Here’s a guest post by Maddie Thomas, of SAM’s Teen Advisory Group!
Three years ago I was strolling through SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park and saw a poster for an event called “Art Attack – Teen Night Out.” The title of the event seemed appealing, but the poster design is what really caught my attention: an abstract, romantic depiction of a teenage Rapunzel-esque girl with billowy swirls of hair. Fascinated by the uniqueness of the occasion’s advertisement, I marked my calendar with the date and time and was excited to attend. I had only been to the SAM a handful of times before and loved it, so going to a teen focused event there seemed great.
There was only one problem. Three years ago also marked my first year of high school. As a freshman I was fairly timid. I’d grown up loving art but none of my friends at the time were artistic. I couldn’t think of anyone to invite who would appreciate the event. The evening Teen Night Out rolled around, I didn’t end up going. I was too scared attend an event of that scale on my own and never found anyone to go with me.
Filled with regret, the following summer I checked SAM’s website to see if there were any other upcoming teen events. I realized Teen Night Out only happens twice a year, once in fall and once in the spring. But while browsing the website I discovered a teen program at the museum called the Teen Advisory Group (TAG). The website described TAG as a group of teen leaders who were “highly opinionated, creative, visionary, loud, committed, etc.” It also revealed that TAG did the planning for Teen Night Out! Mystified, I immediately filled out an application for the program online. A few months later as a sophomore, I got an email informing me about an approaching meeting for teens who were interested in the program. I attended the meeting, and a few other interviews, then received a confirmation email saying I’d been accepted into the program. I was ecstatic!
At the very first meeting, I felt an energy and common ground with the other teens in TAG I had never experienced before. Everyone seemed united. Even though there were over 20 of us, we all had mutual creative interests and a strong appreciation for art. Additional meetings and various “ice-breaker” games revealed that we shared even more collective interests. I was finally making up for the lack of artistic friends that I had freshman year.
Making new friends was a definite bonus of TAG, but it wasn’t why we were there. Members of TAG get to interact with the community through volunteering at local events, be creative with art activities and occasional lessons from SAM Teaching Artists, and are granted opportunities to meet and interview artists. While the Nick Cave: Meet me at the Center of the Earth exhibition was at the SAM, TAG members got a preview of the exhibit. Three days before it was open to the public, Nick Cave himself came to the museum and gave us a personal tour of his work. The tour with Nick was stunningly intimate; wet paint signs covered the walls, various sculptures still needed to be unpackaged and assembled. The raw version of the exhibit was the most fascinating time I viewed that show (I probably saw it over 20 times): I never had been part of something so exclusive. SAM provides amazing opportunities for teens, that moment in the galleries with Nick being a fine example. Though volunteering and special opportunities are wonderful, the major focus of the group is curating Teen Night Out.
I’m a junior this year. I have returned for a second year to be part of TAG, and I’m currently in the process of helping to plan our next Teen Night Out on Friday, April 13. The event is being organized to show off the museum’s special exhibition: the fabulous Gauguin & Polynesia, as well as showcase local musicians, dance groups and artists. The focus of the event will be to bring teens into the museum and prove that SAM breaks traditional museum stereotypes: the notion of museums being boring places with stuffy security guards telling you not to touch things. That image doesn’t fit SAM in any way. SAM is a friendly, modern, energetic museum full of diversity, which will be showcased at Teen Night Out.
As an efficient way to plan for Teen Night Out, we’ve divided our TAG group into specific committees to focus on individual elements of the event. These committees include: promotion, tours & event operation, interactive activities, and performance. I am on the performance committee and will be stage managing the event with my fellow TAG member Chris Cosby. Stage managing will give me the chance to interact with the performers by helping them load in, make them comfortable in their green room spaces, make sure all goes well with sound checks and set up, as well as load out. I stage managed during last year’s Nick Cave focused Teen Night Out; it can be rather stressful, but I know everything will go smoothly this year with help from Chris.
Looking forward to the upcoming event has also caused me to reflect on my entire experience with TAG so far and how much I’ve changed. Being a member of TAG has boosted my self-confidence tremendously. I’m now a better leader and more efficient when working with a team. At our weekly meetings I’m exposed to a wide range of perspectives, which has helped me grow as a person and look outside of myself. Though I get the added bonus of service learning hours for school through TAG, my main motive for being a member is to participate in new experiences. I especially valued being a summer counselor at SAM Camp, and speaking at an Art Education Forum this past March with Mayor McGinn and other passionate youth. Being a TAG member has further increased my interest in the art world. I would love to be on a public relations or marketing team for an art museum someday. Most importantly, thanks to SAM I’m no longer that timid little freshman who felt like she had no artsy friends and was afraid to speak up for herself. I am now a powerful junior with a bright and creative future ahead, and enough confidence to inspire other teens to get involved.
-Maddie Thomas, Teen Advisory Group Member