Each summer, the New Museum’s Teen Apprentice Program offers students aged 16-19 work experience and exposure to contemporary art and ideas through on-the-job training, career development talks, field trips to arts institutions, and collaborative projects. In the summer of 2014, the program employed seven teens from around New York City. A major component of the summer was work on the Museum’s annual Block Party, a free event that aims to connect the Museum with its local community by hosting performances and offering free tours of the current exhibition and hands-on activities for children. The teen apprentices played a crucial role by assisting in preparation and staffing activity tents alongside students visiting from Inhotim, a contemporary art center in southeast Brazil. After a hugely successful Block Party, which welcomed nearly 3,000 guests, the teen apprentices convened with the group from Inhotim and with Youth Docents from No Longer Empty to reflect on the event and to discuss how institutions can use art to make meaningful connections with their local communities. Below are the New Museum Teen Apprentices’ thoughts on the 2014 Block Party and first Teen Summit.
Felix (P.J.) Hernandez
Li Ping Lin
The New Museum’s first Teen Summit occurred on July 19th, 2014. The museum’s summer Teen Apprentice Program participated in a day filled with activities between the New Museum Teen Apprentices, No Longer Empty youth docents (also known as Y-Dots), and teens from Inhotim, an outdoors contemporary art museum located in Brazil. The New Museum hosted the event in benevolence, welcoming those who wanted a greater insight on the workings of its Teen Apprentice Program also known as TAP. The Inhotim youths who we met previously did not speak fluent English, so they were aided by their program’s directors who served as translators, cutting through the language barrier. The youth docents from No Longer Empty, a program where aging and unused spaces are turned into ingenious art galleries that reflected upon the theme of the neighborhood it surrounded or the story behind the building itself, came later in the day.
In note of the boundary of language, the morning joined us, the members of TAP, and the youths of Inhotim, in the New Museum’s Sky Room. We commenced the whole ordeal with a group circle containing both the adults and youths of both Inhotim and the New Museum. We went around in a circle and discussed both a lowlight and highlight of our experience at Block Party, a yearly festival fitted with activities that were past artist tributes and performances that contained a specific theme. Experiences were exchanged, both the upsides, such as enjoying the presence of one another and aiding each other to man the station they were placed at, and downsides , like the difficulty that came with speaking two completely distinct languages. It was as if a wave of nostalgia that held an origin of just two days past had consumed us, leaving feelings of delight and pride on having conquered a task that from the beginning was completely new to us. As our reflections came to an end we visited the site of the Block Party, Sara D. Roosevelt Park to see the aftermath left by the Block Party. The place now clearly empty of stations, chairs, and stage, still managed to conserve the elaborate drawings made by the party’s visitors. After we all reminisced in the memories brought on by Block Party we decided that the area still served as an ideal location to create one last memory. This specific memory would involve the game Zip, Zap, Zop. This particular game didn’t require any extensive knowledge of English, so everyone had to play. Playing this seemly simple game proved on bring challenges that involved us remembering if zap was to the right or to the left, brought on a laughs that grew in an earnest location. Playing this simple game made us forget for a moment that we were all different, that we had different backgrounds, and that we possessed our own struggles, because in that moment we all wanted the same and felt the same, joy.
After the end of the activity, we all headed to lunch and with the end of that we returned to await the arrival of the adults and teens of No Longer Empty. With their arrival we were separated into three groups, each group containing teens from all three programs. We were told by the education directors of No Longer Empty to close our eyes and envision a place close to your home, neighborhood, school, etc. and turn it into something that would serve the community that it surrounds. When you are finished imagining everything down to the most infinitesimal detail the location will no longer be empty, as shocking as that sounds. We created the place that we imagined on a sheet of paper. Everyone -all the youths and all the adults, no matter what museum they were from or what language they spoke - participated in creating their redesigned space. After the drawing ceased we all gathered together and some shared their drawings after it had been pointed out by another. We marveled at the creativity behind both the picture and the idea that were being exhibited. To our consternation the evening was coming to an end, signifying the end of the first Teen Summit produced by the New Museum.
Looking back at the events of the Teen Summit I realize now the forgotten moments that enveloped the day. In the morning of that day I was unable to realize the incipient events that were coming our way. The moment I realized the Summit was going to be more than an okay day was when I was introduced to Zip Zap Zop. The game itself sounded childish and led me to believe it would become tedious quite soon, but I was wrong because five minutes in I was laughing because I had again managed to forget which way to go. Same went with my encounter with the workshop presented to us by No Longer Empty. It made me become more knowledgeable on the environment that I constantly faced. I no longer felt just plain apathy about the idea of restructuring a place that could become monumental to not just my identity but to that of others. This final event closed off the day, after bringing satisfaction to all of us. At the end of the day I felt enlightened and nostalgic. I had reminisced in the memories brought on by Block Party that was a clear success. The workshop helped me recognize and certify one of the points of naturalism, created and aided by literature, exposing that its ideals are both true in the literary world and the real world; one’s environment plays an inescapable role in the shaping of our character.
