On January 28, teenagers and adults mingled at the Westside YMCA, just a short walk from Lincoln Center. They introduced themselves, shared their artistic interests, and gently sized one another up during an afternoon of performances and information sessions. Parents chatted with staff and volunteers while kids shouted excitedly across the room, spotting familiar faces: “Hey, Theater 2015, right?!”
It was all part of Match Day, a pairing session for participants in a new program from Lincoln Center Education (LCE) called Mentor-Linc.
Currently in its pilot season, Mentor-Linc aims to develop the next generation of artists, professionals, and leaders who will represent the artistic, racial, and economic diversity of New York City. It’s the continuation of the Middle School Arts Audition Boot Camp, a Department of Education program that began in August 2014.
At Boot Camp, talented students from Title 1 schools are invited to Lincoln Center for training in theater, dance, visual arts, and music (both vocal and instrumental). For two weeks each summer, they work with Teaching Artists to prepare for auditions and submit applications to the city’s most prestigious performing arts high schools. The program itself has been an outstanding success: 98 percent of 2015 alumni were accepted to their first-choice high school. And all alumni are welcome to take advantage of Mentor-Linc.
“The most fun and rewarding part of Mentor-Linc is seeing the mentors and mentees, playing games and icebreakers just to get to know them better,”explained Neofitos Haralambou, a Boot Camp alumnus who was accepted to Frank Sinatra High School. “I have [made] friends because of Mentor-Linc.” Asked what he hopes to get out of the program, he said: “I want to have Mentor-Linc guide me through high school successfully. It could also help me get into the college that I want to go to.”
While the results of Boot Camp have been impressive from year to year, they also raised a question: What happens next? Getting into a prestigious high school is one thing. But the program’s alumni also face a whole new world of daunting competition, academia, and the arts—not to mention the regular challenges of high school. Because LCE programs promise not only a foundation for success, but also long-term support along the way, educators and fund-raisers knew there was more work to be done. That’s when the idea for Mentor-Linc was born.
Paired by personality and artistic interests, mentors and mentees establish regular check-ins throughout the year (for all four years of high school), and they meet twice annually at Lincoln Center for special activities (from campus tours to concerts) and attend conferences with program managers. Mentees will also be invited back each summer to network with their fellow alumni.
Through Mentor-Linc, Boot Camp alumni benefit from career pathway exploration (including trips to college fairs), group mentoring, and peer support. When mentees attend events on campus, they have the chance to see artists in action through studio visits or live performances and to learn more about what it means to pursue a career in the arts.
“The most fun part of Mentor-Linc was when I went to see Alvin Ailey,” said mentee Heaven Vega, who completed Boot Camp and now attends Talent Unlimited High School. “I’m a dancer myself, so I could relate to that.” Looking ahead to what she hopes to get out of the program, she said: “I see Mentor-Linc helping me to focus on what I need to focus on for my artistry and for my schoolwork. It helps me multitask with those two. It’s somebody that I can talk to, and they are giving me advice about high school and my goals for the future.”
One of the goals of both Boot Camp and Mentor-Linc is to make Lincoln Center feel like a lifelong home and hub to these young art enthusiasts, regardless of their long-term professional and academic pursuits.
Mentor-Linc—which hosts 16 mentors and 41 mentees—will conclude its first full year on June 17. Boot Camp resumes for the fourth year this August—meaning that the inaugural class of Boot Campers will be entering its junior year this fall and facing new hurdles in 2018, like applying for college.
When the new season of Mentor-Linc launches in the fall, Lincoln Center Education hopes to have 80 mentees taking part, with one mentor for every two or three young artists. With this goal in mind, LCE has just launched a new recruitment effort.
“I had a mentor and she was pretty much the first person who empowered me to feel confident as an artist and as a person,” said Christina Dacanay, now a mentor herself and one of the participants on Match Day. “I think the most rewarding part of the program has really been interacting with these young people. Seeing them taking their creative destinies into their own hands and reaching out to mentors and peers has been really fun to watch and be a part of.”
In addition to Boot Camp and Mentor-Linc, LCE has a presence in 220 public schools and provides year-round community outreach programs for students, families, and underserved populations across New York City. For more information and to learn how big an impact your support could have, visit LincolnCenterEducation.org.
T. Michelle Murphy is planning and development writer at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.