By Ryan Hill, Smithsonian – Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
ARTLAB+’s location in the Hirshhorn Museum uniquely connects it’s afterschool programming to an inspiring collection of contemporary art. It only follows, that Caroline Elliott, the Hirshhorn’s Manager of Adult Programs, saw it as a great opportunity to develop a new gallery program around the experience of our afterschool teens. ARTLAB+ Presents is an afternoon gallery program that brings teens into the galleries to speak to the public about their digital responses to the Hirshhorn’s exhibitions. The idea came out of the need to offer the public something that would recognize both the museum’s collection and it’s relatively new teen program.
For the first program, Caroline invited ARTLABB+ mentor Dawn Quill and teen Antoine Bonner to talk about his photographic response to Barbara Kruger’s “Belief+Doubt.” Dawn saw the Kruger as a great opportunity to explore the power of words and developed a workshop that focused on the installation. She had teens look at how the scale, font, negative space, and color impacted the meaning of the words and transformed the space. Teens responded to the space by using photography and Photoshop to communicate their own reactions. Dawn said the exposure to an artist who used text in their work “helped our teens not feel they have to create a Mona Lisa to be a well-recognized as an artist in 21st century. It helped them expand their definition of what is art.”
Dawn also coached Antoine on public speaking and articulating his ideas. Antoine’s photographs were shown to visitors on several iPads. He remarked that he was proud to show his artwork and the experience made him feel more comfortable speaking in front of people. Museum visitors asked him questions about what aspects of his work were planned and what were surprises. Antoine said it would be fun for him to present his work again.
The Hirshhorn looks forward to more teens participating in ARTLAB+ Presents. These presentations integrate youth voices into the museum’s dialogue around art, introduce the museum visitor to a younger generation using digital media, and gives those teens a chance to represent their identities as developing artists in a public setting.