Teen Voices in the Museum

Milwaukee Art Museum Satellite Program group, 2013-14

Milwaukee Art Museum Satellite Program group, 2013-14

Teen programs provide a very different kind of opportunity for museums to experiment with interpretation. Because many teens participate in multiple programs for extended lengths of time, they become advocates and resources for our museums and collections. Here at the Milwaukee Art Museum, I’ve been experimenting with interpretation strategies that go deeper than one-day-only programs, providing not only learning experiences for students involved, but powerful tools and content for the Museum, too.

First, a little bit about our program. The Satellite High School Program is an art history focused weekly gallery program at the Milwaukee Art Museum for sixteen arts-interested teens from the Milwaukee area to connect with works of art and each other. As part of the program, teens choose a work of art in the Museum collection to study and interpret, and share their ideas in a final project. Over the past year, we’ve experimented with how they share using video in two very different ways.

In the spring 2013 program, teens had one semester to choose a work, study it, and make a creative response to it, in visual art, writing, music, or other media of their choice. I wanted to be sure their work was shared with a wider audience, so I used my own personal DSLR camera to film them with their artwork and creative responses. I had them write their own voiceover explaining their piece, their connection to it, and their response project, making sure that the video was just about one minute long for quick, easy consumption. Here’s just one of their videos, featuring Joel:

That project was successful, but I wanted to turn much more of the creation over to the teens themselves. I knew I had a chance to do just that when we received funding to buy a set of iPads for the Education Department.

This fall, as part of a school year-long program, a new group of teens had a different task: they shared their personal connections to their work of art through a video they created on an iPad. Over the course of the semester, they created video blogs (vlogs) reflecting on their changing thoughts about their work of art. They also received “readers” with basic information on their work of art or artist, and led a group discussion with all the Satellite students about their piece to get others’ opinions and thoughts. At the end of the semester, they created midterm videos piecing together with their reflection vlogs to show their evolution of thought. Here is ZouaPang’s video:

Teens continually asked themselves what they were still wondering about, and much changed over the course of the semester. When asked what she learned after an early session, Alana responded: “I learned how to better analyze paintings.” Her answer to the same question at the last session of the semester was much richer: “I learned a lot more about how to analyze art and research which I think is really cool because now instead of just looking at a piece and saying ‘pretty picture’ I notice more things about the pieces I see.” Alana’s video—and her extensive research and analysis!—is below.

One-to-one iPads come with their own set of challenges. Instead of solo weekend troubleshooting with DSLRs and iMovie, I found myself with a wonderfully excited group who wanted to use the iPad for much longer than I’d anticipated! In fact, I learned that students about doubled the time I usually allotted to use the iPad comfortably and feel good about their work.

This semester, the same group of students are continuing to explore their artwork and are, as I type, creating more formal videos for a wider visitor audience about their work of art. Teens will premiere their videos to family and friends in late May, when we’ll also put them up on YouTube. Stay tuned to this blog to see their final work!

Editor’s Note: This post is an adapted version of an essay that originally appeared on ArtMuseumTeaching.com.

Chelsea Emelie Kelly is the Museum’s Manager of Digital Learning. In addition to working on educational technology initiatives like the Kohl’s Art Generation Lab or this very blog, she oversees and teaches teen programs. Say hello on Twitter @MAM_Chelsea.
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