While your average creative kid might not be able to say what makes contemporary art different from classical art, put him in a building full of the former, and he will probably say it in a word: Cool.
Such was Olaide Junaid’s take when he and nearly 100 peers from high schools across the city gathered recently at the Institute of Contemporary Art for the museum’s quarterly “Teen Night,” this one themed “Streetology.”
Junaid, 16, a sophomore at Boston Preparatory Charter Public School, is also a member of the ICA’s Teen Arts council, a task force of young artists and art community “boosters” who spend two days a week planning art-related events aimed at encouraging peers to get involved.
“We picked ‘streetology’ because a lot of us at our age who have an interest in art are inspired by the streets — everything from graffiti to tagging to nontraditional sculpture,” Junaid said. “I mean, art is art, and I respect different genres, but I just feel this is about openness.
“See what they’re doing. There are no instructions. They’re making the art whatever they want it to be. Plus Teen Night is great because it gives a place for young people who want to learn about other people’s thoughts on art can come together. This is good. It’s like our place, our time. And it helps us plan for the future, too.”
What “they,” the other teens attending, were doing was slowly working their way around a “buffet” of tables stocked with different textures, weights, and cuts of paper and felt, assembling jewelry and simple clothing items such as hats and paper shawls.
And as for those future plans, Junaid uttered a sentiment common among the 20-some other teens there: Even if their interest in art doesn’t evolve into an art career, it can help them prepare for some other occupation.
Yismael “Izzy” Ramirez, 14, a freshman at Cathedral High School and also a member of the ICA Teen Arts Council, helped come up with the idea for a small workshop to make what she called “intricate jewelry designs with paper.”
“We wanted to keep it simple, so everyone could create and not have some pre-formed idea pushed on them about how stuff should look,” Ramirez said. “That’s why what you see in the tubs and on the tables is bands and strips of stuff. Pretty basic.”
But more than giving other teens tearable jewelry to take home, Ramirez said she hoped they’d begin to feel comfortable around different interpretations of art, and that they would open up about themselves to one another.
“I think the social aspect of this is the best part of all,” Ramirez said. “Whatever we decide to do, it can only help us to know how to be social around art. It’s learning. It expands our minds. I don’t know what I want to do. But I know being a part of this kind of stuff brings me together with a lot of kids I might not know in any other way.”
In addition to the workshop, Tucker Gaye, 19, and his Urbano Project dance and performance art crew put on a show. Teen guides gave tours to other museum visitors. And a Q&A was held with the event’s cohost and guest professional mentor for the evening, Caledonia Dance Curry, a.k.a. Swoon, the renowned street artist whose wheatpaste sculpture and 40-foot mural installation, “Anthropocene Extinction,” fill an elevator shaft at the ICA and adorn the building’s Fineberg Art Wall, respectively.
“I’m really glad to be here working with these guys,” said Swoon, fresh off the plane from a project in Africa, where she was working with young children on practical art and design projects for their homes. “Streetology is a great theme. Street art is where I got my start, it’s where my heart is. And in a way, even my work that appears in museums is developed in a way that still resonates with the streets. That means everything from using recycled materials, to natural materials, to unconventional materials. So what they’re learning here tonight is about much more than art. It’s about sustainability and making good use of the things at their disposal. It’s about them learning to be a part of something while being themselves.”
The next ICA Teens event, WallTalk Reading Jam, will be Friday, May 18, at the Institute (100 Northern Ave., Boston) from 10 a.m.-noon. It will feature intimate discussions, networking, and friendly debate about contemporary art through writing, visual art, and spoken word projects. For information on this and other ICA Teens events, visit www.icateens.org.
James H. Burnett III can be
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