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Talent Agency Grooms Artistic Teens for Success
David Gebremichael is one of a group of teens who, surprisingly during the summer, get themselves out of bed early and down to the Nancy Cantor Warehouse on West Fayette Street in Syracuse by 9 a.m. four days a week.
Gebremichael isn’t getting paid to be there. He’s one of 24 students at the Talent Agency, a nonprofit program that works with visually creative youth to help them develop their art skills and create portfolios of their work.
“I got lost finding this place the first time,” Gebremichael says, “but I’m glad I found it. I like it here.”
Yvonne Buchanan, one of the Talent Agency’s co-founders and an associate professor of art in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), says Gebremichael is very talented. He was connected with the program through his guidance counselor at Corcoran High School in the Syracuse City School District, which Buchanan says is a common way to find out about the program.
Most, but not all, of the students are economically disadvantaged. “We don’t ask about the kids’ status, but we try to reach those who couldn’t pay for these lessons,” Buchanan says. “We have grants to serve underprivileged kids.” Almost all of the students come from the Syracuse school district, with a few from Liverpool and Solvay sprinkled in.
And not all are high school students. A handful attend Onondaga Community College, and a few are out of school and working.
The Talent Agency started seven summers ago, at the time running out of the sculpture studio of the other co-founder, Dorene Quinn, then an adjunct professor in VPA. They found that the students lost momentum if they didn’t keep going, so they started running the program year-round, though the summer program is the most intensive. A grant from then-Chancellor Nancy Cantor helped the program get on its feet. It is still housed in the community space at the Warehouse.
The summer program runs Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. The mornings are spent drawing; then, after lunch, come classes in concentrations, such as painting, photography, 3D art, digital art and sculpture.
The program helps students develop not only their artistic skills but also a portfolio of work that can be used for college admission applications. Eleven students from the program have gone on to attend Syracuse University in arts, design, film or other creative programs.
Buchanan, a studio artist, and Quinn oversee the undergraduate and graduate students from VPA who teach in the program. Many of them come back for several years to burnish their teaching credentials.
“We attract students who are interested in teaching,” Buchanan says. “Some of them even want to start something like this in their own hometowns.” She adds that Talent Agency teachers also get student images for use in their own portfolios.
Prospective teachers are interviewed and must come up with a course syllabus, but they aren’t required to have previous teaching experience.
Taro Takizawa ’17, started teaching at the Talent Agency while earning an M.F.A. in printmaking because “as an artist, you always need another source of income. I’m teaching drawing instead of printmaking, but I always feel like I’m learning a lot. It’s really refreshing.”
Growing up in Iran, teaching was always a dream for Asal Andarzipour ’17, so she got involved with the Talent Agency during the first semester of the M.F.A. program in collaborative design in 2015. “It was challenging because at the time I was struggling with the language, but soon I started to like it,” she says. Now she is assistant director of the program as well as drawing instructor.
Syrian artist Nada Odeh is pursuing an M.A. in museum studies and directing the Talent Agency program for the summer. When she came to the University, she searched for ways to support student artists, starting at the Everson Museum before she heard about the Talent Agency. “I’m so happy to help the students in any way I can,” she says.
LaNia Roberts says the students think she is teaching them, but in fact, it is they who are teaching her. This summer is the first term teaching in the program for the senior painting major, and she is finding it “incredible.”
Roberts says one student started out claiming he didn’t like art, but she impressed on him that it was all about attitude. “He made incredible progress in just a week,” she says, adding that, while she doesn’t want teaching to be her whole life, she always wants it to be part of her life.
Gebremichael, a rising high school junior, thinks he might want to be an engineer, but says he wants to continue in the Talent Agency program anyway. “Art can help with everything. Art can make your life better,” he proclaims.