A Detroit nonprofit group called Mint Artists Guild works to not only provide creative opportunities for area teens, but to also equip young learners with career, business and community skills. The well-rounded experience with Mint Artists Guild makes way for students to showcase and benefit from their own work in their own way.
The group was constructed by Vickie Elmer, the executive director of Mint Artists Guild, and her co-founder Mark Loeb. The group was built by a community of artists and entrepreneurs looking to help engage young artists to explore creative careers.
Mint Artists Guild came to be after Loeb, who organizes art fairs in the city, found that many students were interested in getting involved in the art fair to sell their work but they weren’t really sure how to do so. Elmer, a journalist and entrepreneur herself, was doing a lot of writing around careers and how people launch their own. She’s also worked as an editor with young people and interns, and she even started her own Italian Ice cart where she’d employ area youth for the summer. After the meshing together of her and Loeb’s recent experiences with Detroit youth, the two decided to start inviting young artists to workshops and to get involved with upcoming art fairs.
“We created a group of young people, which was about three years ago, and we didn’t think it would become a nonprofit,” Elmer said. “We just thought we’d try it. We had about 11 people the first year. We did some workshops and they really liked it.”
The art community is getting older, Elmer said, and there’s the obstacle of not knowing how to get started that has a potential to stop interested, young artists.
Interested artists apply to be part of Mint Artists Guild online by introducing themselves and their art and detailing why they want to join the group. Elmer and her team then review the applications and pick candidates who are making art already and who may have the kind of drive and attitude to make it as a young artist.
Elmer wants young artists to understand that art can be done and worked on in many capacities, some of which even require math and science knowledge, she said.
“If you’re an artist at General Motors and designing cars, you have to know the STEM concepts as well,” she said. “We kind of put it in context; if you’re a video game artist and designer, you have to understand a bit about the technology.”
This means that artists may use paint brushes for their art or they might use a digital program where they’ll need to learn the ins and outs of it in order to make their best and most inspired work.
“We also try really hard to be clear,” Elmer said. “There are lots and lots of artist careers and some of them are self-employed artists, and some of them are in the federal government or in a big company. We can’t tell them which one makes sense for them.”
Elmer and her team let artists know that they might be doing other jobs and gigs to make money for a while.
“You might be a nurse, a teacher, handling the marketing questions for a company,” she said. “It doesn’t mean everything you do is purely based on art.”
Aside from teaching artists to build a business or other opportunities from their art, Elmer said Mint Artists Guild helps build confidence, too.
“I’m impressed with the young people and how committed they are to art,” she said. “It definitely builds confidence. I was so surprised to see the change in some of our young artists.”
The group puts on workshops designed around business and career topics. The artists do most of their art on their own time, Elmer said, and Mint Artists Guild teaches artists how to protect their work, understanding copyright laws, how to price your work, how to set goals for yourself, how to build business plans, and how to navigate a contract.
The transformation and the confidence the artists develop through practice and being around other artists and seeing that everyone shares a common interest is really helpful to the group, Elmer said.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “It’s really fun to see what we can do and help them with and also help them understand that whatever kind of crazy label you have or put on yourself, it’s not the only thing that you are. You don’t only have to be one thing, you can be a few things.”
Creative elements are also added to the workshops and Elmer and her team use the idea of improv to teach them about how to relate to and communicate with other people. Each workshop features a guest speaker so that the young artists can hear about where a working artist first started and how they made it to today. The young artists hear from people who only sell their work in galleries, people who do design work with products, and a variety of other professionals.
Members of the Mint Artists Guild don’t pay to get involved because they don’t want to restrict access to anyone. Each artist is asked to donate a piece of their art toward something called the Mint Collection, to show the talent of the groups Elmer works with. The Mint Collection is showcased in different coffee shops and community areas throughout the area. Additionally, when a young artist has their work in an art show, they’ll sell the piece and 20 percent of the proceeds go to Mint Artist Guild to help keep programming running.
“We’re trying to make sure that its accessible to anybody who has a passion for art who can make art,” Elmer said.
Elmer and her team started a summer jobs program in 2016, where they hire teen artists in the summer who get paid to paint and do creative work. Mint Artists Guild donates many of the paintings the artists make to local nonprofits as part of their effort, Paint Detroit with Generosity. To date, they’ve been able to donate 25 paintings.
“I’m really proud of the effort we’re trying to do to really encourage our teens to be active volunteers,” Elmer said.
Mint Artists Guild does volunteer projects about once a quarter where they’ll go and run an arts and crafts table at an event or go to a school and work with elementary kids in the school.
“I believe that if you do community service, it’s good for your soul, but it’s also good for your career and to have opportunities open up,” Elmer said. “If you’re out there doing volunteer work, opportunities will come to you.”
To keep an eye on what Mint Artists Guild is doing throughout the community or for volunteer opportunities, follow them on Facebook and Instagram at www.facebook.com/mintartistsguild/ and www.instagram.com/mintartistsdetroit.
~Erica N Rakowicz