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Artist Ink (A Story by Community Builders for Monterey County)
Community Builders for Monterey County

Artist Ink (A Story by Community Builders for Monterey County)

“A lot of times when you’re growing up, people are just telling you ‘you should do this, you should do that …’ but no one ever asks, ‘what do you think?”

If children are our future, why are youth perspectives, opinions and creations often dismissed? The reality they face-–in a world that asks them to blindly conform—makes an outlet to safely explore their truest selves, through artistic expression, a lifeline during their most formative years. 

Artists Ink of Salinas is an artist and educator ran organization that provides youth this critical platform for self discovery through artistic exploration and education. 

for community building


Founding Director Emily Morales-Ortiz grew up needing this outlet herself, “I really had this vision to create a project that brought all the different youth from across the community together to highlight their talent, their strength and their potential.”

As a remedy for the lack of space for self-exploration in their own lives as children, the mentor team of Artists Ink has built a safe-haven for young people from all walks of life to feel seen, heard and supported. Now paying it forward to the youth of Salinas, the artists, educators and participants of the organization have continuously expanded their vision over time.

The intention behind Artists Ink has always centered around youth voices. Artist Ink’s growth over time has led to more opportunities for emerging young professionals by providing clear pathways for an arts-based career; a full-circle impact.  


Bringing professional artists in as mentors gives way to the opportunity for youth to see themselves in their educators. But the impact goes both ways. Artist mentors are enriched by the connections made through teaching, healing their inner child, who once longed for a similar space to create and explore who they are.


“How can we support the artists that were our inner artist, our child artists, you know? Some of us didn't have that support,” explains Program Director Carlos Cortez. 

Storytelling has always been important to society, often for preserving cultural history and traditions. Artists Ink uses their vision of empowerment through personal narratives, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, the youth’s personal stories are key to building self-confidence and a sense of individuality within their community. All while fostering an environment of immense support for self exploration. 


“Making art that is not only beautiful, but also impactful … [allows] the youth to explore those truths through the arts,” explains Morales-Ortiz. 


The point is to give young people a platform to amplify stories that aren’t often told. A series of programs and projects give this mission life; the Cepanoa Arts Program, the YOLI Arts Program and the TXO Program are impactful, weekly in-school and after-school programs that give youth arts a deeper meaning. 


The YOLI Program is a collaboration between Artist Ink and local school districts, teaming up district educators with Artists Ink mentors to create an arts-based project aimed to assist with material retention, while nudging students out of their comfort zone.

“We started thinking about how we can support all the school districts or any type of curriculum through arts,” Cortez shares, explaining how the arts can enhance school curriculum, giving students a different perspective, enhancing what they are learning in the classroom.


The Cepanoa Program is a weekly program running every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the Artists Ink Creative Studio in Oldtown Salinas. The workshop program integrates all participants aged twelve and up, exposing youth to intergenerational perspectives and abilities. Cepanoa features specific concentrations each day: Tuesdays are dedicated to music and performing arts, Wednesdays are open studio hours and visual arts are explored on Thursdays-–all with an emphasis on sharing personal narratives through art. Students are encouraged to use their personal narrative as inspiration for their work, helping them to develop emotional intelligence and compassion for themselves and others.

“They’ve really created a safe space.”

Through the Teatro Xochitl Ollin (TXO) program, youth storytellers delve into animation, theater, podcasting, photography and film every Monday. Young creators are given tools to share their narratives in creative, visual art forms while building much-needed skills for the industry as a potential career path. 


Not only are these programs developing hard skills for the future, but also they embolden individuality and creative voice. 


These ongoing activities have a secondary impact: the exposure to different cultures and ages aids in developing communication skills, emotional development and comprehension of complex subject matter. Being able to bloom into well-rounded, aware and confident individuals is key to creating positive change in their communities. 


“We’re bringing love and care to our programs, the projects and building a space that is open and allows people to discover who they really are as individuals as well as their place within their community.” 

Artists Ink plans to continue to expand their reach by connecting with other youth-based organizations. Their engagement with Artist’s Alley is a perfect example of the beauty that can come from such partnerships. Every first Friday at Midtown Lane in Oldtown Salinas, you can join Artists Alley @ Midtown, an artist-orchestrated market for artists to sell their art and engage with the broader community. You can also find Artist Ink on Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and TikTok for a deeper look at projects, programs and ways to get involved.

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