For those of you who do not know me, I am Vanessa Alvarado. I would like to introduce myself so that you could better understand our organization. I am the first person to have gone from being an Apprentice to a Lead Artist and then to Co-founder & Outreach Director. I identify as Mexican-American, she/her/hers, artist, teacher, mother, wife, and all-around a badass woman!

When I graduated from Rio Grande High School in 2006, I had applied to a summer art program, then called the Art Summer Institute. It was a summer program in which youth were hired to work with a lead artist to create a tile mosaic mural from design to fabrication and all the way to installing and grouting. My eyes were opened to the possibility of having a career in the arts and the following year I was invited back as a lead apprentice. This summer will be my 16th summer working on public art murals.

Throughout those 15 years, I moved up the ranks and on May the 4th (be with you) 2015, six of us decided to turn our summer program into its own arts nonprofit organization. We came up with the name ALMA because it is an acronym for Apprentices for Leadership in Mosaic Arts as well as the Spanish word for soul. We really do pour our heart and soul into our artwork and collaboration and so we wanted our name to reflect the love we have for our mission and intentions behind our organization.

I was born, raised, still live and work in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico. My community has traditionally been looked down upon and I have always fought against this frame of mind. There are so many beautiful things about my community, primarily the people. My father was born in Juarez, Mexico, and came to Albuquerque when he was 16 years old. My Mother, like me, is a first-generation American citizen on her father’s side and was born and raised in the South Valley. Both my parents grew up poor and did not have access to education or the privilege of pursuing higher education. I have always considered myself to be privileged in that I grew up in a safe, loving, and stable home environment. We did not have much money and I was very observant of how hard they worked. I also witnessed many family members caught in negative cycles of poverty such as abuse and addiction and I knew from a young age that that was not the life I wanted for myself. I saw how drugs made good people make bad decisions.  I know that their addiction and circumstances don’t define them as people. Instead of wanting to get out of my community, I have always had a strong sense of home and desire to highlight the beauty that exists and better my community.

In 2011 I graduated from the University of New Mexico with my Bachelors of Fine Art: Studio Painting. I then started working at a Charter High School in the South Valley called La Academia de Esperanza. Because of my years as a Lead Apprentice with ALMA, teaching came very naturally to me so I got my teaching license through CNM’s Alternative Licensure Program and started teaching in 2012. I have been teaching full-time during the school year and working with ALMA year-round ever since.

Now that I am a mother of a 5-year-old little girl I understand the value of creating opportunities that allow youth to flourish and blossom without limitations. Youth is so valuable not only because they are the future but also because of their fresh perspectives and incredibly diverse and complex minds. That is why exposing them to diversity and opportunity is so important so that they can see that creating their definition of success is attainable and that they have so much more potential than they ever saw in themselves. Because I am a visual person, I think of it as each generation offering their shoulders for the next to step up on and build upon. I am so fulfilled in the work I do and I am proud of the mentorship model we have developed and honed throughout the years. ALMA provides paid apprenticeships for youth and creates beautiful handmade tile mosaic murals but the result is so much greater than what is visible to the public eye. The collaboration and transferable life skills that are learned in the process are so valuable and essential. Unlikely friendships and bonds are formed and a sense of ownership, contribution, and pride is also a result of creating a mural that will last 200+ years.