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ThreeSixty Journalism: Walker teen council makes things happen

The Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council
Courtesy of the Walker Art Center
The Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council

A bag of Doritos, a child’s purse, and an award given to an Enron employee a month before the energy company’s collapse. A group of Twin Cities teens has linked them together in the Corruption Collection, which is on display at the Walker Art Center’s Bazinet lobby until June 29.

The Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council(WACTAC), a group of 14 teens who meet every Thursday, assembled the collection after learning about the art of collecting from artists David Bartley and Matthew Bakkom.

Since 1994, the Walker has supported a small group of art-minded teens as part of teen programs designed to attract high school students and young artists. It’s one way the museum seeks to train and inspire the next generation of artists, connoisseurs and art lovers. Teens interview artists, organize events and post blogs, music reviews, upcoming concerts, and their own work to WACTAC’s Web site.

WACTAC teens have budget and power
Witt Siasoco, manager of teen programs, wants WACTAC members “to have a sense of owning their programs and being really invested in their programs.”

“They have the power as a group to make programs they really like,” he added.

WACTAC member Nakami Green, a 15-year-old student at Harding Senior High School in St. Paul, said brainstorming was one of the hardest parts of assembling the corruption collection.

“When it comes to planning and organization, it takes more than an idea,” she said. “You really have to know how to get out there and talk to people and make things happen.”

WACTAC member Frank Brittain, a 17-year-old at St. Paul Academy and Summit School, found it hard to create a collection in collaboration with other people.

“There’s definitely a lot of different personalities and different interests on the council, which is the point,” Brittain said. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is when you have to come to a group decision, you have to be really diplomatic and polite, because when you’re debating something you really believe in with people who come from really different backgrounds, you have to frame your arguments.”

Giving teens the power to make things happen was key to WACTAC’s creation in 1994. Siasoco estimated that 100 teens have participated since then.

WACTAC-sponsored programs bring about 6,000 people to the Walker each year for artist talks, Student Open Houses and other events, he said. The most demanding programs are WACTAC and internships.

Twenty-year-old Emmanuel Mauleon is now a teen programs intern after serving on WACTAC from 2003-2006. WACTAC keeps the Walker relevant “by bringing in a new, young audience who pose questions from new perspectives,” he said.

Consensus took work and research

Olivia Ebertz, a 17-year-old Minnehaha Academy student, describes WACTAC as a way for teens to cultivate their artistic talent by giving them access to art and artists. “WACTAC is a brilliant example of teen empowerment because rather than have a bunch of adults try and judge what they think will get kids amped about art, we are all teens, so we have a powerful insight that we actually get to act on.”

WACTAC member Patrick Risberg, a 17-year-old from St. Paul’s Central High School, concurred. “The Walker gives an extraordinary amount of power and responsibility to WACTAC and independence to the teen programs in general,” he said. “We have our own budget and all our decisions are made based on our own initiative.”

Coming up with the idea of a corruption collection was easy. Assembling it wasn’t.

The teens began by brainstorming items that symbolized corruption and then debated until a majority agreed what to include. “People had to really do their research for things they wanted to see in this collection,” said Brittain. “Then we voted.”

He said the obvious was corporate or political corruption, like the Enron award which the teens found on-line.

How do Doritos fit the theme? “The idea is that they have artificial flavoring in them,” Brittain explained.

Another object on display is the Libby Lu purse, an item from a chain of stores offering perfumes, make up, clothes, and accessories for pre-teen girls.

“The whole idea of this little girl with all these watered-down adult woman accessories just makes you wonder the kind of ideas that are being put into this girl’s head about beauty and what it means to be a woman,” Green said.

In April, WACTAC members look at applications of teens who want to join the council. Interviewing applicants helps fulfill their responsibility to involve other teens and young artists. 

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