High school curators and artists stage topical show at the Aspen Art Museum
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Real Artists, Real Action’ by Young Curators of the Roaring Fork
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Opening reception April 14, 3-5 p.m.; exhibition on view through April 29
How much: Free
More info: www.aspenartmuseum.org
The Roaring Fork Valley’s brightest young artists are making their voices heard in a new Aspen Art Museum exhibition that tackles LGBT representation, calls for immigrant rights and aims to beat back sexism and misogyny.
As young people take charge and take action across the U.S. this spring, in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the annual Young Curators of the Roaring Fork show at the museum is likewise demonstrating a generation of teens committed to change and unafraid to speak up.
“There are so many things people are raising their voices about, with the Time’s Up movement, the Stoneman Douglas shooting and those student protests,” said student curator Sebastian Arreola, a sophomore at Glenwood Springs High School. “This exhibition brings all these topics into one room, for our valley not to diminish and ignore them, but to raise awareness to them.”
Titled “Real Artists, Real Action,” the topical show is curated by 12 student interns from Aspen, Basalt, Glenwood Springs and Roaring Fork high schools. They selected 17 visual artworks and one poem by students at their schools, as well as Coal Ridge and Rifle high schools.
Running since 2005, the Young Curators program has engaged high school students in a six-month program that teaches students curating skills and empowers them to stage a museum show.
The Young Curators met regularly over the last six months in sessions that included seminars on curating with museum director Heidi Zuckerman, curator Courtenay Finn and with Wassan Al-Khudhair of the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.
Their first jurying session was in February, one week after the Stoneman Douglas shooting and the student protests for gun control that erupted in its wake. Looking at the 70 submissions for the show, it was clear to Arreola and his colleagues that they’d use the exhibition to make a social impact and continue the momentum of the national youth movement.
“The concept of this exhibition is to raise the voices of those that are unheard in the valley,” said Arreola.
“It was a great way for them to put their voice out there through artworks. Raising your voice can be a bit scary, but being able to put it in a piece of artwork and tell a story that way is powerful.”
The exhibition is filled with deeply personal works about experiences with issues that are often obscured by politics.
Tania Avitia, of Rifle High School, channeled her anxiety about her immigration status into a resonant painting titled “Blooming Dreams.” It depicts a woman’s head, upside down and her eyes covered by a cluster of flowers, with a hand snapping fingers in front of her. Avitia received a path to stay in the U.S. through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative in 2016. The snapping fingers represent elected officials’ ability to take away her dream of staying here by rescinding her DACA status.
“This piece tells the story of not just myself, but also 800,000 others who are in danger of losing jobs and educational opportunities,” Avitia wrote of her painting.
Her classmate, Lauren Giard, responded directly to the Me Too and Time’s Up movements to end sexual assault and harassment with her watercolor “Times Up,” depicting a young woman whose neck is wrapped in a nest of snakes.
The women’s movement that’s bloomed since the march on Washington in January 2017 resonates across several works in the show. Among them are Roaring Fork High student Megan Rusby’s “Barcode Chick,” depicting a barcoded woman in a Sharpie drawing, and Aspen High student Ava Lassalette’s “Interference Stare,” made on a worn piece of cardboard.
Museum learning director Michelle Dezember said she had been struck by the students’ commitment to social justice.
“We selected people who were articulate in their application and who expressed a commitment to service — to the idea that art gives back,” she said. “We were looking for students who have a sense of the power that art has to tell stories.”
While they were dealing with hot-button issues that divide the rest of the country, the Young Curators found common ground by focusing on the work and amplifying artists’ perspectives.
“We didn’t have controversy about politics,” Arreola said. “We were open-minded and accepted what these artists were going through, and we came up with the idea of just raising up voices and trying to be heard.”