‘RAW’: Artwork by — and chosen by — high school students exhibited at Aspen Art Museum
If You Go...
Who: Students from Aspen, Basalt, Glenwood Springs, Rifle and Roaring Fork high schools
What: “RAW” student exhibition
When: Opening public reception at 3 p.m. on Sunday; exhibition up through March 29 (museum hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed on Mondays)
Where: Aspen Art Museum
How Much: Free
Calli Ferguson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Aspen High School, recently went to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. But because of her experiences as a Young Curator of the Roaring Fork, she didn’t see it the same way she would have a year ago.
“I went there, and I started thinking about the curators and how they set it up,” she said. “I was just thinking about how many people went into it and how much thought went into it, and that’s so cool because it’s something I never would have thought about if it weren’t for this.”
“This” is a program through the Aspen Art Museum’s education department called the Young Curators of the Roaring Fork (YCRF). The six-month program, now in its ninth year, is open to students from Aspen to Rifle in grades 9-12 who have an interest in learning how an art museum operates and how an exhibition comes together. This year, 15 young curators from Aspen, Basalt, Glenwood Springs and Roaring Fork high schools have met at least every other Tuesday since October to bring an art exhibit to life.
The exhibit, called “RAW,” consists entirely of artwork from high school students from Aspen to Rifle and opens with a public reception at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the Aspen Art Museum. An open mic night will take place at 6 p.m. on March 20 on the Aspen Art Museum’s roof-deck, featuring artists from the exhibition speaking about their work as well as an open-call format for local musicians, poets and those with other creative forms to share on stage.
After sifting through 78 submissions, the young curators narrowed down their 30 favorites and finally chose the 14 pieces that will appear in the show.
The first step, though, was finding a theme.
“It took a while for us to come up with a theme, but the idea of vulnerability just kept coming up again and again,” Ferguson said. “We all agreed on that.”
Young curator Mae Houston, a 14-year-old freshman at Glenwood Springs High School, said that theme is especially well-suited for high school artists.
“Vulnerability and rawness is something that teenagers can relate to — coming to find ourselves, who we are and where we feel vulnerable,” Houston said.
After choosing the theme and putting out their call for submissions, which came in on Feb. 20, the young curators got a crash course in what makes an art museum tick. They met with a variety of staff members, learned how to look at and interpret art, split into committees of three based on their interests (public relations and marketing, curating, education, etc.) and created criteria for rating the submissions on a scale of 0 to 3.
“And then we took — this was the hardest day — we took three and a half hours, and we just went through every single slide of all the works,” Houston said. “And then we put on a scale from 0 to 3, and we averaged out the top 30. I’d say that was the longest part, making the decisions.”
The young curators weren’t just choosing the artwork they liked the best. They had to constantly ask themselves, “Does this piece represent our theme?” And even if it did, they had to ask, “Does this piece fit with the others we want to pick?”
“Each of them, if you read the artist statement and looked, you could see how people thought it was raw,” Houston said of the submissions. “So we chose our top 30, and then we chose 15 that we thought should be in the show, then we laid them out to see how they worked together as an exhibition. And then we added works and took away until it looked like a puzzle, like it looked complete.”
“It was really hard to have to take away works that we liked because they just didn’t work with each other,” Ferguson said. “You can’t just choose the best; you have to choose the best for the theme, and the best together.”
After finally choosing the 14 pieces that would make the final cut, the next step for the young curators was hanging and installing the work. They finished that on Tuesday evening to be ready for the opening this Sunday.
The YCRF program is able to teach a multitude of lessons to its students in a very short period of time. They learn the specific steps to putting together an exhibition from start to finish, but they also learn broader lessons that can be taken elsewhere in their lives.
Mario Acosta, a 17-year-old senior at Glenwood Springs High School, had never been to an art museum before becoming a young curator.
“After I got here, I was able to see the museum’s other art shows and the art the students did, and that expands your horizons and your way of seeing art,” he said.
Houston said participating in the program took her out of Glenwood Springs and showed her what opportunities are available to her throughout the valley.
“I live in Glenwood, and it’s a good town to grow up in, but there’s so little opportunity for internships and jobs in what you’re interested in, and I think it’s important to broaden your horizons on things like this,” Houston said. “Before this, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, looking at art seems cool.’ And now I’m actually interested in it and actually doing it, so I think it’s important for teenagers to get a bigger view on what’s out there.”
Ferguson said she learned about herself through the theme of the exhibit.
“The theme, raw, has taught me a huge life lesson,” she said. “When you think of courage and vulnerability, you don’t really think they go together, but they sort of define each other. You have to have courage to be raw.”
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