Area teens ‘take over’ Auburn art museum to create exhibition

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The thought of allowing teenagers overnight access to a museum to develop an exhibition of their work might raise some eyebrows, but artists and art institutions are often known for experimentation. The staff members of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University recently turned over the curatorial reins to 18 pre-registered junior high and high school students in this year’s Teen Takeover event.

Participants spent a night at the museum to create something that typically takes museum staff months to research, write and design plus weeks to install. These young artists created art in a 12-hour marathon, beginning at 7 p.m., May 23, for a brand new exhibition that will be in on view May 26-27 and May 31-June 5.

“Teen Takeover provides students with an opportunity for an intense moment in their lives to focus on the creative act of art production, in this case, as a collaborative project for an exhibition in a professional museum,” said Marilyn Laufer, museum director. “I feel the end result will be a unique learning experience for them and hopefully a really positive experience for campus and community when we get to go into the gallery and see what they produced.”

Andrew Henley, curator for K-12 education, is one of the staff members acting as an assistant during the overnight studio.

“Our responsibility is to make things logistically happen, but it is really up to the students to develop the concept, the layout and the artwork,” he said. “We feel that Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art is their museum and we hope students in the area feel the same way. Teenagers are especially interested in making things on their own and finding their voice. Expression is why all art happens, and Teen Takeover gives them a mouthpiece to do so.”

During the brief exhibition run, visitors can experience “Teen Takeover” Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with extended hours on Thursdays until 8 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. The museum will close May 28-30 for facility maintenance and the university’s Memorial Day observance.

As outreach on behalf of Auburn, museum education curators broaden engagement with adolescents beyond the regular Summer Art Club series, “State of Create,” with programs like “Teen Takeover” and other programs developed with the museum’s Teen Council.

Formed in the fall of 2015, Teen Council serves as a guiding voice for new museum programs for teenagers.

The eight members who constitute the Teen Council were selected based on their willingness to serve as leaders and their prior participation in museum programs. Council members have a unique opportunity to engage with and appreciate art in a museum environment, while developing their leadership skills, collaborating on conceptual directions for future programs and learning more about how museums operate.

Feedback from the council has been positive, according to educators. “They enjoy the fun and collaborative experience of coming up with original ideas about programming and seeing their ideas come to fruition,” said Education Assistant Rebecca Bresler, “They are proud to be council members, as they believe that sharing art with their peers is an important part of our culture and that art should be available to all students.”

“Art allows people to explore without judgment or expectations,” said Alexis Ayers, Teen Council member and artist. “Students find comfort in art and through exploring different ways of making art, discovering new skills and gaining confidence. We want more people to know about the museum and its programs.”

The “Teen Takeover” program and exhibition is supported in part by a charitable gift from J&M Bookstore Inc. Gallery admission is free; a $5 dollar donation is appreciated. For more information, visit or call 334-844-1484.

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.