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Walker Art Center: Walker’s teen council takes lessons in what comes naturally


Courtesy of the Walker Art Center
The Walker Art Center’s 2007-08 Teen Arts Council and its director, Witt Siasoco (far right).


Managing Editor

On the surface, showing teenagers how to collect things seems as needless as teaching babies to cry. But David Bartley and Matthew Bakkom, artists and longtime friends, are introducing teens to the deeper thought, continuity and democracy that go into building serious collections.

Bartley and Bakkom are coaching members of the Walker Art Center’s Teen Arts Council (WACTAC) to consider scope, scale, and motive in their personal collections and work as a committee to build and exhibit a collection of their own. The results of “Bits and Pieces” — the title comes from Lawrence Weiner’s “Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole” — will exhibit in early spring of 2008 in the Bazinet Garden Lobby.

“We’re starting with just the general question ‘What is a collection?’ in the broadest sense, and trying to define that,” Bartley said as the project was about to begin. “But we also want them to know collections are alive, as long as you contribute to them.”

Bartley, a registration technician with the Walker, has a substantial body of his own artwork, primarily drawings and paintings. Bakkom says the approach to his “research-based art practice” is similar to the mindset behind building collections.

Indeed, one course session focuses on Bakkom’s Society for Collective Investigation, in which members meet at a library to make and share instant discoveries. Another drops into Bakkom’s “search and rescue” mission of 16-millimeter films. Teens are also touring the Walker and Minneapolis Institute of Art collections and meeting curators.

Witt Siasoco, manager of the program, sees “Bits and Pieces” exploring the varied purposes for collecting — historical preservation, educational purposes and “eccentric personal obsession.”

“Our hope is that by creating their own collection and examining people’s motives for collecting, WACTAC obtains a unique insight into the Walker’s collection and gets a better sense of how this place works,” he says. The most challenging aspect, Bakkom said, is getting the young collectors to agree on visions for their collection, both in the objects they want to collect and how to eventually present them. This model of democracy, he said, is common with most museum collections. He and Bartley are also encouraging the teens to look beyond their budget to find and foster in-kind contributions to their eventual collection.

Bartley and Bakkom are providing some boundary — a display case measuring about 4-by-3 feet — though they’ve left open the option, much as Walker curators work, for breaking boundaries.

“And they ultimately have to convince us about what they’re excited about,” Bakkom said.

“They can’t just collect iPods,” Bartley added. “It’s not like they get to keep what they collect.”

The overarching goal, they said, is developing a deeper understanding and appreciation about how museums work.

“I expect to have the very same questions at the end of the process as we do at the beginning,” Bakkom said. “But we’re hoping to give them a more intimate relationship to the institution and inspire them to express their own ideas.”

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