Inhotim is a group of eight middle school students from Brazil. They came here to visit the New Museum at 235 Bowery in Manhattan. Prior to their arrival the New Museum staff and Teen Apprentices planned games and activities for them. Once they got here we realized they were a lot younger than we initially thought. While introductions to the group were fairly easy with the help of a translator, communicating with them further than hello or hi was pretty challenging. Especially in the beginning since they didn’t speak English and none of us speak Portuguese. So we came up with the idea to use the Google Translate app on our smartphones which helped us bridge the communication gap and get to know the kids a little better. Talking to them using Google Translate, I found out that they are huge fans of Demi Lovato’s music and their favorite sport is football.
Saturday, July 19th was the day of our highly anticipated Block Party. Apprentices divided into small groups and worked at different stations. We were all so excited that the Inhotim kids were finally here and we were all wearing t-shirts that we designed ourselves with paint and stencils. There were tables set up for the public to bring their kids to do arts and crafts. Loads of people showed up. We also had some really unique performances by several different artists. There was beat boxing, live vocals and instruments. The kids at the Block Party were enjoying the performances more than their parents by dancing and singing along in front of the stage.
During the Teen Summit a few days later, we brought the Inhotim kids into the galleries and played games. The first game we played was I Spy, using a worksheet as a guide and the art around them they had to go on a scavenger hunt to find all the pieces of art and draw a sketch or write a response to them. There was a particular piece I noticed them gravitate towards called The Keeper, which is a huge wall collage of pictures of celebrities and other people’s faces.
The next activity we did was write blackout poems using the wall text from the museum’s third floor gallery. This was my favorite activity we did because these blackout poems allowed us to use the artist’s words and interpret them by finding our own message within them. We gathered in a circle and shared our poems with each other one by one. As we shared our poems the translator translated and you could see the engagement on the kids’ faces. It was a great week for us at the New Museum and this was the most successful Block Party yet! I really enjoyed being exposed to a new language that I may not otherwise have been, and I look forward to visiting Brazil in the future.
Felix (P.J.) Hernandez
About two weeks before the New Museum had its big event that would give back to the community, preparations began. The museum’s staff and Teen Apprentices - joined by Inhotim, a group from Brazil - worked hard to get ready for the museum’s annual Block Party. We made t-shirts and handed out flyers. Then on July 19th, a Saturday, the party began. It was incredible - the games, the food, the performances, the event entirely was a huge success.
A few days later, the Teen Summit took place. We, along with Inhotim, took off to the Sky Room to discuss the highs and lows of the Block Party. We each shared our feelings of accomplishment, which were so great that the lows were of little importance. Many complained that communication was a big obstacle but the challenge was motivating. Thereafter we headed to “the pit,” at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, where the event had taken place, to reflect on the space used for the party and the overall experience. It was surprising to see how the space had been used so creatively in such a short amount of time.
After heading back to the museum, we had the pleasure of meeting the folks from No Longer Empty. They gave us a little background on what they are about and the history behind NLE. Towards the end of the day we did an activity which really echoed No Longer Empty’s main focus: utilizing empty space by re-creating its previous purpose. It was fun to come up with ways to occupy space in a distinct and creative way. As the Summit came to an end, looking back, the experience was one to never forget but hopefully one we can re-create in the future!
The New Museum Teen Apprentice Program (TAP), No Longer Empty Youth Docents, and Inhotim Teens are three groups from different art institutions. The Teen Apprentice Program is based in the New Museum, and allows teens to explore art and museum careers through work assignments and career chats that take place over the course of six weeks. No Longer Empty Docents, on the other hand, are volunteers who give tours of the temporary exhibitions that No Longer Empty produces in underutilized spaces around the city with the goal of revitalizing communities through art. Lastly, the year-round program at Inhotim, a museum located in Brazil, works with younger teens in their unique outdoor space who learn about art, help with programming, and work on special projects over the year. The Teen Summit, hosted by the New Museum, invited these three groups to come together, and aimed to create a shared experience by facilitating cultural exchange as well as meaningful art discussion. While varying backgrounds and language barriers complicated communication between the groups, art proved to be an effective method of bridging gaps.
