Arts & Media


Mentorship in Arts and Media Education


Today, arts and media studies often compose part of an academic institution’s core curricula. In spite of its newly-formalized study, however, the learning processes bound to artistic production differ from those associated with less tactile subjects. In this chapter, we examine instances in which art educators realized their need to act as a mentor instead of a teacher, and in turn, developed innovative ways to guide emerging artists within the confines of an academic institution. Furthermore, contributing authors reflect the distinct mentoring approaches that are accorded between the following specific forms of artistic production: visual art (painting, drawing, and sculpture) performing art (theatre and dance), and written art (screenwriting, creative writing, and poetry). The chapter concludes with a list of successful mentoring programs in each field of artistic production, and provides links to each of the programs’ websites and applications.


Table of Contents


Mentoring Relationships in the Arts: Challenges and Solutions

Barry W. Sweeny: International Mentoring Association Director Emeritus

Kelly Kailer (Editor)


Mentoring Initiatives in the Arts: An Annotated List




Mentoring Relationships in the Arts: Challenges and Solutions

Barry W. Sweeny: International Mentoring Association Director Emeritus

Kelly Kailer (Editor)


Mentoring relationships have been key elements in the continuity of artistic production since ancient times. Arts and crafts guilds, for example, often assigned an emerging artist to act as an apprentice to an expert artist. The expert, or ‘master’ would teach, coach and guide an apprentice to develop necessary skills and knowledge that would ensure artistic success.


Drawing from my experiences as an art educator, I propose that mentoring relationships continue to play a crucial role in the perpetuation of artistic production and mastery. Furthermore, I suggest that contemporary mentoring relationships in the arts glean unique challenges that necessitate specific practices. Throughout my 22-year career, I have found that such challenges are consistently precipitated by common characteristics among protégé artists; a preference to work uninterrupted for an extended period of time, a desire for isolation during creative processes, and a need for nonverbal communication often make it difficult to provide young artists with proper guidance. Additionally, my experiences working in a variety of interrelated arts programs have led me to believe that particular areas of art-related study, such as musical art, visual art, or theatre art, require program-specific working environments. In turn, a successful mentor in the arts should aim to guide a protégé though a respect for the boundaries that are set forth by creative dispositions and distinct processes.


Prior to assessing the needs of an artistic protégé, it is necessary to arrange mentoring relationships that reflect a combination of different working processes. When a mentor is paired with a protégé according to matching methodology or educational philosophy, the mentor and the protégé often think in an identical manner and maintain a narrow canvass of thought; when a problem arises, it is likely that they have each contributed to it and do not have the means to resolve it. Alternately, when mentors and protégés differ in creative approaches they are able to quickly identify solutions and develop new problem-solving skills together.


While it is important for a mentoring relationship in the arts to embody contrasting creative approaches, it is also necessary for the relationship to reflect shared working conditions. An ideal relationship, for example, should match mentors and protégés according to geographic proximity, daily schedule, and task: Proximity facilitates frequent interaction and integrates quick, informal mentoring; shared daily schedules allow mentors and protégés to meet on a regular basis during a common lunch period or work shift; collective tasks prompt mentors to help protégés improve job-related skills and work-related concepts.


In addition to maintaining shared working conditions, a mentoring relationship in the arts should anticipate challenges prompted by typical characteristics among artists. An artist’s tendency to work uninterrupted for an extended amount of time, for example, can make the integration of mentoring difficult. It is important, however, to acknowledge this practice as crucial to an artist’s contemplation and immersion in the creative process. During this stage, supervision is not only perceived as an inhibiting evaluation of what an artist is not doing, it is also recognized as threatening to the relationship between an artist and their work.


Rather than interrupt an artist during the stage of immersion, a mentor should provide a protégé with extended time to reflect upon her or his impressions during immersion and, in turn, ask the protégé to disclose a verbal self-assessment in a group setting. The utilization of this process prompts the relationship to integrate internal and external events, effectively allowing it to act as a microcosm for the inevitable dialogue between artistic production and societal audiences.


