A recent study analyzed the way in which intensive teen programs at art museums had effects, if any, on the students in the long-term. The study looked to hundreds of program alumni from museums across the United States, noting the participants’ continued engagement with the arts, professional development, civic engagement, and leadership skills. Room to Rise: The Lasting Impact of Intensive Teen Programs in Art Museums came out of a collaboration between the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Additionally, the study was made possible with the aid of a National Leadership Grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.
How are young people changed by having access to the art, artists, and ideas of a museum? This question, among others, was one of the primary topics researched in the process. The museum programs invite diverse urban youth to work in collaboration with museum staff and artists. Each of the museums in this study has had such a program since the 1990s, allowing for the study to analyze the long and short term effects of the program.
Teen Programs in Art Museums
At the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Youth Insights program allows teen to build relationships with artists, staff, and community peers by leading tours, making art, planning events, and developing media projects.
For the Walker Art Center, the main young adult program is the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council in which a group of high school students meet weekly to plan and market museum programming.
The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston has Teen Council, a program that introduces high school students to contemporary art while teaching leadership, visual literacy, and other like skills.
At The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, students are able to work with museum professionals, artists, and each other to create art, explore exhibitions, and plan events.
“The exposure I had to contemporary art was crucial in shaping who I’ve become today: a student aspiring to become an educator, philosopher, artist, and better human.” –The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, teen program participant
Although each program differed in their offerings and structure, they contained more similarities than differences, enabling this overarching study to take place. Such similarities include five tactics that prove to be effective in personal development: peer diversity, sustained engagement with peers and staff, authentic work, interaction with contemporary art and artists, and supportive staff mentors. Each program consistently produced five positive outcomes among its participants, including personal development, arts participation, leadership, artistic and cultural literacy, and social capital. Although the study identified that these outcomes are present in the short-term, the study then turned to see how these played out in the long-term.
“The Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council was the single most important experience I had in high school. It introduced me to the world of contemporary art, made me certain that I wanted an enduring place in it, and gave me invaluable contacts who have helped me along.” — Walker Art Center teen program participant
To gather data, the team issued an online survey to program alumni, created focus groups, and developed case studies. The results revealed that the programs had a strong effect on the students later on in life. Emmanuel Mauleón, one of those surveyed, realized “how many of [his] daily interactions are informed by the skills and analytical techniques [he] began developing at the Walker Art Center.” 95% of the survey respondents considered to their teen program to either a very good experience (40%) or one of the most important experiences they have had (55%). The findings found five significant areas of long-term effects: a growth in confidence and the emergence of personal identity, an intellectually curious pursuit of expanded career horizons, lifelong relationships to museums and culture, a lasting worldview grounded in art, and a commitment to community engagement. Several participants described that they emerged with an enduring belief in their own potential that have continued into other life experiences. “There are few places that would give a group of 14-19-year-olds that kind of free rein. It was empowering to be trusted with that much responsibility, “Meredith Truax of CAMH.
The program activities helped to prepare and inspire teens to pursue academic and careers within and outside the arts, building upon leadership and other transferable skills, increasing their knowledge of the arts, and connecting the teens with a network of resources. The skills learned through the arts apply to a vast range of career and academic fields, aiding to foster strong, supportive communities. Many of the participants cited that the program changed their worldviews and led them to develop an arts-based identity, allowing them to understand that art can be anything and anywhere.