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Local artists help students explore art as a career

Christin Kay
Aspen Public Radio

The Claudette Carter ARTmentors Program art show opens Friday night, exhibiting the work of three high school students who spent several months shadowing professional artists.


Nancy Lovendahl and Jaden Costello sat in the art room at Basalt High School, Jaden’s sketches spread out across the table.

They discussed her concepts and techniques, and then the conversation moved into how these pieces could be installed at an exhibit.

This seems more like professional-artist territory, but helping a young artist navigate that world is the goal of the program.  

Lovendahl started the mentorship over a decade ago, in honor of her friend and fellow artist Claudette Carter, who died in 2007. Lovendalh wanted to guide high school students through far more than just the fun part...making art. Lovendahl explained, "It’s for their understanding of what this career path looks like, in a more intimate way."

Three students are selected for the mentorship, and they each work with a local artist, preparing to exhibit their work at the Art Base.  But there are lots of steps before they get to the opening.


Lovendahl said, "It's everything from concept to starting to make the work, deciding what challenges the student wants in the work; we write a resume, we apply for a scholarship, we photograph the work, they learn how to greet people at the opening."  

For Jaden Costello, the mentorship has allowed her to develop new skills and express new ideas. She said she’s always loved to draw, but as she grew older, she wanted to go deeper.


"I think it was around the time I got into high school that I really started thinking about what I want my art to say," she said.

Genna Moe, the executive director of the Art Base, said that passion is one thing they look for in potential mentees. But the mentorship is ultimately meant to offer a helping hand. Moe said, "If you’re already in private art classes, and you already have a studio in your home, it sounds like you have the help that you need.  We’re looking for students who this program could make a big impact on. They have the curiosity, they have the talent, but having a mentor could push them even farther.”

Monique Rodriguez was the program’s first mentee 10 years ago. She said if she hadn’t gotten the mentorship, she might not have even studied art.  A lot of people told her that she wouldn’t get a job after college, but she was confident.


"I had done the show with Nancy and I was like, you know what, I’m just going to go with art. And it was the best decision," Rodriguez said.

She credits that push from the program with opening door after door for her.  She attended Willamette College, studied lots of different kinds of art, got a grant to travel to South Africa and got real-world experience as an intern at Salem's art museum.

The mentorship also helped Rodriguez through some lonely times.  Her parents both worked a lot, and she had to take care of her younger siblings.  With Lovendahl's help, art became her outlet. "Nancy’s really good at helping you through that emotional aspect and really pulling you through that, so you can do the work without being broken by it."

Genna Moe said that's the power of the mentorship. "Students go through hardships or have family situations that aren’t great, or have outside circumstances affect their lives, and they’re just so strong and resilient. It’s nice to see art as a way for them to find a voice."

Jaden Costello agreed that this mentorship has been a source of emotional support.  She was homeschooled before she came to Basalt High School, and said it was a difficult adjustment. "I was really shy and I found it hard to get involved in programs and clubs and everything."

She’s gained confidence, which is good, because her work is about to go on display for the public. Lovendahl will be there at the opening, cheering her on from the sidelines. But Lovendahl got a lot out of the mentorship, too. "Jaden reminds me of really what it’s all about.  I really sometimes need to be reminded of that."

Friday night at the opening, attendees will see more than student art.  They’ll see the culmination of the months of support it took to create three confident, professional artists.



Contributor Christin Kay is passionate about the rich variety of arts, cultural experiences and stories in the Roaring Fork Valley. She has been a devotee of public radio her whole life. Christin is a veteran of Aspen Public Radio, serving as producer, reporter and interim news director.
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