Kenneth Cruz led a group of his high school peers through the Dance/Draw exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) one day last month, pausing to discuss artwork that he views as particularly evocative.
This is Cruz's first year on the ICA's Teen Arts Council, but already he is adept at communicating a passion about art to his fellow teens. "Why do you think the pieces of charcoal are hanging from chains?" he asked as the group paused in front of "Hanging Fire, (Suspended Arson)," a mixed-media installation by the artist Cornelia Parker, made from the charred remains of an alleged arson fire, suspended on chains.
The group was quiet but attentive as Cruz talked about how art can bring new life to a destroyed structure.
In the next room, Cruz led the group to "Floor of the Forest" by Trisha Brown, a work consisting of clothing suspended on a grid of thick ropes, supported by pipes. "What do you think about clothes?" he asked the teens, and then went on to explain that dancers perform as part of the piece periodically throughout the day.
Cruz is one of a corps of a dozen city high school students selected as members of the Teen Arts Council, which works with the ICA to develop and promote creative programming to connect teens to contemporary art and to each other. The council leads Teen Nights, such as the one Cruz attended Oct. 14, that bring hundreds of teenagers to the museum for special tours and programs.
Council members, who meet weekly during the school year, share an interest in contemporary art and a commitment to creating quality programming for their peers, program organizers say.
They work with museum staff and visiting artists to create events.
Teen Arts Council members come from neighborhoods around the city, including Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and South Boston, and have a variety of different interests and skills, said Gabrielle Wyrick, the ICA's associate director of education. Some are artists themselves.
Arts Council members serve at least a year and are given stipends for their work. They are responsible for helping to produce events such as Teen Nights, organize performers, create schedules and coordinate marketing.
“We use Facebook a lot and Twitter to advertise,” said Chabelyz Mejia, one of the veteran council members. "We have some fliers, but we also just spread the word talking to our friends at school.”
Like other council members, Mejia said she is grateful for the opportunity to work in a museum setting. “This is better than a job. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else,” she said. For the recent Teen Night, Mejia came up with title for the event, which honored the ICA's 75th anniversary: “We’ve Gone Platinum.”
Getting their peers to engage in conversations about art can be more challenging than organizing the gatherings.
“Interacting with the audience can be difficult, especially during the gallery talks, because the kids are seeing something they’ve never seen before, and they don’t really understand it," Mejia said.
Teen Night, held four times a year, was established in 2005. Over the years, attendance at the events has grown from 80 teens to more than 200. The Teen Night is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Other programs coordinated by the Teen Arts Council include Teen Convene and Artist Encounters; the ICA also offers classes and workshops geared to teenagers in media, art and photography.
Inspired by the Dance/Draw exhibit, the activities at the October Teen Night included interactive video art, chalk and body drawings, guided gallery tours, and performances by local groups including the Boston Latin Girls Step Squad, Project Hip Hop and the Floor Lords.
Wyrick said teenagers and contemporary art have a lot in common, in the way they relate to the world. "They are both very rebellious, questioning, provocative -- and struggling to create an identity for themselves in society," she said.
This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Julia Swanson, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel , as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.