The practice of mentoring has had a long and significant presence within the arts, from painters like Michelangelo beginning their careers as apprentices to students seeking guidance from professionals on UNC’s campus. Mentorships have changed greatly and become more diverse over time but are ever-present within the arts community and at UNC.
Having a mentor can be an asset to young college students seeking advice for dilemmas in their lives or when they are uncertain of potential future pathways. Kathryn Stewart Wagner, associate director of Arts Everywhere, said mentors can be a great resource for navigating the world outside of the university setting or could simply be a point of connection for a field one is interested in pursuing.
“I think college can be a time where things tend to be a little bit more insular and contained within the walls of the University,” Wagner said. “I think a mentor serves as an outside connection.”
This is especially relevant to students who are thinking of entering creative fields such as studio art, performance art, music, dance or film. These are all fields that do not always have a great deal of job security after graduation. A September 2018 study shows that among U.S. college graduates, those who major in “miscellaneous fine arts” have an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, which is the highest of all 162 majors ranked. “Visual and performing arts” have a rate of four percent, taking the 158th spot.
“Resources in the arts are often scarce, so arts organizations are less likely to have formal recruiting processes, particularly for entry and mid-level roles,” said Hannah Ford, a graduate leadership fellow for Carolina Performing Arts. “Your personal network, therefore, becomes a primary recruiting tool. Mentors can play an integral role in helping you build that network.”
Ford also advises students to be curious and to try to put themselves in settings, whether they are clubs, classes or organizations, where they can reach out to potential mentors for informational interviews. She said to remember to come to interviews prepared with questions because it demonstrates respect for their time and allows potential mentors to be able to guide more intentionally.
Frank Tincher, a music and computer science major, said that having his trombone professor, Michael Kris, as a mentor has been essential to him as an art major. He said it is an advantage that he now knows how to take on the business of music, including writing music, playing instruments and auditioning.
“Specifically with the arts, a lot of people have this misconception that it’s really subjective, and that’s true to a certain extent, but there’s also a lot of technical stuff,” Tincher said. “I think specifically in the arts, it’s really important to have somebody telling you what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Kris said he feels privileged to be able to work one-on-one with students and provide them with insight into a career in music. He said the applied teaching model of music allows for strong interpersonal relationships, which can have a large impact on both the mentor and mentee.
In the arts, many young students have idealistic goals, and mentors must help those students learn the skills and channel those passions to be successful, Kris said. He said going into the arts is a multifaceted career path that can be very difficult to navigate without guidance.
“Be flexible, that’s my advice, and try a little bit of everything,” said Kris. “I don’t think anyone should be afraid if they’re passionate about an artistic thing. I don’t think anyone should be afraid of trying that particularly at a place like Carolina.”
The process of finding a mentor can be grueling for students. Only a few groups and events, such as Musical Empowerment or the Bell Student Leadership Symposium, exist on campus to offer students opportunities to find mentors. Students typically are required to build these relationships with peers or professors independently.
“I think that the mentor-mentee relationships are something that can always be improved upon,” Wagner said. “There is absolutely a need and space for furthering these kinds of things on campus.”
Ford and Wagner said mentors can be difficult to find, especially with the limited resources at UNC, but gave advice as to how to find a mentor on campus.
“The best mentorship experiences come about organically,” Ford said. “Students can place themselves in settings where these types of relationships are more likely to be built. For example, they can take classes with professors in fields of their interest, sign up for clubs with advisers or peers who may become mentors or work for organizations where they may meet staff who become mentors.”
A good mentor can act as a coach, supporter or a friend and can help their mentee learn the ins and outs of any career path, Wagner said.
“The best mentors are like the best professors,” said Ford. “When you approach them with a challenge, they do not tell you exactly what to do. Instead, they ask questions to encourage you to think and work through the challenge with their support.”
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