As a museum professional or a museum lover, you are probably deeply convinced that bringing teens into museums is a great opportunity to broaden their mind, help them empathise with other culture, and of course build a long-lasting relationship with museums. But no comprehensive study had been conducted about the benefits of teen programs in art museums.
For several years, a range of major museums across the United States – the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles – have been studying effects of their teen programs, each one of them bringing diverse youth together with artists and museum staff around tailored activities and events.
Thanks to its length, the study Room to Rise has followed young people during several years to understand the short-term and long-term impact of museums, from right after the programs until their adult life. If you have ever wondered if teens really bring something home from their museum visit, the answer is yes. Even a single visit or field trip increases the ability to think critically about art and to understand how people from other time periods and world regions lived.
Of course, welcoming teens in museum also has effects on their own lives, in the way they build their own identity and self-awareness, the way their imagine their future and their career – with lower drop-out rates for example, the way they are engaged in their community.
In a time when the political role of museums is clearly reinvented, it is interesting to see that museums can actually shape future citizens of the world by finding the right way to engage with them – and that is also a way to build their own sustainability, through ensuring a lifelong relationship to museums and a worldview grounded in art, and even turning these teens into future museum professionals.
Museums are not only actors of their community, they can get young people to become (future) members of their community and neighbourhood.
But what makes a successful teen program? It can be an Art Party around a current exhibition as at the NGV, a collaborative art lab like at the SMK or even a program specifically aimed to LGBTQ youth as the one set up by MoMA.
For the Getty, success is as much about learning to make connections between artworks and between art and their own reality as it is about making the museum accessible. Indeed, when the cost of transportation is the first obstacle preventing a field trip, it is important to find a way to get the students physically inside of the museum.
Obstacles and expectations for the schools of your area may be different, but they need to be truly taken into account: each community has their own needs and specificities, don’t hesitate to both survey the teachers and the students to understand how you can build an offer that is really relevant and can echo their own experience. Providing a really compelling experience – like the also is a way to turn students into ambassadors of your museum in their own family, making them come back with their parents to share bits of what they saw and felt, or on their own to explore further, and maybe far enough to one day join your teams.