Teen Programs in Twenty-First Century Art Museums: A Critical Analysis of Nine American Programs
Daniels, Rebecca Becker
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American art museums have conceived of themselves as educational institutions for their largely urban publics and have invested space, time, effort, and money to fulfill their educational missions. Twenty-first century museums seek to engage the public, yet attendance is trending down and museum audiences reflect only a small portion of the increasingly diverse American public. In response, some museums offer programs specifically for teenagers, many who live in previously underserved neighborhoods. This dissertation is a qualitative, phenomenological study of nine such programs in five American cities, which ascertains the characteristics of these programs, analyzes the transformative influence of technology, and evaluates how engagement with art can benefit teens, the museum, and the surrounding urban community. I rely on the historical context of museum education, the developmental milestones that occur during the teen years, and educational theories about digital technology to connect the capabilities and limitations of teens to their experiences in art museums. In addition, I situate each museum within the urban conditions of its city and investigate the role of the museum as a physical and social place in a digital age. I propose three characteristics that demonstrate quality teen programming and support each characteristic with anecdotes gleaned from observations and interviews. First, the program mutually benefits both the museum and the teenagers. Second, the program actively keys into networks both inside and extending beyond their own museum. Third, the program embraces technology and reimagines new ways to interact with art. Results of this study demonstrate that the best gauge of teen programs’ performance is the balance of three intersecting components: the art and architecture that create place, the digital technology that pervades teens’ lives, and the interpersonal relationships that these programs generate. A richer understanding of teen programming will aid in the development of twenty-first century museums that are a vital part of public life, benefiting their own institutions, their participants, and the surrounding urban community.