ICA Out-of-School Teen Programs
Museums often hold little appeal for urban teenagers, who may think those institutions are “uncool” or who may be intimidated by perceived geographic, racial, or class divides. But Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) has emerged as a national leader in engaging teens in the arts through a series of bold initiatives that tap teens as museum advisors and that capitalize on commonalities teenagers share with contemporary artists.
The themes of contemporary artists particularly resonate with teens because that art is often provocative, is experimental, and deals with issues of identity and power that are also of concern to teens, explains Monica Garza, director of education. To get teens in the door to experience those connections, the museum created a Teen Arts Council, whose 12–15 paid members preview upcoming exhibitions and plan quarterly Teen Nights at the museum. The events, which include teen-led exhibition tours, bands, and art-making opportunities, draw an average of 200 young people, many of whom have never before visited the ICA. While the Teen Nights and ICA’s other out-of-school programs are open to all teens, the museum focuses its outreach on the under-resourced neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, and South Boston, where drop-out rates are high, youth violence is prevalent, and arts opportunities are often lacking, Garza explains.
Along with drop-in events, the museum also offers enrollment-based courses for teens. Taking a cue from the kinds of materials and media used by many contemporary artists, ICA’s classes focus on digital photography, animation, audio production, and other types of new media. The ICA also offers a more intensive, year-long video production course. Fast Forward participants conduct interviews with artists who are exhibiting at the museum and develop short films that are showcased on the museum’s website and at Teen Night events.
The museum is also addressing the issue of youth engagement at the national level, sponsoring an annual National Convening for Teens in the Arts that draws museum educators and teen representatives from across the Nation, to explore ways to best involve urban youth through contemporary art. With arts audiences declining around the country, and continuing cuts in school art programs, “understanding how best to build the participation of teens in the arts is an urgent matter for our field and our communities,” notes the ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss Director, Jill Medvedow.
I thought that museums were the most boring thing ever. I thought that it would be some bourgeois affair. But I fell in love and had to be there.Donovan Birch, Jr. former member of the ICA’s Teen Council