Making Art With Teens (PART 1)

In late 2010, it donned on me that the walls in my teen library were quite bare.  My teen library, which reopened in April 2010 after a $7.3 million dollar renovation, had all the wonderful elements of a new building: study rooms, lots of seating, a lot of windows, light and energy, and more.  But the walls were empty, boring, and stale.  Those are the things that a teen library does not want to be.  After some thinking, reading, learning about the community, and talking to others at my library, an idea became clearer to me.  What if it were the teens in our community that covered the walls with some amazing art?

I knew that in order to make this program happen we had to have a collaborator.  It’s one thing to be a teen librarian with an idea, but another to actually execute it.  The Maine College of Art, which is located just a few short blocks from my library, was the obvious choice for a partner.  I’ve always enjoyed seeing the work of the students at the college.  From that, I could tell that they were a solid organization to partner with on the project.  Along with my director and our programming coordinator,  we met with a few instructors from MECA and pitched our idea.  Our first step was to create a position description which MECA students could apply to (written by myself and our programming coordinator Rachael Weyand):

The Portland Public Library seeks students interested in or majoring in Art Education to collaborate with the Teen Center to create unique and original art with teenagers. Teens will have varying experience with art and will look to interns to help guide them through the process or creating art. These works will remain in the library’s permanent collection, will be displayed in the library and will be available to be checked out through circulation.

Interns will work closely with the Teen Librarian to define how collaborations will work before partnering with individual teenagers on projects. Work will take place either at the library or at MECA, depending on the discipline. This pilot project will rely on flexibility and creativity of interns in helping to create this program.

Once the position was posted, students could apply for the position.  MECA then selected a student for the position (I’m not sure how this was done, as it was all through the school).  We started working with our MECA intern Peter Hyde in mid January 2012.  Our first plan was for all of us to get on the same page and make sure we had the same goals in mind.  We mapped out a program that we would all feel comfortable with, which ended up looking like this:

  • The Library and the MECA intern will interview and select four teens ages 12-18 who will then work one-on-one with the MECA intern for two months in developing a piece (or pieces) of art which will then be housed in the Teen Library.
  • MECA will provide the studio space for the intern to work with the teens, and the Teen Library will provide the budget for the materials needed by those participating.

To get teens interested, we put the word out via social media (Facebook, Tumblr, library blogs), advertised the program heavily on the digital signage within the library, and also directly contacted local schools about the project.  Our message to the schools was simple:

Hello, and I hope you are well. Thanks for taking the time out to read this email. I am looking for teens ages 12-19 who may be interested in creating art at the Portland Public Library. We at the library are proud to announce an art collaboration project with the Maine College of Art (MECA). For the next few months, selected teens from the Portland Public Library will be working with MECA student on an art education internship. The goal is for the MECA student (who applied for the position and was selected by the school) to work with teens to produce art created by teens with the assistance of the MECA intern that will be displayed in the teen library and possibly can be checked out by patrons. The medium which teens will work in will be depending on what the teen would like to work with. A majority of the artwork will be created at MECA with the intern supervising the teens.

I am emailing you to ask you if you wouldn’t mind passing this information along to any teens that you feel may be interested. They can contact mem Teen Librarian Justin Hoenke at 207-871-1700 ext 772 or visit me any Monday-Friday at the Library.

Once the word was out that the program was happening, teens that were interested started asking about the program and how they could get involved.  To gauge teen interest, Peter and I sat down with the teens who wished to be part of the program.  We talked to them about art, about the general idea of the program, and why they would want to be involved in the project.  All of the teens we spoke with responded with great enthusiasm towards the project.  Our final step was to select the four students that would work with Peter over the next two months.

And that’s where we leave off for now.  I will be following up this blog post over the next two months with program updates, photos, and more.  Thanks for listening.


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