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I'm Here to Find Myself

Teen Leadership Council

Studio Museum in Harlem Teen Leadership Council. Photo: Jossie Rivera. 

The Teen Leadership Council is a group of New York City-based teens that fosters a fun and safe space for teens to express creative ideas with the Studio Museum. Council members assist with planning and facilitating the Museum’s free programs for teens, including Art Looks and Studio Works, and collaborate with other teen organizations for special programs.

Through visits to museums, talks with arts professionals, and exchanges with their peers, the Teen Leadership Council members nurture creativity and ambition in developing the next generation of cultural programmers. This conversation included Waleey, Elisha, Neichel, Emerald, and Jossie, and was moderated by Ginny Huo and transcribed by Jossie Rivera.

Waleey: My name is Waleey, and I am in Teen Leadership Council with The Studio Museum in Harlem. I came to the Studio Museum to explore because I never really imagined a place like this could exist. I never thought that music, art, and drawing would ever be in one place. So, when I got here, I said I was going to explore and expand on myself.

Elisha: I’m Elisha, and I recently moved to New York City. I was kind of overwhelmed with the art of the city in a bad way because there are many prestigious, fancy museums. But when I heard about the Studio Museum, I thought it was really interesting and innovative because it is accessible and representative. I thought it would be a really good way to get involved with the art in New York City and learn more about museums and their history. I also realized I don’t have much time anymore to create my own art, so this is a good way to discover different creative outlets. I just want to learn.

Neichel: My name is Neichel, and I’m from the Bronx. I feel like New York City is a very artful city. But the art of New York isn’t really in the museums; it is in the streets and with the people. I feel like this program is a good way to show people you can be artful without having to work in museums. I feel like the art world doesn’t showcase as much as it should, and in school curricula, going to a museum is treated more like a reward than something you deserve. I feel like this is just a good way to bring art to my city and to get people more involved.

Emerald: My name is Emerald, and I’m from Queens. I feel like we categorize art as drawing, but I feel like art is whatever you make it. Art is what you create and how you feel about things, and I feel like sometimes art can be how you feel. People create their emotions, and art can be finding yourself.

Elisha: I also thought this program was really cool because we are designing programs with complete freedom in order to engage teens. I think art is often seen as either you make it, or you see it, but this is a way to get involved, to learn, to collaborate, and to be with other teens who share interests with you and who also want to get involved. I think public programs can be really powerful, and it’s cool to be able to design them and make a difference.

Ginny: So, what are your main interests in joining the program? You all come with such different backgrounds and interests. Can you talk about what those are for you?

Neichel: I don’t have any particular interests because I like to do a little bit of everything. I have doodles all over my notebooks, and I get in trouble at school for it, but it’s okay. I take pictures any time that I can, like if I’m going out with my friends or if I’m staying at home. Whenever I think about the future, I wish there were multiples of me, so I could do everything. I just want to do so many things, like own different businesses. I think it’s important to express yourself, but I am not one to talk about emotions, so I find it weird to do that. I think this program is very powerful because I am giving other teens something that can benefit them.

Waleey: My interest is expanding myself. I would like to draw, make art, take videos, and make music. I want to be everywhere, but not to be popular. I just want to do something instead of staying home all day and doing nothing.

Elisha: Similar to you, last year, I didn’t have much going on. I didn’t have much school work, and I had a load of free time, so I really developed my art. But I’m a perfectionist, so I used to criticize everything. I used to draw faces, animals, and other realistic things a lot, but I didn’t like them because they weren’t realistic. But now, I can’t remember the last time I drew a face, because I realized I didn’t enjoy it. Instead, I actually enjoy doing abstract things, like drawing with shapes and colors and experimentation instead of just copying a picture. Recently I have been trying to make art that is unique and make it something that expresses my emotions as a way to just release what I am feeling. I didn’t use to consider random paint strokes on a page art, but now I just feel like anything you make intentionally, even if you don’t think you are making art, is being creative.

Waleey: I also think that I’m risking myself for something that I love instead of staying home.

Elisha Verbes, Stomp, 2020. Courtesy the artist


"I think art is often seen as either you make it, or you see it, but this is a way to get involved, to learn, to collaborate, and to be with other teens who share interests with you and who also want to get involved."


Ginny: That’s beautiful. Is there anything you want to ask each other?

Waleey: Yeah, what inspires you?

Emerald: I feel like clothing and dressing myself inspires me. Sometimes people think small, so you can’t tell small-minded people things because they make you feel like it’s just not possible. I feel like, as long as you believe in yourself, anything is possible. So what inspires me is just keeping myself open to new things and opportunities.

Neichel: I think one thing that inspires me right now is my younger self. Growing up, I was too shy to do certain things because I didn’t want anyone to have an opinion on it. Once I started becoming my own person and ultimately just not caring anymore, I took their criticism as constructive, and it just made me a better person. This world is such a fluid world. If you consider art, no one is going to tell you it’s not art. You can make art out of anything, really.

Waleey: I believe that what inspires me is my past and what I want to get in the future. In the past, I’ve known many people who made art, like my friends, and they inspire me to do more. I wasn’t really good at art, but  I just kept going and kept trying. I finally got a piece of acknowledgement from somebody and that made me feel great, so I said to myself that one day, I will finally be a good artist and I’ll make my friends proud.

Emerald: What if we are proud of it and people just don’t know what we go through to do this?

Elisha: Yeah. Something will take so long and then people won’t realize and they’ll criticize it. One comment can make all the work you’ve done seem like a waste of time or invalid. Even if you get loads of compliments on something, one bad thing can ruin all the good you got out of it.

Ginny: So how do you deal with that?

Neichel: I think programs like the one that we are doing right now is for our city and for people like us, and we’re showing them that criticism will come but that doesn’t mean you have to change your work. By us planning these programs for them, we can encourage them to try harder or try again, and I think that’s the beauty of planning art programs for people who might have been shot down before. They are being shot down, but we are giving them another opportunity, another door to make art again. Maybe we can make it a safer space for them. I’m going to ask you questions about the art, but I’m not going to judge your art.

Elisha: It’s much easier to make art when you’re at a program than when you are in your room, where you try to convince yourself to try again, but you’re just not motivated. You might never start again. But programs like the ones we are making can get people involved and inspire people to try again and do stuff.

Emerald: And we are still young. It’s like trial and error. We’re young, but once I get older, I can’t try this or I can’t do this anymore

Jossie: Well, when you are older you can still try.

Emerald: I mean, you can, but when you’re younger, it’s different. You’re just finding yourself, you’re flourishing, figuring yourself out.

Elisha: Yeah, I heard this quote that spoke about how you have time for hobbies when you are a teenager or when you’re old because when you’re really old, you can’t work anymore and you have free time and don’t have the pressure of responsibilities. When you are a teen, this is theoretically the time we are meant to find out about ourselves and explore different things.

Neichel: I think you can also find that stuff as you are getting older, though. I don’t think there is everan age limit to try to find yourself. By us planning programs, we are giving people the opportunity to find themselves through art. We are showing them that no matter what age you are, you can still do whatever you want to do. I don’t feel like your teen years should be the only years where you are trying to explore. If it takes you until like fifty to go to an art class that you really want to go to, at least you went. We are giving these people opportunities.

Waleey: Even if you find yourself, you shouldn’t stop looking because people may just stop and realize they haven’t really figured themselves out yet and they get stuck. Just keep trying to go forward.

Elisha: And you might never know if you have found yourself, even if you know the things you do and don’t like, you still might not know who you are. It’s always changing, as well, especially when you are a teen. You’re always changing and it’s a process to learn about yourself.

 

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