Calling all young artists! The Arts/Ojai Artists Mentor Program is accepting applications for its 2017 internships, and it’s an opportunity not to be missed. The program pairs established, working artists with high school students for one-on-one interaction throughout the summer months, culminating in a student exhibition at the conclusion of the internship.

“We intended this program as a way of furthering the impact of the arts in Ojai and particularly to connect with the youth in Ojai,” explains Michael Addison, Ojai arts commissioner.

Funded by the city of Ojai and the Ojai Education Foundation, the program is open to resident high school students and artists in the Ojai Valley. Each year, five students are chosen and paired with one of five participating artists. The program has been a huge success since it started in 2013.

When evaluating students, organizers do consider art experience and education. But the real clincher is the personal statement. “What we’re looking for is a student that is just awakening to what art could mean to them,” says Addison.

Quality time with a working artist is invaluable for these young creative minds. A mentor spends a minimum of 50 hours with his or her student over the course of the summer. Together they might focus on approach or technique, but the  mentorship is intended to extend beyond the studio. “It’s also career coaching,” explains Vera Long, a multimedia artist who will be participating in this year’s program, “interacting with an audience, approaching galleries, getting your work out in the world.”

Long first got involved with the program in 2015 when she mentored Nordhoff High School junior Audrey Hernandez. Together they interviewed the directors and owners of local galleries, such as Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni of Porch Gallery and Kelly Luscombe Bea of Gallery 525, to get a sense of what these professionals look for in the artists whose work they display on their walls. “One of the most daunting aspects is, how do I make a career of this?” Long says. “I gave [Hernandez] a lot of practical info. Selling yourself is so important.”

Long also wanted to help her student develop as an artist. “[As a mentor] you want to find what’s unique about this student,” she says. “It’s not a template. We want to find their inner voice and open doors for them.”

The benefits to the student are perhaps obvious, but what about the artists? “What we have found, again and again, is that working with students gives an artist the unique opportunity to get back to basics,” Addison says. There’s also a sense of pride and gratification in watching a young artist blossom. “That’s intangible — but powerful enough that we’ve had artists apply more than once.”

When selecting artists, Addison admits that, “We seek variety as much as anything else,” because the program aims to cover all the arts: fine art, such as painting and sculpture, of course, but also music, literature, photography, theater and other performing arts. Artists are also evaluated based on past teaching experience and the kind of work they plan to do with their mentee. In addition to Long, this year’s participating artists are photographer David Baker, glass sculptor Stephen Edwards, actor and director John Medieros and painter Amy Lynn Stevenson.

At the end of the summer, students participate in a public exhibition to showcase the work they’ve accomplished under their mentors’ guidance. Projects might include a series of paintings, a film or a multimedia installation. “One of our primary goals is to open this up as wide as we can,” Addison says.

This year’s exhibition will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16, at the Ojai Valley Museum. On display will be a wide variety of work developed by a new generation of creative spirits just starting to emerge into their roles as artists. The mentorship program hopes to foster that growth. “Young people are filled with dreams and inclinations,” says Long. “They’re strong in their ideas. They haven’t been tested, so they haven’t limited their hope. As a mentor, you want to foster that feeling.”

The Arts/Ojai Artists Mentor Program is accepting student applications through May 3. For more information, visit artsojai.org.