This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Ceramics Monthly and is used with the permission of the American Ceramic Society.

A nonprofit organization in New Mexico staffed by artists is focused on the dual goals of teaching apprentices the ropes of making and installing mosaics and adding public art to their community.

ALMA (Apprenticeships for Leaders in Mosaic Arts) started as a program of the City of Albuquerque in 1999. It was one of a handful of paid summer programs for youth available at that time, and the only one that continued on when the others were no longer offered. ALMA’s lead artists guide the apprentices through each step of the process of creating and installing a handmade ceramic-tile mural as a public work of art. We use a paid-apprenticeship model, where the lead artists work alongside the apprentices. We find that the longer apprentices work with us, the stronger they get in their skills, and then they become mentors for the newer apprentices, so we base our system on experience and skills. The fact that we provide our apprentices with not only art skills, but also other transferable job skills makes us proud. Our apprentices are at the core of our organization.

Building Our Own Organization

A handful of artists led the program for the first 10 years. I joined the Arts Summer Institute (ASI) in 2009 as a part-time lead artist. It turned out I was a good fit with the program, and I have been a lead artist ever since. In 2015, the leadership team decided to become a nonprofit organization and successfully went through the application process. Currently, we have three co-directors, two of whom are also lead artists. As we navigate being our own organization, there has been a lot of learning and adjusting along the way to improve.
ALMA’s main program is the ALMA Summer Institute. We plan over a year in advance for every summer project, working in coordination with the various entities where the mosaic will be installed. Each location is unique, and therefore each program looks a little different. We are fortunate to have a project each summer here in Albuquerque, though we are open to doing projects outside
of New Mexico.

Putting a Project Together

For the Albuquerque Convention Center project, we worked closely with the City of Albuquerque, which led to the multi-year project. The plan was to cover the facade of the East building with a mosaic focused on all things New Mexico. Since the convention center attracts visitors from all over the world, we felt the overall theme should showcase the enchantment of New Mexico. In the proposal phase for a project like this, the leadership team starts with research and prepares a preliminary design concept that we present to the Albuquerque Arts Board for approval. We then return with our apprentices, our more complete design, and our budget for final approval. While the lead artists initiate the main theme, the apprentices really contribute to the depth of the design for each project through research, discussion, and sketching.

As for our most recent work in Albuquerque, the design came from the words and stories of the communities near the installation site, Valle De Oro National Wildlife Refuge. The land used to be a dairy farm, and when it came up for sale, the community organized to make sure no more polluting industries moved onto that land. Their efforts successfully resulted in creating the first urban wildlife refuge. It is also important to note that this region is the ancestral land of the nineteen pueblos of New Mexico, specifically the Tiwa people, with a community located directly south of the refuge. We worked with folks from those communities to gather stories about the Rio Grande River, which is just adjacent to the refuge and is the lifeblood of New Mexico, running north to south through the entire state. When seeking approval for this project’s design, we went through the community and wildlife refuge, as they have direct and constant access to the sculptures. We also held community tile-making workshops, and participants could contribute a tile to be put into the mural. This was a different and valuable form of community engagement that we were honored to be a part of and hope to continue.

The Business

Going through this process year after year has taught me so much along the way. I found out that I enjoy the budget planning and tracking processes and tasks, and that I am a logistics person—which is probably why I became ALMA’s operations director. As a team, we have navigated sourcing three-story scaffolding and boom lifts, getting permits, competing for various grants, submitting project proposals, working through communication differences, changing our procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and bringing all the ideas generated by lead artists and apprentices into a cohesive work of art. Since we are a nonprofit, it is a continual cycle of applying for grants and searching for new streams of funding to help our organization run. That is not always the fun part, but it is a necessity. It has been a great adventure that we hope to continue for years to come. For those who are interested in embarking on something similar to what we do at ALMA, my advice is to start building relationships with possible locations, youth interested in art, folks in public art, and larger art organizations. Developing good communication skills and having a good, flexible plan are also helpful.

Personal Influence

I have been asking myself for a while now how the mosaic projects influence my own studio practice as a ceramic artist. I use the same research process in my individual studio practice, and my planning
skills also help in making sure I have enough time in each step of my practice. It has really shown me the importance of relationships and communication when working with youth, fellow artists, and the community. I have always adored my home state, and working on this imagery that is foundational to New Mexico is a subject I know well. As a Pueblo and Mexican-American person whose ancestors have resided on this land before borders and colonization, most of my work deals with time, place, and culture; the essentials that make this place home. In that respect, the connections between my work with ALMA and my personal work stem from the same place. Da’wa’eh.

The author Margarita Paz-Pedro (Laguna Pueblo, Santa Clara Pueblo, and Mexican American) is a ceramic artist, potter, muralist, community-arts organizer, arts educator, nonprofit co-director/lead artist, and mother based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She received her BFA in ceramics from the University of Colorado-Boulder, her MA in art education from the University of New Mexico, and is currently in the inaugural MFA studio arts program at the Institute for American Indian Arts. To learn more, visit For more information about ALMA, go to