Creating Art, Influencing Lives

Creating Art, Influencing Lives

Creighton Professor Earns 2015 Mentor of the Year Award

The ostensibly ethereal idea of making art can be intimidating for some budding creators and seem a wholly solitary pursuit for others.

What Creighton University fine art professor Amy Nelson, BFA’97, MFA, wants to impart to young artists, however, is that art exists to make a difference — not only by letting an artist’s own vision live, but making it come to life for the wider world.

“I really enjoy helping students with that part of their art and their lives,” said Nelson, who, as a mentor with the Omaha-based Kent Bellows Mentoring Program, earned the 2015 Midlands Mentoring Partnership (MMP) Mentor of the Year award. “Because what you discover is that, yes, you can help them learn a little more about their art and how art gets done, but you can also show them how art works in their lives and the lives of the people around them. You’re a mentor not only with art, but with life.”

Nelson became involved with the Kent Bellows program at its inception shortly after the death of Bellows, a renowned Omaha artist, in 2005. Through a partnership with the Joslyn Art Museum, and the Kent Bellows Studio, the program matches high school students with art professionals for a semester-long experience learning the workings of the art world.

Nelson assisted with organizing the program and, in 2010, became a mentor herself and has since mentored 35 creative teens from around the Omaha area.

“If I had had something like this when I was in high school, I think it would have greatly prepared me for my college experience and also my career,” Nelson said. “The program gets them thinking about service-learning opportunities and how art works in a community.”

Weston Thomson, community outreach manager at the Joslyn Art Museum and former executive director of the Kent Bellows Foundation, nominated Nelson for the MMP award in part because he was looking to integrate a ceramics program into the studio and the mentoring program.

What he got with Nelson, Thomson said, was a dynamic, multi-talented artist who also had a spirit for service and educating the next generation of artists.

“Amy inspired the whole ceramics program at Kent Bellows Studios,” Thomson said. “But as a teacher at Creighton and a mentor, she’s a really great example of someone who grew up interested in art and wanted to find a way to extend her art to a number of different areas and to more people. The students she mentors see art isn’t just a hobby. It’s a way of connecting with people and with the community.”

As a Creighton professor, Nelson’s mentorship has also helped students bridge the gap between high school and college and afforded her mentees a look at what being an arts major at a university could look like.

“Her students get a different level of rhetoric in the mentoring program,” Thomson said. “They get to visit a college art studio, they get to see what being a ceramics major might look like. Amy meets the teens where they are in their high school careers and she makes mentoring a part of her professional practice. She’s a leader.”

In addition to mentoring and teaching studio art courses in ceramics, Nelson also leads a course in art and civic engagement, taking students to serve at the Siena/Francis House homeless shelter. Each December for the past five years, she’s organized the Empty Bowls Project, with her Creighton ceramics students making bowls which are then sold for $10 apiece and the money donated to help feed the area’s hungry. The project has raised more than $25,000.

Nelson’s honor underscored Creighton’s own recognition as a mentoring partner in Omaha. With 132 students, staff and faculty actively mentoring in nine programs associated with MMP member organizations, Creighton earned recognition as the MMP’s 2015 Advocate of the Year.

“For me, it’s humbling to earn the award and I feel really honored,” Nelson said. “But I’ve always been blown away by what Creighton does in giving back to the community, too. It’s inspired me to find ways that I can serve and try to make a difference in other people’s lives.”