Already having visited with Inhotim, the Summit began with a conversation reflecting on the prior collaboration between the TAP and Inhotim teens. The two groups participated in the production of the New Museum’s annual Block Party, a public event that brings the museum’s surrounding community together for a day of fun activities. For Inhotim, this was a didactic experience since their youth and educators are both interested in the concept of social engagement through art. Observing some of the preparation for and volunteering at the Block Party helped the Brazilian teens understand how they could produce a similar event for their community. Through open discussion of what went well and what could have gone better—with the Lower East Side as a scenic backdrop—both teams came away proud of their accomplishments, but also with new ideas for possible future improvements. Though the New Museum’s event served to help inspire Inhotim, the plans for the Brazilian “street fair” are not at all a replication of Block Party. In working together, the two museums discovered both similarities as well as defined differences in their city’s cultures and languages as well as the institutions’ overall programs, methods and goals. However, the environment of the Summit, in the spirit of the New Museum’s 2014 summer exhibition: Here and Elsewhere, was a place in which differences did not create divisions. Instead, the Summit encouraged cultural exchange, and therefore welcomed all kinds of differences as learning opportunities. Working with translators, using modern technology, and playing games that used body language and universal sounds allowed the Portuguese and English-speaking teens to communicate effectively and learn from one and other.
After a thoughtful morning of Block Party discussion and analysis, the Summit continued into the galleries of Here and Elsewhere, where the groups further examined different cultures and art from other places and communities. Walking through the galleries of the exhibition, occupied by works from about 40 artists from the Arab world, was a special experience for the teens and adults alike. For many, this was a first encounter with art from Arab culture and regions. Activities in the galleries really helped the dense and political exhibition feel less intimidating, and brought everyone together to positively experience the works on display. Gallery games began with blackout poetry, an activity that utilized wall texts and prompted the teens to transform them into unique pieces of writing, and moved onto eye-spy. Though the directions for the I Spy activity were simple, the act of carefully inspecting each work to complete the task at hand allowed for many unexpected group and personal discoveries to take place. Spending extended periods of time with the works through engaging games was not only fun, but it also provoked deeper thought about the exhibition, as well as Arab art and its significance.
Drawing upon themes of exploring art’s role in various places, the No Longer Empty Youth Docents joined the Summit in the afternoon. They gave an exciting presentation on the function of the No Longer Empty organization, which was complimented by a creative project that required the teens to consider places in their lives that could be re-imagined or used in a better way. It was interesting to see how everyone chose to transform spaces in their lives, and this activity really pushed everyone to think critically about how art changes spaces and alters the way in which one views their surroundings. Museums and art truly have important effects on the communities they reside in, which is an idea that all three art institutions embrace and are conscious of despite their differences.
The Teen Summit allowed youth from diverse backgrounds to communicate, regardless of the fact that they spoke different languages and had different experiences with art. Not only did everyone enjoy a day filled with fun activities, but the teens all learned from one and other. While translation proved to be difficult, the experience left many with a new appreciation for different cultures. Collaborating to complete the same tasks ultimately brought the groups closer together as they worked towards common goals and explored art and ideas alongside one and other. Overall, the Summit fostered reflection on art’s impact in all kinds of communities, and allowed the teen participants to connect with each other and the art they interacted with.
Li Ping Lin
Being a part of the Teen Apprentice program at the New Museum is an interesting experience. Where else is there a combination of community outreach, contemporary artwork, opportunistic chances for aspiring artists as well as wide-eyed teens, all packaged together in a simple, and tightly knitted ribbon? Recently in a course of one week, we worked together with a group of teens from the Inhotim museum in Brazil to make our annual Block Party a success and participated in a summit with the Brazilian group and another one from No Longer Empty. It was the first time we did something like this and it was fun.
Our Block Party at the nearby park is our chance to give back to the community and an opportunity to reach out. Our museum is situated in the crossroad of contrasting cultures. We have the artistic attraction of the Bowery, mixing with the colorful area of Little Italy, and the exotic bustling of Chinatown, which combine together to form a unique community right outside the museum doorstep. Museums tend to be populated by tourists and art lovers of the higher and middle class. Rarely does the working class come to visit museums over the weekend, so the purpose of the Block Party is to create a family event to show that we care and a way of reaching out to our local community. The event was run by volunteers and teens consisting of us and the group from Brazil. The Inhotim teens were there to get inspirations and experience for their own community party back home. It was an interesting experience communicating with other teens and trying to talk about each of our experiences in our respectable countries. Other than the interaction with the Inhotim teens, another great aspect of the Block Party was the performances by a selection of artists who were each unique in the way they used their voices. It was a great mix: performances for the older audience and activities for the kids to enjoy.
