RevolTeens: Teens and Art Changing the World, by Christine Lively
Everything is just too serious. I realize that this is not news to anyone. There are so many overwhelming terrible things happening that it’s hard to find hope or joy in the news. There are so many news articles about how teens have been hit hard by the pandemic and quarantine.
But, I have learned in the last year, one of the most amazing things about teens is that they will remind us that they can find hope and joy as an act of revolution. The spirit of teens never fails to amaze me, and this month I’m amazed at their commitment to art and justice.
In Teen Arts Councils around the country high school students work to learn about arts and exhibitions in museums and advise the curators during their time of service. Many Teen Councils also design programs where they give tours to other teens and facilitate discussions with artists. They also host their own exhibitions and sometimes social events just for teens to come and enjoy the Arts.
Many art museums have teen art councils. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston describes their Teen Art Council this way:
“The Teen Arts Council (TAC) is the MFA’s leadership development program for Boston-area teens. The TAC offers participants the opportunity to engage with art, culture, and history; develop workplace and team building skills; and learn about a range of professional options and career paths.
- Advise the MFA on engagement strategies for local teens
- Implement programs and events for peers and the general public
- Learn about the arts and cultural sector in the City of Boston by engaging with the city’s other teen programs and cultural institutions”
As with all RevolTeens, though, many of the Teen Arts Council members at these museums have not been content to continue the status quo, they have begun revolting.
This year, the Teen Creative Agency, a Teen Council at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, revolted against the injustices they saw at the museum and launched a campaign to challenge the museum’s directors to do better.
According to Teen Vogue, when a photo was published that suggested that the museum had donated money to the Chicago Police Department, the Teen Council wrote an Open Letter to the museum’s director powerfully challenging her to acknowledge the ways that the Chicago Police had abused their power and demanded that the museum clarify their relationship with the CPD. They launched a petition to gain attention and support for their efforts through their Instagram account @TCAAMCA
“We realized this is bigger than we thought,” says Vivian Zamora, an 18-year-old recent alumnus of TCA. “It’s not just cops. There’s mistreatment of part-time staff, not enough transparency. A lot of our work now is pointing out how this institution works.”
These RevolTeens are not afraid to question not only adults, but revered institutions and demand that they answer for problems, and injustices that they have been able to ignore.
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts recognized the powerful perspective of teens. They decided to launch the museum’s first exhibition curated entirely by high school students titled “Black Histories, Black Futures,” The exhibit contains works by 20th century artists of color, and brings a fresh new perspective to the collection, as well as bringing young people into the museum. According to the Museum’s website:
‘The teen curators—fellows from youth empowerment organizations Becoming a Man (BAM), The BASE, and the Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston program managed by EdVestors—used skills they developed as paid interns in a pilot internship program at the MFA to research, interpret, and design the exhibition. Their work highlights areas of excellence within the Museum’s collection and lays foundations for the future.”
The museum recognizes the energy and the change that teens bring into the work that they do. Collaborating with teens should be a priority for more institutions going forward as they look for ways to increase their social relevance, appeal, and community involvement.
Finally, the Studio Museum Harlem has held a teen art photography education program for eight months every year during which teens learn the art of photography. This year, of course, the whole process has been drastically changed. From the Museum’s web page:
“The online photography exhibition Hearts in Isolation: Expanding the Walls 2020 features work by the fifteen teenage artists in the 2020 cohort of the Museum’s annual program, Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History, and Community. Launching July 30th, the first online edition of the annual Expanding the Walls exhibition marks the program’s twentieth anniversary.
During their eight months in the program, Expanding the Walls participants from New York City–area high schools explore digital photography, artistic practice, and community—a term that took on new meaning this year, when students could no longer gather with one another and their mentors but had to complete the program remotely. As a result, their photographs reflect on themes of home and safety.”
The exhibit can be viewed fully online here: Hearts In Isolation: Expanding the Walls
If you are feeling bleak and alone, go visit the work of these remarkable and brilliant RevolTeens and remind yourself that the future is in their hands, and they have the heart, brilliance, hope, courage, and joy to make this world so much better.
About Christine Lively
Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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