College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) painting major LaNia Roberts ’18 stands before a group of Syracuse area high school students and discusses complementary colors with them. Parked at easels, the students are learning to mix colors and are soon sizing up dimensions for a still life featuring steer horns, a pine cone, a bike tire, a red teddy bear, and more. “Draw first, mix colors, then paint,” Roberts says. “Look, observe, and measure. Plan three steps ahead…”
Welcome to Talent Agency Teen Art Portfolio Development Inc., a pre-college program designed to help young artists from underserved backgrounds harness their talents and create portfolios for college admissions. The initiative, now in its seventh year with support from foundation grants and the Chancellor’s office, also provides SU graduate students and undergraduates the opportunity to work as instructors and enhance their teaching skills. Stroll around the Nancy Cantor Warehouse downtown, where the program is held, and you see art in motion. There is morning drawing instruction on each of the four weekdays of the program, which runs six weeks in the summer and throughout the schoolyear. The 22 participants spend their afternoons focused on a concentration in painting, photography, 3D/sculpture, or digital imagery. Roberts credits a similar program in her native Louisville, Kentucky, for inspiring her to become an artist and now she wants to inspire others. “I have a teacher’s soul,” she says. “I love to teach and enjoy the idea that I might make a difference in these kids’ lives.”
For Talent Agency co-founders Yvonne Buchanan and Dorene Quinn, that shared sense of purpose is important. They look to build the students’ artistic talents from the foundation up, encouraging them to gain confidence in their abilities and explore the myriad offerings of the art world. “Our hopes are that they can demonstrate how creative they are and get scholarships to top art and design programs,” says Buchanan, a VPA studio art professor and video artist. Quinn, a multimedia artist with decades of college teaching experience, says art is the only reason some of the kids will get through school and they want to show them how to succeed. “It’s not for every kid,” she says, “but the kid who’s an artist will just love it and eat it up.”
So far, so good. According to Buchanan, 35 participants have gone on to four-year colleges, including SU, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Parsons School of Design. “I love this program,” says Tania Williams, a senior at the Public Service Leadership Academy at Fowler. “The people are really open and want you to do good.”
Talk to the instructors and that sense of community and elevating artistic expression are evident. Assistant director and drawing instructor Asal Andarzipour G’18, a collaborative design graduate student from Iran, says she wants students to “feel courageous making art.” For director Nada Odeh G’18, a Syrian artist and museum studies graduate student, the program is a way to give back to the Syracuse community that welcomed her and her family. “I want to produce art, but I also want to serve the community and this is the best way I can do it,” she says.
At the Talent Agency’s portfolio presentation and open house in August, self-portraits, paintings, and photographs lined the walls, GIFs danced on a computer screen, ceramic figures occupied pedestals, and a colorfully sculptured rooster caught the eye of many visitors. Also featured was a student-animated video, Exquisite Syracuse, created with visiting artist Gary Schwartz, an award-winning filmmaker and animator. “We’d like to continue building the program,” Buchanan says, “because of the great work that’s being done.”