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Nelson-Atkin’s Museum of Art Employs Teenagers

Though the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art’s Teen Advisory Group (TAG) was only launched this August, this new program is already finding solutions to a problem that has long plagued museums around the country: how to get high schoolers interested in art.

The group of 16, nearly a third of which are East students, hope to intrigue Kansas City teenagers with fun, interactive events open only to high schoolers, a demographic lacking in museum involvement. The group, which is exclusively for and run by teens, want youth to not just attend events, but explore the museum on their own as well.

“We just want to make the museum seem more accessible and like it’s a place where you can come and hang out,” junior Caroline Roe said. “The only time that kids really go to the Nelson is with school groups, so we hope people will take the next step and go as an outing on the weekend or something.”

After only two meetings, TAG is already deciding how to best attract the attention of local students with their first two events. A TAG Day of the Dead celebration exclusively for high schoolers will take place sometime in the week before the museum’s larger Nov. 4 celebration. A date has not been set for a smaller event called “A Message to Youth”, during which Belgian artist Ives Maes helps attendees create a piece of art from a message in an old World’s Fair. TAG plans to publicize these and other future events through Facebook, Twitter and flyers.

East students Sophie Fields, Jeri Freirich, Michelle Lu, Caroline Roe and Jeremy Williams make up five of TAG’s members, while the other 11 attend various high schools in the larger Kansas City area. This diversity has introduced East TAG members to a community of teenagers with a similar interest in art, something hard to find considering a program had to be created to get teens to visit the museum.

“It’s just fun to meet new people and make new friends from different backgrounds who have your same opinions and view on art and the world,” Roe said. “[I’ve made a lot of new friends], especially from the teen guides.”

Though TAG is still young, it has been nearly two years in the making. It took New Dimensions administrators Molly Vener and Hillary Nordholm years of researching similar organizations like the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council to create a selective application process and begin TAG this August. TAG’s 16 members were selected from the students who were most thoughtful and worked well in groups or alone. Some members, like Fields and Roe, heard about the program while they served as teen guides to the museum over the summer. After an online application, a team workday and multiple interviews, Vener and Nordholm went from 55 online applications to 16 TAG members.

TAG meets at the Nelson about twice a month for a two-hour-long meeting where they plan teen events, discuss ideas and work on goals like how to help teens make connections with art. Though TAG members receive a compensation check at the end of the year, the group treats their responsibilities less like a job and more like a privilege.

“It’s so much fun; it’s not really like a job it’s more of a little community,” junior Sophie Fields said. “I think a lot of people are starting to get close and everybody there is working towards a common good and wants the same thing. And everybody likes art and talking about it.”

With careful planning, TAG hopes their teen events will make local youth take notice of the cultural center that many have yet to explore. TAG hopes to introduce students to the museum with an exciting weekend event, but that a passion and interest in art and the museum is left long after the event is over.

“Most people don’t know that it’s one of the top museums in the world, and I don’t think people realize how important it is to our community,” Roe said. “I don’t think that teens really think about art… [but] it’s just a part of our culture that we should know about.”

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Hannah Ratliff

Senior Hannah Ratliff is an A&E Page Editor for the Shawnee Mission East Harbinger. This is her second semester on staff. She enjoys visiting new places, watching action movies and being with her dogs. Read Full »

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