Teen Programming in Art Museums

Room to Rise was a collaboration project and study between the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, and The Museum of Contemporary Arts of Los Angeles. The research study worked to find data that shows the long-term impact of museum programs for teens, and was supported by a National Leadership Grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.

Each of the mentioned museums has “nationally recognized teen programs” and the “bring highly diverse urban youth together to work collaboratively with museum staff and artists, developing vibrant activities and events to engage teen audiences.” The programs are: Whitney Museum of American Art’s Youth Insights, Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), Contemporary Art Museum of Houston (CAMH) Teen Council, Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles (MOCA) Teen Program; they have all been active for about eight or more. These programs range from giving tours, making exhibits, performances, working with artists and museum staff, visual literacy, and fashion shows.

From the study, researchers learned that teen engagement lead to positive short-term outcomes, which lead to a long-lasting impact for teens in their communities. Some short term outcomes that are mentioned in the study are: “personal development, artistic and cultural literacy, arts participation, social capital, and leadership.” In turn, these short-term outcomes, then lead to “ personal identity and self-knowledge, lifelong relationship to museums and culture, expanded career horizons, a worldview grounded in art, and community engagement and influence.” Many teens who participated in one of the programs, stated that they came away with “emerging self-esteem, feelings of accomplishment, and the assurance to come out of their shells.” If teens are emerging from these programs with these skills and self-empowerment, librarians could use the art museum programs as an example of some great programming for teens. It’s shows that working with museums in collaboration with the library could be a great incentive to get teens more active in the library.

The importance of the outcomes are visible, as they lead teens to grow as more educated adults who seek new challenges, worldviews, and community engagement. When teens are introduced to museums, they are bringing new knowledge to themselves, but also a new respect for different cultures, ways of thinking, and much, much more. As John Ildefonso, artist and art educator, shared “When young people are immersed in a learning environment that blends contemporary art, meaningful collaborative work with peers, and supportive interaction with artists and museum staff, they are inspired to see the world differently.” Of the alumni of the mentioned programs, 96% visited another art museum, 84% visited museum of program, and 80% visited another kind of museum–either as a teen, or later, an adult.

Not only are the museums programs making teens more social aware of themselves and others, but it was found that 79% of alumni have held a professional job in the arts; this is an astounding result. A major take-away from this study, with all of the given results, proves that working with the arts can be very motivating for teens. It proves that programs that are creative in nature, can inspired teens to work harder and achieve more. Although this study focuses solely on museums, art programs, and other programs such as technology, etc., held in libraries could also yield such results. For instance, through our VolunTeen program in my library system, teens often come back for multiple semesters of volunteering. The majority of the teens who have participated in this program have gone on to be accepted to various colleges throughout our state and country. Many of the teens in our programs have learned leadership skills, creative skills, organizational skills, time-management skills. They work together with their peers to hold different programs for their peers in the community. I strongly believe that programs where teens are working with their peers and library staff to utilize their creative outlet leaves an extremely positive mark on them; this study just continues to prove this as fact.

For any library staff person working with teens, or children, I strongly recommend reading this study, Room to Rise. The results are very positive, and it sheds like on teens who participate in programs outside of school and the effects these programs have on them. An extremely interesting section, Journey Maps: Alumni Case Studies, starts on page 43 of the text, and discusses various alumni, what program they participated in, and where their experiences from the programs have taken them. As the study says, “Even one individual who has benefitted from a small museum program can in turn affect many people and communities throughout a lifetime.” This is not only very evident through the study and museums, but this could easily be an outcome for a teen that continually participates in teen library programs. These programs could be volunteering, teaching an art skill, teaching STEM skills, such as coding, 3D printing, and more.

Please share any insights to this study, and ways library staff can use this study to reach out to teens.

About Maeve Dodds

Maeve is a Teen Lead Librarian for Charlotte Mecklenburg County, University City Branch, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has worked in adult and children services, and was previously an elementary school media specialist. She likes reading in her hammock and trying new foods.

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