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AIMing to cultivate creative thinkers across the state through art

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  • "My favorite thing about art is how you can express yourself through it." The @ncartmuseum is partnering with local mentors to bring the arts to students that don't have a program in their middle schools.
  • This program from the @ncartmuseum is connecting mentors with students for after-school art programs, and for these Roper, N.C. students, that means creating something beautiful for the community.

“I think that’s why I’m still living today, because I’ve gotten so much from young people,” Jimmie Sutton says as he looks over to his students singing “Happy Birthday” to a friend and drawing in their sketch books.

Sutton is an artist from Roper, North Carolina and has taught art for over 40 years in Washington County and the neighboring school district.

Jimmie Sutton with student Berlanda Godineaux at NCMA’s AIM program in Roper, N.C. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

After retiring, he continued with his own art full-time but was pulled back into working with students when the Artist Innovation Mentorship (AIM) program from the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) was looking to start something in his hometown.

According to the NCMA, AIM is an initiative designed to connect artists from eastern North Carolina communities with local youth for after-school programs. The programs are intended to last six weeks and will be taking place in multiple counties around the region.

For Washington County, AIM focused its efforts on sixth graders who do not have an art program at their middle school. In choosing a mentor for the program, the NCMA met with community members to learn about local artists. The selection group was made up of members from Washington County Middle School, the Washington County Board of Education, and the The North Carolina Arts Council.

“We really are co-creating these programs with each community that we enter, and so that (the mentor selection) is appropriate for each location”

Angela Lombardi, director of outreach and audience engagement at NCMA

Angela Lombardi, director of outreach and audience engagement at NCMA, said “the museum feels really strongly about increasing access to creative expression, no matter where it is.” She believes art can help students understand that there are creative solutions to a lot of problems, and while it gives an avenue for self expression, it also helps develop social emotional learning tools.

The program is currently focusing on Eastern North Carolina, but the museum plans on expanding to other regions and hopes AIM cultivates creative thinkers across the state.

Sutton had worked previously on a mural for the Washington County African American Museum and Cultural Arts Center. For Washington County’s AIM program, its owners allowed the students to continue beautifying the building. NCMA rented the space inside for the group to meet for two, six-week sessions.

These are some of the Washington County Middle School students who participated in AIM, showing off their masterpieces and sharing their stories.

Tayah Simpson

Tayah Simpson and all her friends who joined AIM are going to be in seventh grade next year at Washington County Middle School. Her favorite thing about painting the mural was the tips she learned from Sutton. He showed her how to make her original ideas and thoughts less cartoon-ish and more realistic. Her part of the mural depicts downtown Roper. She says, “My favorite thing about art is how you can express yourself through it.” Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Andre McKleny

Andre McKleny took on the role of assistant to the painter. He would help by getting his fellow students new brushes, more water, and aid when they needed a break. “I just asked if they needed help and see what I can do for them,” he says. He loves art, and he is also really interested in science and becoming a firefighter. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Chayce Hunt-Blalock

Chayce Hunt-Blalock likes to use his imagination when drawing. This is a sketch of what he calls a “wacky boat.” It has a flower for a propeller, the boat sits on a raft, and at the helm, the steering wheel is attached to a ballot box. He also used his time at AIM to keep sketching his own super hero. His super hero lives on Planet Extraordinaire. He is still coming up with the storyline. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Gloria Webb

Gloria Webb spent her time at AIM as an assistant to her friends. She likes painting, seeing the different colors they worked with, and thinking about the community while making the mural. The community to her is made up of nice people, playgrounds, and places around her hometown. She learned about blending and mixing paint colors during her time at this after-school program. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Berlanda Godineaux

Berlanda Godineaux likes AIM because she wanted to know how it felt to be in an art class. Her piece of the mural depicts a sunset. She drew this because it reminds her of going out with her family and watching the sun go down over the water. Godineaux likes drawing other natural things too, and wants to keep painting and make it a habit. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Janiysia Armstrong

Janiysia Armstrong likes going to school and really likes drawing different designs and places. She joined AIM because her friends had fun and told her about it, so she signed up too. She was in charge of framing the piece and painted leaves at each end of the mural with the help of Sutton. She also helped her friends if they needed assistance on their drawings. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
And this is the person who allowed a space for students and mentor to meet, Rosa Brown. Brown and her husband purchased this building last year to create the Washington County African American Museum and Cultural Arts Center. She started researching her own family history and believed there was a lot more others would want to contribute to such a museum. The building has enough space for the community to use for programs such as AIM, and she is happy to have the kids there. Caroline Parker/EducationNC
Caroline Parker

Caroline Parker is the director of rural storytelling and strategy for EducationNC. She covers the stories of rural North Carolina, the arts, STEM education and nutrition.