A second challenge exists in an artist’s preference to work in complete isolation during critical stages of the creative process—when the artist engages in deep thought and seeks purposeful relationships and patterns among different phenomena. This stage, although similar to an artist’s initial, uninterrupted immersion in a project, serves a more transitional function and suspends complex, interconnected relationships while constructing organic, creative solutions. Not only does this task pertain to the artistic process, it embodies the configuration of human relationships as well. Following a protégé’s period of isolated work, a mentor should facilitate a discussion in which the protégé shares recent creative solutions and compares them to interpersonal partnerships. The analysis of artistic vision in terms of human communication provides protégés with an ability to extend their solitary experience to a larger, more social context, and allow their personal artistic visions to foster conversations within communities.

A third challenge for mentoring relationships in the arts resides in an artist’s preference for nonverbal communication. Not only does this characteristic make it difficult for protégés to articulate obstacles they may encounter during skill development, but it also hinders a mentor’s ability to specify potential solutions or methods. Generally speaking, mentors function at a high level of cognitive awareness and are ‘unconsciously skilled.’ In the field of art, mentors are high-performing artists with a mastery of certain skills, and are able to subconsciously mitigate creative problems—when an artist is functioning at this level, cognitive thought is allocated to execute more complex tasks than those physically apparent in artistic production. A protégé, for example, may see a mentor perform certain tasks and want to ask questions about the process involved.  However, because the activity has been integrated into the mentor’s daily routine, the mentor must consciously unpack her or his subconscious actions and explain them to the protégé. Before knowledge, skills and insights can be shared with their protégés, mentors in the arts must develop an ability to deconstruct their creative intuition and articulate their actions—they must forcibly transfer a habitual routine to a conscious state of mind. In this regard, artistic mentors are able to simultaneously offer guidance, acquire new skills, and achieve a better understanding of their own process.

After developing skills that respond to the disposition of an artistic protégé, a mentor should attend to the characteristics of the protégé’s program. The production of visual arts, for example, often relies on the effort of a single person working consistently in isolation. Even in formal teaching settings, where teachers continually critique student work, interruption is infrequent and often difficult. This inclination toward isolation tends to exaggerate the aforementioned challenges in a mentoring context, and requires a mentor to exercise an extreme sensitivity to a protégé’s need for space and solitude. Mentoring should only take place after working session, and should not involve direct observation of the protégé during her or his working process.


Like visual art, music warrants isolated work. Alternately, in addition to requiring individual practice, music often relies on the incorporation of collaborative working environments, and therefore does not require mentors to arrange formal meetings. In ensembles, orchestras, and choirs, for example, musicians apply their talents toward a collaborative effort and actively study and respond to each other’s creative process—such a scenario allows more experienced musicians to offer guidance to emerging musicians through a shared working process.


When a musical collaboration performs a piece, the composer of the piece is recognized as the most creative individual within the group. The composer’s singular importance resides in her or his ability to synthesize feelings into a notated plan for a musical group to follow. The musicians, in turn, not only interact through shared notes and interactive sounds within a piece, but are united by the artistic vision of the composition. In this way, a composer provides potential mentors and protégés with a mutual agenda, and therefore is crucial to the development of mentoring relationships in musical groups.


Musical compositions and shared goals are also important to the balance of internal and external qualities in mentoring relationships. Like visual artists, composers often work uninterrupted in isolated spaces. When a composer expresses a piece, however, it is through the collaborative and individual efforts of various musicians. By translating an individual experience to a shared creative process, composers are able to reflect upon their introspective work through a shared environment; additionally, musicians able apply their solitary practice to a mutual creative process and receive feedback from other participating musicians.


Music programs, it seems, naturally facilitate ideal environments for mentoring in the arts—the incorporation of internal and external experiences, the assignment of mutual creative goals, and the construction of common working conditions, allow mentoring relationships to effortlessly maintain qualifications that are essential to their success. In turn, mentors in music programs should not concern themselves with arranging conditions that are conducive to mentoring relationships, but rather, should focus on articulating their subconscious actions and intuitive decisions.


Similarly to music programs, theatre and drama programs utilize collaborative processes. Unlike musicians, however, actors work almost exclusively in shared environments. By its very nature, drama seeks to relate challenges prompted by human interaction, and requires the efforts of multiple people— even in a soliloquy, an actor must respond to the parameters of writer’s character, and the discretion of a director. As a result of drama’s inherent collaboration, mentoring relationships and roles in drama programs tend to be easily facilitated.


