Tag Archives: international

From the Underground Up: Building a Teen Docent Program at Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art @nmafateens

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Please note: We are please to announce Alli Hartley will be sharing an on-going series of post on what it is like to set up a Teen Docent program.  We hope this inspires conversations so please feel free to leave comments or tweet @nmafateens or us at @teensinmuseums

By:Alli Hartley is the Teen Ambassador Programs Intern

This spring at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, I have been tasked with building a “Teen Ambassador Program” for teens to volunteer with us throughout the museum. For those who are unfamiliar with us, the National Museum of Art is located on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Our mission is to inspire conversations about the beauty, power and diversity of African arts and cultures worldwide. We’re excited this spring to provide teens with the tools to promote cross-cultural understandings of Africa among our museum audiences.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 5.40.21 PMThe program launches Saturday February 28th , and the teens will participate in various trainings on weekends during the spring, before giving special teen tours to groups of other teens and eventually the general public in the early summer. The teens will also interact with the public by facilitating art carts. Teen Ambassadors will study artworks in our collection, but they will also have a chance to learn gallery teaching techniques used by museum educators worldwide. We will give our Ambassadors the opportunity to learn more about careers in the arts through interactions with museum staff across a range of departments as well as staff in other Smithsonian institutions. These interactions will include “meet the museum” sessions, during which staff from departments within our museum discuss their projects and careers, and cross-trainings with teen programs at other Smithsonian museums. Our anticipated outcomes include building leadership skills for the teens that can be applied to future careers both inside and outside of the arts, as well as unique exposure to art and -art-related career options.

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Teens in Museums Manifesto #teensinmuseums

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Teenagers are a hard to label group, although many have tried: Millennials, Generation We, Global Generation, the Millennial Generation, and Generation Next.  Regardless of the title we or anyone else give them, the fact is they are currently a stealth group in the cultural world — but this, happily, is changing.

Internationally, Teens in Museums and Culture are slowly getting the respect, time and resources needed to help build programs that they want, rather than programs that we think they want or that tick boxes. This is due to an influx of dedicated personnel who are inviting teens in to museums, taking the time to listen, and providing them the space and opportunity to let them create their own programs, to be involved in new exhibitions, and to have an impact on institutions and culture in their communities.

At the very least, every program should provide a platform for teens to share their thoughts, ideas, and passions.  If resources allow, progressive programs should assist the teens in providing them a channel to convert the ideas into a reality. For example, let them take over an area in the museum or gallery and listen to where they want the placement of artefacts. Or allow them to change the labels to be teen friendlier (and in ‘Plain English’). Share their voices with those of senior staff members and vice versa.

Many of us know of, or have at least heard of, programs like this.  The real challenge is sustainability.  How can we ensure the ‘Millennial Generation’ are allowed to forge their mark in the cultural world in a way that is both meaningful and realistic but also provides value to museums and galleries, as well as their visitors?

This challenge is different for each venue.

Excellent examples in the United States include Milwaukee Art Museum, Museum Teen Summit, and the Smithsonian EdLab; here within the UK, the Museum of London’s Youth Panel and Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s Art Forum each provide a dedicated platform for teens to work with the venue on a long-term bases, and most importantly with purpose.

Purpose, we feel, is key.

Being a teenager is difficult; you’re finding your feet. You’re not a child anymore, but you’re not quite an adult. You don’t want to be patronised, but you still need guidance while you establish yourself and gain confidence. So purpose and value is crucial. If what you are doing has a result and will change, enhance, or enrich yourself, the cultural institution, and/or the local, national, or global community, then it has purpose. It’s not an easy balance to achieve but it can be done, and we’ve seen it being done well.

With all this in mind, we felt an International Teens in Museum Decree/Manifesto was required.

  1. Listen to what Teens are saying. Answer their questions, question them, and work together to find answers and solutions.
  2. Engage with Teens; don’t patronize them.
  3. Provide achievable challenges which can created sustainable solutions.
  4. Promote learning as a challenge for Teens to solve.
  5. Create an environment where Teens can explore digital media where appropriate.
  6. Bring teens into projects from the start, not as an after thought.
  7. Provide adequate space and time for challenges to be achieved.
  8. Be flexible.  Many teens can’t commit to meeting same time every week.
  9. Don’t make assumptions. (For example, not all Teens have Facebook or iPhones.)
  10. Let teens actively build your institution’s assets.

What are your thoughts? Are you working with teens?  If so, we’d love to hear from you!  

Please join us on  Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin 

Teens in Museums is a coalition with Mar DixonMilwaukee Art Museum, Museum Teen Summit, and the Smithsonian EdLab (NB Museum of London Youth Panel joined as of Sept 28)

If you would like your venue to get involved, please let us know.