artists

Andrew "Donovan" Valdivia

Dyair Steele is an accomplished artist in Charlotte.

Over the years, he’s built a portfolio of illustrations, paintings and portrait work. Recently, he’s become known for his murals, too. A Black Lives Matter mural he painted on a plywood board uptown during last summer’s protests was purchased by the Mint Museum for its permanent collection, and his upcoming projects include a mural for the Interstate 77 underpass into Historic West End and a colorful makeover of nearby bus stops.

But there’s a lot about being an artist that he didn’t learn through formal education — specifically the ins and outs of what he calls the “business side” of art. And as an art teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, he sees a need for budding creatives to learn those skills early.

“From my experience in undergrad and as a teacher, we teach the foundations of art. We teach art history. We teach methods and techniques and those types of things,” Steele said. “But when it comes down to the business side of it, I never felt like I got that from undergraduate school or really my master’s program, and I know that I was slightly unprepared for that world.”

Now he’s part of a plan to remedy that in Charlotte. Steele is one of 10 successful local artists who have spent the last several months designing Project Protégé, which seeks to pair five 18- to 23-year-old creatives with monitors for a 10-week program that will help them gain skills to manage their careers.

So while art will certainly be created during the program, Steele says there’s also going to be a major focus on things like writing artist statements and bios, learning how to price work, applying for grants and other business aspects that might help proteges get a jump start on successful careers.

“They can kind of hit the ground running, and they’ll have these tools in their tool belt and won’t have to really figure it out as they go along,” Steele said.

A team of established Charlotte artists is guiding Project Protégé's curriculum.
Project Protégé
A team of established Charlotte artists is guiding Project Protégé's curriculum.

The program doesn’t begin until January, but the project officially launched Monday and is now taking applications for both mentors and proteges. One big thing: Both mentors and proteges will be paid for their time.

“We are really committed to paying creatives for what they do,” said Dana Endsley, an artist and filmmaker with the nonprofit AboutFace CLT who is co-chairing Project Protégé. “The model seems to often be that creatives sort of expect they're not going to get paid, and creatives have had to fight to get paid, and they get underpaid.”

Project Protégé’s pilot year is funded through the Foundation For The Carolinas’ Reemprise Fund.

Endsley says she and co-chair Scott Gardner, an established photographer and filmmaker also on AboutFace CLT, wanted to move the spotlight toward “helping a younger, more diverse group of artists” in Charlotte when an opportunity came up last year to launch a new project. That’s how Project Protégé got started.

“We do everything in a socially conscious based way, so we really wanted to lift up and bring along the next generation of socially conscious artists,” Endsley said.

There won’t be a specific location for the program — just mentors and proteges meeting where they see fit and visiting places like art galleries and museums. There will, however, be a three-day boot camp to kick things off and a closing event that will require everyone to get together — at sites yet to be determined.

At the boot camp, participants will winnow down a list of topics until they decide on one overarching theme for their work. Then, throughout the course of the program, proteges and mentors will work together on individual works of art that fit the theme — all in preparation for a two-day public showcase.

“Because we're going across all genres of art, it could be an installation, it could be a mural, it could be a spoken word piece, it could be a piece of music,” Endsley said. “All those things will be presented and displayed as one show and one body of work.”

Of course, a major goal of the project is that artists will continue to bloom after the final showcase. And Steele, at least, hopes many of the proteges will do their blooming in Charlotte.

“I think we have lost a little bit of our history along the way in preserving certain things, so I think that the arts are a way to actually bring some of that culture back into such a growing new city and to honor the past,” Steele said. “So I hope that programs like this will actually allow for more murals, for more sculptures, installations, more art programs and art galleries, because I want people when they come to Charlotte to think about Charlotte as a place that is very supportive of the arts."

“It hasn't always been that, but is turning slowly into that.”

Applications are now open for mentors, through Aug. 30, and for proteges through Oct. 11. Proteges need to be 18-23 as of January 2022.

WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry, will keep you in the loop on arts and culture in the Charlotte region.

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Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.