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A love of art, community and partnerships is evident in visual artist Jill Wells’ career and the vivid and towering murals she creates. It’s also evident in the mentorship program she founded for Des Moines high schoolers.
Wells, a 2005 Drake University graduate and award-winning artist, created the Artist X Advocacy (AXA mentorship program), leveraging a grant and partnerships. The program offers a paid mentorship to underserved 11th and 12th graders attending Des Moines metro area high schools, and it comes with guidance and interactions with Wells and her collaborators.
Wells is the talent behind many highly visible murals and art projects in Iowa and elsewhere. She created the ‘Future’ mural, visible south of 6th and University avenues in Des Moines. Located on the north side of the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families, the vibrant mural honors late community leaders and depicts towering Black figures. It features themes of home ownership, graduation, working families, the importance of setting goals to accomplish one’s dreams and more.
In Iowa City, Wells served as the lead painter for the towering Oracles of Iowa City, which features pro-Black messages: "Black Joy Needs No Permission" and "Weaponize Your Privilege to Save Black Bodies."
Wells thrives on sharing her gifts with students.
In the first year of the program, Wells and mentee, Ava Palmer, a freshman at Drake University, developed a public art piece for Des Moines’ skywalk system. Wells' newest mentees are Jack Marren, 21, who graduated from Johnston High School, and Sabah Koko, 17, a senior, who attends North High School. Both will work with Wells to design a public mural on an interior wall at Mainframe Studios that will be displayed through January 2023.
The paid mentorship program offers several key benefits that Wells, a former residential substance abuse counselor for five years and a juvenile services counselor for three years, deems crucial.
Weekly one-one-one sessions with Wells
Community workshops and field trips
Series of community engagement workshops to build mentees' professional connections
Space at Mainframe Studios
Meetings with community leaders, movement makers, advocates and creatives
Professional documentation via photo shoot, podcast and radio interviews
Creation an original public work of art/art performance
Public art exhibition
Students praised the program.
"AXA mentorship is helping me gain experience as a professional artist and explore new ideas and skills: also, learn to manage a budget, expenses and learn how to collaborate with other artists and clients,” said Marren, an advocate for disability rights.
Koko agreed. She said the program allows her "to talk about my artwork and learn more about the career and business of being an artist." Post-graduation, Koko will be working out of AXA Studio 447 at Mainframe on a mural project and growing her own private practice.
Wells said she and Palmer completed a workshop with three clients, a teacher and a program director from Iowa Department for the Blind. The project culminated in an interactive public work of art called: “I AM,” which focused on themes of empowerment. Each canvas has “I AM” Braille quotes printed out and adhered to the surface. The project was commissioned by Operation Downtown and ArtForce Iowa.
The public can interact with Wells during her upcoming multimedia art exhibition "FEEL." A reception will be held at 6 p.m.-8 p.m. on May 7 at Plymouth Gallery in Des Moines. The exhibition runs from May 7-July 3.
Top Banner: Photos courtesy of the artists.