We regrouped a few days later to reflect on the Block Party with Inhotim where discussion ringed with talks on the highs and lows of the event. In an open circle surrounded by the views of lower Manhattan, we came to the conclusion that the lows for both of our groups had to be the language barrier. Afterwards, we took a detour back to the location of the Block Party to conclude our reflection and to get a bit of exercise in the form of a group game. We walked back to the museum for lunch and later, showed Inhotim around the place. At each floor, we had an activity to make the art work more interactive and thought provoking. The current exhibit stretched across four floors and the lobby, but we only had activities on three of them and they were: finding a piece that interests you, scavenger hunt, and blackout poetry. The day concluded with a Teen Summit which consisted of Inhotim, us, and the No Longer Empty teen docents, who came by to give us a presentation of the work they do. They are a group that moves around the city creating art exhibits by turning empty spaces into community art centers. They bring in artists who will create pieces that connect with the local community by exploring culture, history, and movements. The Teen Summit was an interaction between three teen programs, each very different; one is from a museum located in a national park focusing on outdoor art, one is from a contemporary art museum in Manhattan, and one is a group that creates art that gives back and transforms a community. We learned from each other, but more importantly we shared and enjoyed the time together.
This first Teen Summit was a gathering of adolescent groups from different organizations and museums. At this particular gathering we met a youth group from a museum in Brazil called Inhotim, as well as volunteer teen docents of the organization called “No Longer Empty.” The youth group from the Brazilian museum, Inhotim, is similar to ours except their program is all year round while ours is during the summer. No Longer Empty (NLE) is an organization that takes underutilized space and transforms it with art to leave a legacy so that once they’re gone that locals will continue engaging with art. The Teen Apprentice Program ( TAP) which I am a part of, led by the coordinators Sasha Wortzel and Hanna Exel, is a program that runs through the summer and teaches adolescents about contemporary art as well as other types of art and the different roles in museum, particularly the New Museum.
We met with Inhotim and went up to the Sky Room at the New Museum. We arranged the chairs in a circle for everyone to sit and discuss what they did or didn’t enjoy and what we found most challenging about the Block Party. I said I enjoyed working at a busy booth because if I hadn’t I would’ve been bored, and what I found the most challenging was communicating with the youth group from Inhotim simply because they didn’t speak any English. I remember everyone saying how they enjoyed the Block Party and the performances but we all also agreed we had trouble communicating with one another. During the Block Party some of us used Google Translate as a way to communicate, although it didn’t get exactly what we wanted to say but it got the point across. What was difficult for me was trying to understand what the Inhotim group was trying to say when their translators weren’t around because when I gave them my phone to use Google Translate their words came out choppy and I couldn’t fully understand what they were saying, but hand gestures helped a little. Although we had trouble communicating we agreed the Block Party was a success.
After reflections about Block Party, we went back to the park where the event took place. When we got there we saw how the chalk texts and drawings were still there. We had also played a game with the Inhotim group called zip, zap, zop and what was interesting to me was that you didn’t need to have an understanding of another language, all you needed to know was how to say those three words, “zip, zap, zop.” I felt more connected with the Inhotim group because we were interacting with one another without any challenges like we did during Block Party day.
We headed back to the theater at the museum where we ate lunch with each other. After lunch we visited to the galleries of the exhibition Here and Elsewhere to play some activities with the Inhotim group. We only visited the second, third, and fourth floor of the exhibition. On the fourth floor we did an activity called “blackout poetry” which was basically taking a walk text and creating a poem with those words. It was interesting to see how we all came up with almost completely different poems, some were short, some long. On the third floor we played a game called “I Spy” which I’m sure everyone has heard of, and so Sasha and Hanna gave us a packet with things to find on the gallery floor. On the second floor Sasha and Hanna asked us to find one piece to focus on and then to talk about it with someone. I chose a piece by Rokni Haerizahdeh and talked about how the piece was created by taking a paused picture from a video and was painted over into something completely different. The artist had made the humans in the video looked like mythical creatures by giving them different types of animal heads. I really enjoyed doing the activities because it gave me time to spend in the galleries.