In drama programs, a person who momentarily stops a rehearsal to offer a suggestion for a scene’s performance assumes the role of mentor; actors, producers, and directors, for example, often exchange mentoring roles multiple times during the creation of a piece. During the mentoring process, it is important for an individual assuming the role of mentor to offer guidance that integrates external, personal experiences to the piece’s overall creative vision. The coordination of internal and shared values, in turn, involves an artist’s application of individual emotional knowledge to the scene’s objective.


Although drama programs easily foster mentoring relationships, the fluidity of mentoring roles can compromise the direction of a theatrical production—without a persistent order of hierarchy, a production’s singular artistic vision and can be compromised. In order to maintain cohesion and allow a variety of mentoring relationships, the director of a production must exist singularly as a formal mentor and encourage informal mentoring relationships among the production’s participants. By establishing these parameters, a director can effectively create a working environment in which participants can exchange support and guidance, as well as respond to a unified, vision and central task.


Regardless of their associated program, it is important for mentors in the arts to maintain confidential, low-risk climates in mentoring relationships. In order to produce innovative ideas, creative processes must involve a series of fearless trials and errors. If a protégé feels intimidated in a working environment, her or his ability to explore a range of solutions is compromised. A mentor should facilitate an exploratory working environment by abstaining from acting didactically— instead of telling a protégé how to do something correctly, a mentor must encourage a protégé to embark on a variety of creative explorations, regardless of result.


In some ways, mentoring and creating are strikingly similar; require a binary balance of intuitive and conscious mindsets in solitary and shared environments. On an intuitive level, for example, artists and mentors work or refer to solitary environments in order to immerse themselves in pivotal moments; on a conscious level, artists and mentors utilize shared spaces to critically examine their work and reflect upon their choices. Mentors in the arts who are able to successfully balance these conditions and dispositions will, in turn, be able to articulate their process and impart such knowledge to emerging artists.





Mentoring Initiatives in the Arts: An Annotated List


A variety of program-specific mentoring initiatives are listed according to the following disciplines:


  1. Dance
  2. Visual Arts
  • Music
  1. Architecture
  2. Creative Writing
  3. Drama and Theater
  • Interdisciplinary


This compilation of programs aims to inspire new initiatives and help protégés locate suitable mentors in the arts. Application and contact information for each program is available through its corresponding link.



  1. Dance

Susan Harvey’s Dance Mentoring Program

  • Aims to provide individual students with a structured progression
  • Helps students develop safe dance practices that enhance and encourage health and well being
  • Helps students develop artistry and promote positive social skills and social integration through collaboration and teamwork
  • Encourages and enhances positive self evaluation
  • Helps students develop a deep understanding of musical form and content.
  • Provides multi-generational students with a range of personal, social, physical, artistic, creative and critical thinking skills.
  • Communicates the art of dance as a prime expression of culture, of heritage, identity and achievement.
  • Encourages the essential imaginative base of all thinking and creativity through choreography


The Julliard School of Music, Dance and Drama Mentoring Program

  • Accepts third-year and fourth-year undergraduate students, as well as graduate students.
  • Invites students to apply with a project that has an expansive-arts learning agenda, or a career-specific goal.
  • Pairs students with faculty mentors who help to shape project direction and connect students with professionals in the surrounding New York City arts community.








  1. Visual Arts

The Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne

  • Encompasses the classical genres of art such as painting, sculpture, graphic art, drawing and photography, and new forms of visual expression such as performance, experimental film and video.
  • Provides funds for a variety of international, curated exhibitions and their accompanying catalogues at publicly accessible, established museums and art collections that are relevant to an art historical perspective.
  • Provides funds for the involvement of modern media in the expansion and presentation of significant art pieces for museum projects.
  • Supports innovative, interactive projects that explore new approaches in art education, and speak to new audiences.
  • Does not award grants for biennials, triennials, art fairs, commercial galleries, local art associations, or art initiatives.


