Oklahoma Contemporary Teen Arts Council amplifies adolescent voices
Our teenage years can be heavy. They can also be prime for creativity. That’s why Oklahoma Contemporary launched its Teen Arts Council (OCTAC), to connect young people from diverse backgrounds and experiences interested in exploring contemporary art, ideas and the creative process. Through collaboration and engagement with artists, curators, educators, community partners and the public, OCTAC gives teens the tools they need to build their own creative community and foster personal growth.
The idea for a teen-focused arts initiative was informed by vibrant teen arts programs nationwide and rooted in research from Whitney Museum of American Art's Room to Rise study, which found significant upticks in areas like confidence, personal identity and self-knowledge among its teen participants. The Whitney report also found participants in solid teen arts programs had an increase in "deep, lifelong relationships to museums and culture," a goal at the heart of Oklahoma Contemporary's mission to connect communities not traditionally reached by cultural institutions with free, world-class arts experiences.
OCTAC members spend an academic year planning, designing and facilitating ways to connect teens with Oklahoma Contemporary through gallery experiences, programs, print pieces, events and projects. With new members selected every year to replace graduating seniors, each new cohort represents a new opportunity for its members to help shape the priorities and concerns of the Council.
Nadia Marie, a senior at Classen School of Advanced Studies, has been involved with the program since its launch in 2019. “It’s been really cool to meet people my own age,” she said. “You can talk about ideas, and a lot of times you might see the world differently from other people, so you can get a different input on what you’re creating.”
For young artists like Marie, the process of trying to break past the gatekeepers of the adult art world can be daunting. “[OCTAC] has been a lot less focused on teaching what old white men have decided makes art good,” she said. “It’s about experimenting with new forms of art and new ideas. It’s about allowing a younger generation to have a voice, rather than just saying, ‘This is how you have to do it.’”
Through collaboration and engagement with artists, curators, educators, community partners and the public, Oklahoma Contemporary Teen Arts Council gives teens the tools they need to build their own creative community and foster personal growth.
The Council's focus on experimentation over blind authority is by design. “It’s really more about the life skills that come out of it, their growth as people. It’s not about talent or competition. It’s about using contemporary art as a catalyst to encourage curiosity about the world around you,” said Blair Summers, coordinator of public programs at Oklahoma Contemporary. “It’s about learning how to collaborate and better articulate your ideas, and for teens to have a place of true self expression and more freedom than they have in a lot of extra-curricular arenas.”
Emphasizing these pillars of personal and creative growth allows OCTAC members like Annika Rodman to pursue their artistic ideas with freedom. "Growing up, I was told by adults that there’s a set path for all artists — and that if you don’t want to pursue art as a career, it’s a waste of my time that would be better spent elsewhere," Rodman said. "Being in the OCTAC has helped me a lot. I feel like I can say how I feel without being talked over or told to shut up."
Like Rodman, Marie finds value in pursuing her creativity without the pressure of careerism. “It’s about creating what you want to create, and having a support system there for you while you create it," she said. Next fall, the graduating senior will go on to study pre-veterinary medicine at the University of Arts and Sciences of Oklahoma in Chickasha, where she plans to put into practice the life skills she's learned in her creative community at Oklahoma Contemporary.
The future looks bright for OCTAC members like Marie and Rodman, but like the rest of us, they find themselves navigating a difficult present in the face of COVID-19. Members have been conferencing weekly over Zoom to continue planning up for the Council's postponed Teen Night at Oklahoma Contemporary. They've also been busy on collaborative art projects, like the OCTAC Blackout Poetry initiative and other long-distance collaborations.
"We're going to keep working on it and thinking about how we’re going to have to adapt to what’s going on right now," Marie said. "We've been busy as a group trying to keep ourselves entertained and get some form of artistic connection while we’re all locked in our houses."
Applications are currently open for paid positions on the Oklahoma Contemporary Teen Arts Council. OCTAC members spend an academic year planning, designing and facilitating ways to connect teens with Oklahoma Contemporary through gallery experiences, programs, print pieces, events and project generation. Rising sophomores through seniors are encouraged to learn more and apply here.
Return to New Light.