We headed back to the theater where we waited for the NLE group. Once they arrived, they started us off by splitting us into groups and telling everyone to close their eyes and imagine an empty space that we normally see. I thought of a parking lot that I see almost every day and how it has been up for rent but never rented in so long. We shared about the place we thought about with the people in our group and see what we came up with. It was shocking to hear about so many empty spaces because I never would’ve imagined there being so many in New York. Then, they asked us to think of a way to transform it for something good and would benefit for the community. They gave us an activity to do that started off with them giving everyone a sheet of paper with a pre-drawn square in the center. They asked us to draw out our plan for the empty space that we thought about earlier. After, they took everyone’s drawings and displayed them out for everyone to see and if someone asked about a piece, that person had to share about it and what they drew. No one asked about my piece, probably because it had “Shelter” written at the top, which told them what it was. A few people had shared their ideas, and then it was time for NLE to leave. We took a group photo to end the day.
The elevator doors opened and there it was: the view that everyone raves about. The rooftops of buildings of the Lower East Side, the clear blue sky and fluffy white clouds stretched out in front of us – perfect selfie moment. It was the first time us teen apprentices and Inhotim, a museum group from Brazil, had been up to the Sky Room and the view was as perfect as it sounds. But we weren’t there for the view; we were there for Block Party reflections. And so we gathered the chairs and built our circle.
Though the Block Party was three days earlier, we remembered it like it was yesterday. The highlight for most people was the performances, and the most challenging part was communication. We didn’t speak Portuguese and the Inhotim teens didn’t speak English, and there were only a few translators. So we looked to Google Translate for help – though inaccurate it got the point across – because hand gestures just weren’t cutting it. It was really cool to see everybody working together and using technology to communicate.
We then revisited “the pit” at Sara D. Roosevelt Park where we had the Block Party to play an icebreaker game called Zip Zap Zop. It didn’t require much talking and was pretty much made of simple hand gestures associated with one word (zip, zap, or zop). Things got crazier when “zoom” was added to the game, which only made it more fun. It was perfect because we didn’t all speak the same language.
After our pizza party in the theater we went up to the galleries to do activities involving the artworks. We started on the fourth floor with blackout poetry, which was basically taking the phrases/words from a wall text of an artwork that we didn’t cross out and putting them together to make a poem. Even with the same wall text, it was interesting to see everybody creating a different poem that showed off their own style. The Inhotim teens did something different since they couldn’t read English, which was to find words that look similar to words they know in Portuguese. When we were sharing, it was cool to notice that we could still understand what they were saying even though they were speaking Portuguese. It made me realize that language wasn’t such a major barrier. Next was the third floor, where we played “I spy…” with the art. The teen apprentices had explored the gallery beforehand during our work assignments with Security, so we supposedly had an advantage, but some of us still couldn’t find certain objects. It was funny to see that the Brazilians were able to find objects we couldn’t because it was their first time seeing the art. The game really made me notice the details in the pieces. When exploring the galleries on my own I’ve never really looked that closely at the art because there was so much to see and some pieces, like the videos, require a bit more time. But this game really made me open my eyes to things that were right in front of me that I never really notice. The last gallery activity of the day was on the second floor. Everybody went off on their own to pick a piece that they liked and to later come back and share with a partner about it. I picked the Sahar Omran’s Heart to Heart Bear, which is part of Lamia Joreige’s Objects of War piece. I noticed for the first time that the bear was wearing pajamas, which made something click in my mind: when we sleep we are usually in a peaceful place and it’s supposed to be a time when we forget about our problems and feel relaxed and calm. Having an object such as a teddy bear in pajamas during a time of war is very comforting and is a kind of distraction from what is really going on outside. Though I didn’t have 85 minutes to spare to watch the video on the bear, this activity made me realize that there is so much more to these objects that appear to be so simple. It forced us to look at more than just the whole picture and to really notice why everything is what it is.
Afterwards we met with staff and Youth Docents from No Longer Empty, which is an organization that takes uninhabited and underutilized spaces and turns them into art galleries that connect with their communities. Before they gave their presentation we did an exercise in which we all closed our eyes and pictured our neighborhood and thought of an unused place near our home or school or local bus stop or train station that could be turned into an art space. What would we turn it into? What can be done to make better use of this space? Those were the questions that we kept in mind as Jodie gave a presentation on the mission of No Longer Empty and we looked at some of the work they’ve done. After, we did an activity in which we drew up the place we thought of earlier and put it on paper and shared it with the whole group. I thought of an abandoned asylum on 1st Avenue in Manhattan near an M15 bus stop. The cute animal paintings on its window-like walls made the vine-covered building kind of welcoming and no one would’ve thought it was once a mental institution. It would be so cool to see that space get revitalized because there is certainly a lot of history there.
Overall, the Teen Summit was a success; it was fun and informative and brought people together from different organizations. It really helped change the way I view art and made me realize that there is so much more than what can be obviously seen and that every part of a piece of artwork has meaning even if it is as simple as a pair of pajamas on a teddy bear.