The College Art Association Mentoring Program

  • Arranges mentoring relationships for CAA members during the CAA Annual Conference (please refer to the CAA link for conference dates and membership opportunities).
  • Supports and advances the careers of art professionals at each career-level (emerging artists, mid-career artists, and advanced artists).
  • Offers one-on-one discussions with dedicated mentors about artists’ portfolios, career-management skills, and professional strategies.
  • Helps artists locate mentors for a variety of interrelated disciplines within the field of visual art, art historians, art educators, and museum professionals.


The Iowa Alliance for Arts Education New Art Teacher Mentoring Program

  • Pairs first-year art teachers with mentors from the same content area.
  • Mentors are volunteers who are either currently teaching art or have retired from teaching visual art.


Mural Artist Bob Henry’s Mentoring Program

  • Provides volunteers from AmeriCorps and City of Federal Way Leadership Programs with an opportunity to create public art pieces under the direction of professional muralist, Bob Henry.
  • Teaches volunteers basic design and painting skills for large-scale, public murals.
  • Helps volunteers develop community-building skills and learn how to organize collaborative art pieces.


The National Art Education Association – Mentor of the Month & Monthly Mentor Blog

Features a new, visual arts mentoring program each month.

  • Provides followers with suggestions for new mentoring strategies in the visual arts
  • Provides followers with contact information for featured mentors.


III.      Music

The Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne

  • Focuses on contemporary classical music projects
  • Offers courses from international academies and master classes conducted by established instructors.
  • Supports various music events that explore innovative ways of generating new audiences and fostering public engagement with classical music.
  • Does not offer grants for one-off events, the production of DVDs or CDs, external composition commissions, operas, or the purchase of music scores.

  • Offers a variety of online resources including music lessons, songs, chords, tabs, and purchasable equipment
  • Intended for guitarists, bassists, vocalists, and drummers.


  1. Architecture


Seattle Washington, USA Art Mentoring Program

  • Accepts high school students interested in careers involving architecture, design, construction, or landscaping.
  • Immerses students in professional experience by engaging them in actual building projects and taking them to professional offices and job sites.
  • Places students in teams that are mentored by practicing industry professionals.
  • Student teams work together on a shared project over the course of one year.
  • Awards scholarships to qualifying high school seniors.


  1. Creative Writing

The Adroit Journal’s Online Summer Mentoring Program:

  • Pairs experienced writers with high school and secondary students who are interested in learning more about the creative writing processes of drafting, redrafting and editing.
  • Offers free, online instruction
  • Caters to the literary genres of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.
  • Avoids formalized instruction and instead offers individualized, flexible, and often informal correspondence.
  • Allows protégés and mentors to work at a personalized pace.


The REWRITE Mentor:

  • Helps screenwriters locate local writers groups that facilitate effective rewrites through collaborative feedback.
  • Provides screenwriters with access to a variety of useful publications
  • Provides screenwriters with information concerning various writing events and retreats.
  • Offers online advice for screenwriters through the website’s blog.






V.I.     Drama and Theater

American Theatre and Drama Society Mentoring Program:

  • Available to graduate students in the Theatre Arts
  • Forms connections between students and scholars who share similar research interests
  • Gives students an opportunity to develop professional relationships with scholars outside of their institutional graduate programs.
  • Uses email correspondence and in-person meetings to connect mentors with protégés.



V.I.I.   Initiatives with Interdisciplinary Art Programs

The Rolex Mentoring Initiative

Maintains programs in dance, film, literature, music, theatre, visual arts, and architecture.

  • Each program seeks out gifted young artists from all over the world and brings them together with artistic masters for a year of creative collaboration in a one-to-one mentoring relationship.
  • Offers an enriching dialogue between artists of different generations, cultures and disciplines, helping to ensure that the world’s artistic heritage is passed on to the next generation.
  • Supports individual excellence and gives an emerging artist adequate time to learn, create, and grow.

A.I.R. Mentoring Initiative

  • Aims to empower teenage girls who are interested in the arts through a combination of individual and group mentoring.
  • Helps participants to develop positive self-images through creative expression
  • Helps participants learn to interact with their peers in constructive ways.
  • Offers mentoring programs in visual art, music, and drama