Teens Learn Art of Curating in “How Much Do I Owe You?”

| December 10, 2012 4:00 AM video

Ralph Irizarry and Jessica Bain, two student curators with ArtsConnection, evaluate student submissions for the exhibit "How Much Do I Owe You?" Photo courtesy of ArtsConnection.

An abandoned mansion on Grand Concourse in the Bronx. A vacant gallery space in Dumbo, Brooklyn. A former bank in Long Island City, Queens. What all of these places have in common is No Longer Empty, an arts and education nonprofit that converts empty spaces into places for art.

No Longer Empty’s mission is to engage new audiences with contemporary art and at the same time, incorporate a site’s prior use into their exhibitions and include the surrounding community in the process. All three feats are achieved in the group’s latest exhibit, “How Much Do I Owe You?”, which opens on Dec. 12.

Barbara Feldman, special projects coordinator at No Longer Empty, said the organization was started by founder Manon Slome because there were “barriers to entry” into the arts for a wide range of people in New York City. Slome, a former curator for the Guggenheim Museum and chief curator for No Longer Empty, also wanted all No Longer Empty exhibits to be “site specific,” said Feldman.

WATCH VIDEO:

No Longer Empty Chief Curator and founder Manon Slome discusses the work of the arts organization. Video edited by Debrain Design and courtesy of No Longer Empty.

“How Much Do I Owe You?” is set in the former Bank of Manhattan building in Long Island City, now known as the Clock Tower.  In an area that is being rezoned and redeveloped in the face of growing gentrification,  the show addresses “change and exchange as well as the economic, social and employment shifts that are occurring as we move further from a cash economy toward virtual transactions.”

It’s a heavy topic, but No Longer Empty believed youth would have something to say about it and partnered with ArtsConnection to expand upon another aspect of their mission: education.

The Student Art Program at ArtsConnection provides New York City public high school students with an opportunity to engage with all the art the city has to offer. For “How Much Do I Owe You?”, students from the ArtsConnection TRAC (teen reviewers and critics) program became curators, and selected artwork created by mostly local teenagers to be shown alongside the professional art curated by No Longer Empty. The students chose 21 pieces out of 87 submissions.

WATCH VIDEO:

Students from ArtsConnection‘s TRAC (teen reviewers and critics) program discuss with No Longer Empty’s Chief Curator Manon Slome the art they want to choose for the “How Much Do I Owe You?” exhibit. Video courtesy of ArtsConnection.

“A student curated exhibition with work drawn from student artists gets the youth into the heart of the art experience and turns them from just passive consumers into producers,” said Slome in an email. “They are given the power to make decisions…and their selections become the exhibition. It is an empowering process and builds confidence in so many ways.”

The six student curators, who hail from all over the city, feel similarly.

“I enjoy being a part of the process and seeing the work that other teens have made,” said Jessica Bain, 16, a student from Flatbush, Brooklyn, who attends Midwood High School, adding that without the ArtsConnection and No Longer Empty program, she never would have “experienced art as much.”

Maya Fell, 17, from Murray Hill, Manhattan, and a student at the Birch Wathen Lenox School, said she has now found a career path.

“I’ve opened up to new ways of looking at art,” she said. “I’ve really decided I want to pursue curating as a career.”

For Ada Wolin, 16, who lives on the Lower East Side and attends Bard High School Early College, working with professionals was stressful at first.

“But it’s amazing to be working with people who are so assured of what they’re doing,” she said.

"Is That Enough?" by Lobsang Tsewang is one of 21 works selected by a group of students curating alongside a professional art exhibit put on by No Longer Home. Image courtesy of ArtsConnection.

One student art work chosen for the exhibit was particularly inspiring for the student curators, said Diane Exavier, program manager of the TRAC program. The piece, called “Is That Enough?” was created by 19-year-old Lobsang Tsewang, a student from Newtown High School. The sculpture of two hands opening an empty purse represents a memory of Tsewang’s. When he was a about six years old, he begged his mother for an ice cream cone. She said no repeatedly, but he kept begging. She finally opened her purse, and Tsewang thought he was getting his treat. But there was no money inside.

In their own written statement, the student curators said the works “portray the struggles of American families as they attempt to find a secure place in a monetarily driven society, while also addressing the financial transactions that teenagers witness and are a part of every day.”

“How Much Do I Owe You?” is on display at The Clock Tower Building at Queens Borough Plaza in Long Island City from Dec. 12 – March, 2013 . Hours are Thursday through Monday, 1 – 7 p.m. The opening reception is on Dec. 12,  7 – 9 p.m.

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