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Inaugural Teen Arts group presents 15, 16, 17, 18: BHS Selects from the International Collection of Child Art

Painting depicting a man with outstretched arm.

An Instant, 1989. Water-based painting, 38.4 x 54.7cm. Made by 14-year-old artist in Japan. International Collection of Child Art, Milner Library, Illinois State University.

This past year, University Galleries Director and Chief Curator Kendra Paitz set out to create an opportunity where community youth could experience the wide range of potential careers available for them in the art world. Paitz, MBA ’06, M.A. ’11, along with Kathleen Lonbom, M.F.A. ’84, Milner Library’s art, theatre, and dance librarian, and Monica Estabrook, Bloomington High School’s art teacher, helped 10 Bloomington High School students curate their own show, 15, 16, 17, 18: BHS Selects from the International Collection of Child Art, which is on view through July 28.

The vision of the Teen Arts group was to empower these students to exercise as much creative control as possible while taking advantage of a wonderful yet sometimes underutilized collection, Milner Library’s International Collection of Child Art (ICCA), which features more than 8,600 original works of art made by children from more than 50 countries.

This exhibition is the end result of monthly meetings at University Galleries, during which the students toured exhibitions of contemporary art, learned about career opportunities in the visual arts, and participated in aspects of creating a professional exhibition. The group also went on field trips, including an all-day trip to Chicago, during which they viewed exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, met with professional artist Juan Angel Chávez, and visited Galambos + Associates, a visual communications firm founded by an Illinois State School of Art alumnus. Each experience exposed the group to practicing individuals who make a living from their wide range of creative passions in order to inform and hopefully inspire these young artists to take their first step towards a career of their own.

The Teen Arts group emphasized the importance of collaboration while celebrating the individual contributions of each member. Together the students made creative decisions about the criteria that they would use to select work for their inaugural exhibition. As the title suggests, they focused on finding a connection with international works that were created by students of the same age as them 15, 16, 17, 18. Each of the 10 students selected work that expressed their personalities and individual interests.

One student described the challenge of narrowing down her choices in her accompanying statement: “The process of going through the ICCA page, although lovely to look at, was a very hard decision to make when being allowed to pick out only five of the many wonderful pieces. All together these works captured my interests even when I had thousands of options to choose from. Fortunately, the fondness I found within my final decisions as a participating curator helped me gain a profound understanding of what a curator does.”

The students were aided by Lonbom, who explained to them how to best utilize the many functions and features of Milner’s digitized collection. As the students made their final selections from the archive, they began several other processes toward creating a public exhibition.

Becky Koch, Milner Library’s conservator, demonstrated archival techniques for mounting artwork. Paitz guided the students through the processes of selecting the gallery, designing the exhibition, and creating the related texts and branding. Estabrook and Paitz worked closely with the students to help them collaborate and think cohesively about the message they wanted to send with their decisions. Estabrook also provided them with guidance at school as they prepared their written statements to accompany the work. Zach Buckley, a graduate assistant at University Galleries, worked with the students to create and install the graphic elements of the title signage.” The goal of this process was to give these young people agency over every aspect of the show from start to finish.

This year’s Teen Arts group successfully offered young people role models across a spectrum of creative professional opportunities while empowering the students to share an international perspective with their community in the form of 15, 16, 17, 18: BHS Selects from the International Collection of Child Art.

You can read more about this exhibition on the University Galleries website.

University Galleries is located at 11 Uptown Circle, Suite 103, at the corner of Beaufort and Broadway streets. Parking is available in the Uptown Station parking deck located directly above the University Galleries—the first hour is free, as well as at any time after 5:01 p.m.

The Teen Arts group was supported by a grant from the Illinois Prairie Community Foundation—Mirza Arts and Culture Fund. The Illinois Prairie Community Foundation – Mirza Arts and Culture Fund has awarded a second grant to continue the Teen Arts group for the coming year.