Culture Shock: Mosaic Arts Program Leads The Way

Public Art Involves Youth In The Art Community

Monica Schmitt
5 min read
(photo by Eric Williams)
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Public art plays a fundamental role in most communities, from Cloud Gate—commonly referred to as “The Bean”—in Chicago to the Statue of Liberty in New York City, and Albuquerque is no different. Perhaps you’ve visited the Albuquerque Convention Center or wandered the city streets sometime in the past few years and paid particular attention to the colorful tiled mosaics that seem to be multiplying across our Downtown buildings. What you’ve noticed is most likely the work of ALMA, Apprenticeships for Leaders in Mosaic Arts. The organization aims to involve young people in the art community by providing opportunities to design and create stunning mosaics throughout the city. The program is for ages 25 and under and is responsible for the beautiful and delightfully complex tiled designs on various Downtown buildings including the city’s own Convention Center.

Weekly Alibi met with one of this year’s lead apprentices, Karly Grazen, to learn more about her experience with the program, along with the detailed art-making process. After climbing down the metal scaffold where a few young artists stood grouting the center’s most recent addition, she told me about her experience working for ALMA and how it effects both the community of workers and the community of viewers.

Alibi: What inspired you to start working with this program?

Grazen: I had just graduated high school in 2011 and my art teacher pointed me to this job. He knew I always struggled with school so he suggested I go straight to work, and I did. I applied and I didn’t think I was going to get the position, but I was the first pick out of that whole interview train which was really cool. I took to this program; it just clicked with me. I felt like this is what I needed to do. The first year I was an apprentice and the next year I was a lead apprentice so it was a very quick transition. Teaching youth how to do art is a huge passion for me.

What are your responsibilities as a lead apprentice?

We have a lot of responsibilities. We do supervise but we also work so we can show the apprentices how to do what we do. We teach them at a very close level. … We do a lot of one-on-one and a lot of group teaching and example work—really hands-on teaching. The lead apprentice is pretty much the direct route from the lead artist to the apprentice. If the lead artists aren’t available to do hands-on teaching, it’s our job to come in and teach.

Are the lead artists the ones who decide what the mosaics are going to be?

We all [decide] but our leadership team meets throughout the off season [and] we develop a collaborative plan together that’s sometimes six months in the making. We have a rough skeleton of an idea to present to the group when they get there. So we think of our ideas, we have our research and we give our rough presentation of our idea to the group in the beginning and they take it and we all as a group run with it.

Can you talk more about the design process?

We have three weeks in the beginning for design time. We always start with teaching [the apprentices] how to do a scale drawing … we mock up the side of the convention center that we’re working on and we teach them how to do their own scale drawing. We take the rough draft that we have and draw it onto their scale drawings and they make their own interpretation of it, and then we take all those and make another rough interpretation of [it] and then it evolves again and again and again. We split them into groups sometimes and we ask them what parts [of the mosaic] they’re most drawn to and they split into groups based on interest. They get switched around a lot, so no one gets tired of working on one thing. There’s a lot of … fluidity in the way we design everything so that one person isn’t making all the decisions.

What do you value most about this art program?

That everyone is valuable. Everyone gets to have a say, which is really important because it gives the apprentices a sense of ownership. We take everyone’s ideas very seriously and make sure they all provide input. Collaborative work is one of our big things. Even cleaning up at the end of the day is always a collaborative task. We make sure everyone takes initiative to have a successful day at work.

How do the mosaics impact the Albuquerque community? Do you have any specific goals?

The main goal is for the final product to resonate with the community. Hidden meanings is a big theme and it’s amazing when someone does understand them, and totally cool when people want to understand them. Our hope is to create lots and lots of projects all over the city and to get our tile into lots of public places and branch out to working year-round.

photo by Eric Williams

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