March 15, 2017; New York Times
While many museums offer family-oriented programming, teenagers often are not the target audience for such outreach. Further, as school field trips have decreased with waning budgets and with increased focus on standardized testing, many teens may not have access to or feel welcome in museums. But there’s a growing trend among museum educators to focus on teens and to develop meaningful ways to engage them in the arts and in social issues through museum collections. Now, there’s evidence to demonstrate the lasting impact of such work in shaping the lives of young people, based on a study of four contemporary art museums with teen programs that have been around since the 1990s.
Late in 2016, a report was published on research funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). (It should be noted here that IMLS, like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, would be eliminated under the White House’s recently proposed draft federal budget blueprint.) The research report, “Room to Rise: The Lasting Impact of Intensive Teen Programs in Art Museums,” reflects a multi-year collaboration among four contemporary art museums: the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. As described on the Whitney’s website:
Each of the participating museums is home to a nationally recognized teen program that has operated continuously since the 1990s. These programs bring highly diverse urban youth together to work collaboratively with museum staff and artists, developing vibrant activities and events to engage teen audiences, from tours and exhibitions to performances and fashion shows.
These are not one-off experiences. The programs studied go deep with relatively small cohorts of teenage participants, typically engaging teens for one to three years and serving one to