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ZUNI, NM (Jan. 30, 2024) — At the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, the start of a new year also means the start of a new cohort in the Emerging Artist Apprenticeship Program. Ten young people ages 12 to 21 are participating in the current 10-week apprenticeship in watercolor painting, which launched earlier this month.

ZYEP kicked off the apprenticeship with a meeting for families on Jan. 3, a visit to the Ancestral Rich Treasures of Zuni (ARTZ) Cooperative Gallery on Jan. 4, and a financial event called “Spending Frenzy,” facilitated by First Financial Bank, on Jan. 5. The apprentices began their classes on Jan. 9 and will continue until Mar. 15.

“The apprentices will have opportunities to show and sell their work to the public this spring,” said Kandis Quam, ZYEP’s arts assistant coordinator. “We will have an art showcase at the ARTZ gallery in March, and the students also are welcome to create artwork inspired by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives movement for ZYEP’s annual MMIR event in early May.”

In addition, the top three students will attend the 2024 Bernalillo Indian Arts Festival on May 4-5. The festival takes place in Bernalillo, New Mexico, just north of Albuquerque.

This is a special apprenticeship for ZYEP. Co-instructors are Liam Simplicio and Laken Epaloose, the youth project’s youngest art instructors to date; both participated in ZYEP programs prior to taking on these leadership roles.

Simplicio, 22, has been participating in activities at ZYEP since its inaugural Summer Camp in 2009. In recent years, he has served as a ZYEP camp counselor and agriculture committee member, and he also took part in the first-ever Emerging Artist Apprenticeship in early 2022. Today, he works on staff as an art leader.

“This apprenticeship is a full-circle moment, as I started as a student and now I am an instructor,” Simplicio said. “I enjoy the fact that I can give back to ZYEP in this way, after the education I received from this program.

“My goal for this apprenticeship is to strengthen our students’ technical skills and give them an opportunity to express themselves through watercolor,” he continued. “Our students have a promising future in this art form, and I am happy to know that I can help.”

His co-instructor, 20-year-old Epaloose, first connected with youth project in 2023, when Operations Manager Josh Kudrna encouraged him to apply for ZYEP’s backpacking trip in Grand Canyon National Park. It was a perfect fit, as Epaloose was deeply involved in projects to connect Zuni youth with sacred sites throughout his high school career.

His new role as co-instructor also proves to be a good fit, as Epaloose is an artist as well. His passions include fashion design and painting, and he said he is looking forward to the busy weeks ahead.

“I enjoy helping the students explore their potential and inspiring them to create what they’re truly passionate about and interested in without any fear of failure,” he said. “Doubt and lack of motivation can hinder the creative process for any artist, regardless of their experience, so I would like to help provide the resources, knowledge and influence to help these students reach the next stages of their creative careers.”

To learn more about the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project and its programs, and for information about making donations, partnering with ZYEP, and volunteering, call (505) 782-8000 or visit And, to stay up to date on the latest news and events, follow the nonprofit youth organization on Facebook (/zuniyouthenrichmentproject), Instagram (@zuniyouthenrichmentproject), YouTube (/ZuniYouth), and TikTok (/zyep09)

Founded in 2009, the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is dedicated to promoting resilience among Zuni youth so they will grow into strong, healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions. ZYEP fulfills its mission by providing positive role models, enriching programs, and nurturing spaces that contribute to the healthy development of Zuni youth. ZYEP strives to provide every child with the encouragement and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.