Archive for Sunday, April 23, 2006

Museums reach out to young mothers, at-risk girls

April 23, 2006

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— About 30 teenage girls - some mothers, others deemed at risk - gathered around tables at the Museum of Contemporary Art, cutting up magazines to create a collage showing what it means to be a woman.

As the groups present their works, some girls whisper. Others giggle. A teacher praises one poster that says the bad side of being a woman is being a single parent, being on drugs and having labor pains. The good side is the joy of being a mother, not depending on anyone.

The girls are just a few of the 300 who participate in Women on the Rise! - a teen outreach program the museum started in 2004. During the school year, museum educators give lectures at seven schools and centers in Miami to expose the girls to art and give them positive female role models.

It is part of a nationwide effort by museums to teach art in their communities.

"More and more museums ... are taking seriously their responsibility to be a part of their community, not apart from their community," said Ed Able, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Museums in Washington, D.C.

Able said no hard statistics exist on exactly how many museums have outreach programs, but the numbers are increasing, particularly among science and technology centers and history museums. "It is a trend that is certainly being noticed around the country," he said.

Kathy, a 17-year-old who is from The Village, a Miami drug rehabilitation center, called the Museum of Contemporary Art's program "interesting." The Associated Press agreed not to use the last names of participants because they are juveniles.

"It teaches us a lot about what was achieved. It also shows us what we can be, offering more than being a housewife," Kathy said. She has been at The Village for 1 1/2 months and has been taking the art classes with Jill Hernandez from MOCA.

Maria James, a vocational therapist at The Village, said the program gives the girls "a clear sense of self image and self esteem and "gives an outlet to express issues of beauty, self esteem and even abuse through art."

A girl takes part in a workshop Tuesday, March 28, 2006, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. About 30 teenage girls, some mothers and others deemed at risk, gathered around tables at the museum and cut up magazine pages to create a collage that will illustrate what it means to be a woman.

A girl takes part in a workshop Tuesday, March 28, 2006, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. About 30 teenage girls, some mothers and others deemed at risk, gathered around tables at the museum and cut up magazine pages to create a collage that will illustrate what it means to be a woman.

Museum educators saw that the numbers of girls entering the juvenile justice system were increasing and that many of the rehabilitation centers did not have art teachers, Hernandez said.

"We are trying to give them critical thinking skills, positive role models and constructive means of negotiating feelings and life experience," Hernandez said.

Each week Hernandez and staff members teach young women at places like the PACE Center for Girls, a school for girls at risk; the Miami-Dade Regional Juvenile Detention Center; The Gladstone Center, for sexually abused girls; and The Robert Renick Educational Center, for students diagnosed with severe emotional disorders.

For the first hour of the workshop, usually part of a series of eight, Hernandez assesses the girls' knowledge of art. She passes out handouts about a chosen female artist, such as Shirin Neshat, Cindy Sherman or Wangechi Mutu.

During the second hour of the workshop, the girls use photography, collage and performance to create their own works of art. MOCA provides all the materials because most of the centers do not have the budget to buy them, Hernandez said.

"We have a reputation among these girls. They feel that the museum belongs to them and they belong to the museum," she said.

Still, some girls such as 14-year-old Aisha aren't sold on the program. She doesn't think the classes will help her after she leaves The Village. "People don't care what girls think. Women should also have a chance to do things men do," she said.

Hernandez said that she knows she cannot get through to every girl. Some girls are open to learning, others are not.

"It kind of awakens something in a girl that might be ripe for it. Then you have a girl who is not open, not digging it, and by the end she is really liking her own work," Hernandez said.

Other institutions around the country are also trying to break down stereotypes of museums being mausoleums instead of thriving centers of art.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore paired medical students at Johns Hopkins University with elderly people to exchange ideas and see if their views of each other would change.

"I think there is a greater understanding among museums that art serves substantial human needs. It's really what museums have always been, cabinets of wonder," said Rebecca Hoffberger, the head of the museum.

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