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‘You’re from here:’ Artist returns home for student program

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  • Accomplished artist, Telvin Wallace, returns to Duplin County to lead the NCMA's Artist Innovation Mentorship program for local students.
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Growing up Telvin Wallace remembers a drawing competition at his school. Students were tasked with sketching their best tiger, the school mascot, and the winning picture would be featured on the cover of the school’s handbook.

Wallace won, and he cites it as one of his first memories of art in school. Walking into Warsaw Elementary in Duplin County today, the halls are decorated with student artwork greeting visitors by the main office. Tigers are still a centerpiece.

Drawing remained a focus for Wallace, now an accomplished interdisciplinary artist whose work has hung in galleries from New York City to Los Angeles. After graduating from James Kenan High School, Wallace attended North Carolina Central University, majoring in visual communications with a focus in studio art. He then headed to the New York Academy of Art, receiving his Master of Fine Arts in painting.

Wallace splits his time between Durham and New York City, and for the next six weeks also his hometown of Warsaw. Wallace is back at his alma mater, with his middle school art teacher Glenwood Bell, leading local students in the Artist Innovation Mentorship (AIM) program.

AIM is an after school outreach program, organized by the North Carolina Museum of Art, that looks to bring more art opportunities to rural school districts. By pairing artists with students, the hope is to cultivate creative growth and thinking beyond the school day.

The program lasts six weeks, meets after school twice a week, and each mentor tailors the program to their specific medium or the interest of the middle school student participants. Now in it’s third year, AIM has reached almost 600 students in 19 counties statewide.

When Wallace learned about AIM, he knew he had to make time for the people in his community. His first art museum experience was a field trip in high school.

While he was naturally talented in art, it was different seeing it in a museum setting. He remembers feeling a bit confused. “My understanding was limited because I had been so far removed from it,” he said of growing up in a rural county.

Photos flatten artwork, said Wallace, while in-person there is an exploration of colors and depth. He looks forward to helping these AIM students create portraits of either themselves or someone they admire, experimenting with color palattes.

Telvin Wallace demonstrating the value scale for AIM student. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

It took going to college and participating in museum internships before graduate school to access a broader art community that helped him create a vision for himself as an artist.

While accessibility to art spaces and representation in his region were a barrier to him, they won’t be to the students in his AIM program. “I don’t want them to limit themselves,” said Wallace. He is talking about art, but also about life.

Monica Wallace, Telvin’s mom, joined his first AIM class at the very end. She walked down from the school library, where she works as the digital learning and media coordinator, and took pictures like every proud mom would. She has been at Duplin County Schools for 22 years.

Telvin Wallace artwork, inspired by his mother. Caroline Parker/EducationNC

Telvin gave his mom one of his pieces, and it hangs proudly in the school library. Monica said the students gave it the name, Amazing Grace. She says she is humbled by the experience of having Telvin back at Warsaw.

“I’m proud of him. I’m proud of the work that he does, and I’m (a) happy, ecstatic mom to see that he’s willing to share with the community his gift. You know, he knows that is a God given talent. And just him being able to share it with our community. You’re from here. So you’re able to show people what can come from our community. That, to me, is a big deal.”

Monica Wallace, digital learning and media coordinator in Duplin County Schools

March is arts and education month. Learn more here.

Editor’s note: This article previously stated Telvin Wallace graduated from Warsaw High School. Wallace graduated from James Kenan High School in Warsaw, NC. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.

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.