In the summer of 2017, Bard Graduate Center launched The Lab for Teen Thinkers, a year-long program providing rising juniors and seniors the opportunity to study objects and artifacts with a variety of scholars and curators working in the fields of material culture, decorative arts, and design history. In 2019, the Hill Art Foundation sought to launch a year-long after-school program that would bring New York City youth together in dialogue with artists, curators, and historians to build career pathways through the arts.

Sharing a unique vision to provide public humanities programs to New York City high school students in order to prepare them for future academic and professional success, Bard Graduate Center and the Hill Art Foundation formed a partnership. Using the educational framework developed for The Lab for Teen Thinkers, Carla Repice, the Senior Manager of Education, Engagement and Interpretation at Bard Graduate Center, developed the Teen Curators program.

Currently taught by BGC MA student Jordane Birkett, the Teen Curators at the Hill Art Foundation is an after-school program in the heart of Chelsea that offers learning opportunities through the study of art. Teens engage with a range of arts professionals at museums and institutions throughout New York City, develop collaborative curatorial projects, conduct independent research on works of art from the Hill Collection, and build knowledge on the vast career opportunities available in the fields of curation, exhibition making, and education. The program culminates with teens sharing their ideas with the larger arts community at the foundation.

During the fall of 2019, Teen Curators conducted independent research projects based on a work of art from the exhibition, Three Christs, Sleeping Mime, and The Last Supper Pagan Paradise: Charles Ray and the Hill Collection.

Annette Garcia, a junior at the High School for Art and Design, and Caroline Arenas, a senior at the Marble Hill High School for International Studies, participate in the program. BGC talked with both of them to learn more about their experiences.

What interested you in Hill Art Foundation’s Teen Curators program?
Caroline: The mission. When I read it, I was like, “Wow. I’m going to be with people who are the same age as me, and from different boroughs, so I could learn a lot from them.”

What are you currently working on?
Annette: We just finished presentations [on objects from the exhibition], and next week we’re going to go meet an artist and artistic director [Jordan Casteel and Massimiliano Gioni] at the New Museum. After we meet them, we’re going to begin a curating project to design an exhibition based on the Hill Collection.

What were your presentations about?
Annette: We had to pick an object [from the exhibition] and write an object biography, which is basically researching what it is, who is the artist, its history, and its purpose, things like that. I chose Godflower, [by Charles Ray] which is an abstract depiction of a flower.
Caroline: Jordane assigned me Mime [by Charles Ray].

How was the research phase of this project?
Caroline: For me, I haven’t ever taken an art class in my high school, because it’s more STEM-related. In this program I have more freedom to focus on art. It’s cool doing all the research on these different objects, especially mine, because there was another girl in the program who researched the same object as I did, but she took a more philosophical path. And I did it material-wise and explored what his process was.
Annette: Mine was actually a little more difficult because Charles Ray is a sculptor, and not a painter or an illustrator. I looked up the flower directly in Google, and nothing. There was nothing for it, and so I started panicking. Then I thought, “you know what just keep searching.” I searched Charles Ray and flowers, and then I saw that he did other illustrations of flowers. So the research that I conducted wasn’t specifically on my piece, but on his intentions with his flowers in general and what they mean to him.

Annette, for part of your research you were able to interview Charles Ray himself. How did that impact your interpretation?
Annette: He said that art really had no meaning “in general.” It is alive in a sense. It changes and evolves, and it becomes its own thing. So what I interpreted [about Godflower] was not wrong. The artist will have his own interpretation and the viewer will have their own interpretation. And the art sort of exists to be interpreted. That’s what he said.

In everything that you have done so far, what has been the most interesting thing you have learned or experienced?
Caroline: I have to say visiting the art museums. The Basquiat exhibit at the Guggenheim was my favorite trip overall because his art is more political for me. I’m really into politics, so when I see politics with art, it’s a really good match. I would like to create art like that in the future.

How has this program shaped or changed your views on art and art history?
Annette: I go to an art high school, so taking art history is required of us. When I took it freshman year, I was interested in it, but only to an extent. Even though I had a lot of prior knowledge of art history, being in this program allowed me to explore it more, and appreciate it more than I did before.
Caroline: When I take my history classes and compare them to art history with Jordane, it’s really cool. I like visiting the art museums and seeing how art evolves through using the old techniques to make the new and improved. It helps us teens to actually understand. This program provides different things for us to see that we might not be able to in our schools.
Image Courtesy of BGC; Pictured (Left to Right): Jordane Birkett, Annette Garcia & Caroline Arenas