by Juliet Bogan (ARTE Intern)
Buzzing—just as cracking open my stiff bedroom window or circumambulating soft park sidewalks lets vibrating, sleepless noise drift past me on the summer breeze so, too, did the Met seem to buzz. This buzz was different from the City’s usual, distant buzz. It was younger, more vibrant, humming at the backs of throats instead of in exhaust pipes and car horns and fluorescent lights and subway rumbles. The Metropolitan Museum of Art buzzed with the sounds of New York City’s teenagers, replacing the metallic traffic outside the museum doors with their own, living, melodic traffic.
The Met held their annual Teens Take the Met on Friday, May 12. Teens from across the city burst through Met thresholds and, for the entire evening, explored and engaged with artistic events led by organizations from around the city and country. ARTE hosted “Leave Your Mark,” an interactive and collaborative art activity for the teens to participate in. Teens were invited to spin a wheel to select one of 8 artivists (artist/activists). After landing on an artivist, they could engage with worksheets examining the artist’s style, examples of their work, and biography. Finally, the teens were asked to add to a collaborative tapestry, drawing inspiration from their artivist. Teens also had the opportunity to engage with our previous work, explore UDHR zines, and take home stickers. Excitingly, we also promoted our youth-created art contest, Create Art for Change, which urges the teens to submit work addressing a social issue. Organized by ARTE’s junior board, art contest submissions close on Sunday, June 18 at 11:59 pm ET.
Two youth sporting condom diadems are the first to approach our table. They smile cheekily when I ask if the crowns are tea or condoms—my answer. The steady stream of participants—some in condom crowns, others in their school uniforms, others more toting bags and sweatshirts featuring the work of some of the artivists. Their eyes widen and their fingers point to the spinning wheel. “I am obsessed with Basquiat!” one artist, their totebag scrawled in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work, exclaims. From the bag they pull their own supplies and scratch into the mural a portrait inspired by Basquiat’s bold lines. They unapologetically take up a large corner of the mural. A face, in green and red and yellow, stares blankly at me. A Keith Haring fan sporting a sweatshirt speckled with Haring's signature outlined figures gasps, elicits a reaction from another teen—"I'm obsessed with your sweatshirt." They pull out their phone, its case decorated with Haring's dancing figures. One participant taps their finger to their chin. They have landed on Amy Sherald, and don’t know what to draw. Finally: “I’m going to draw you.” I gasp. “Me??” They nod. I am honored. In the cool pastels of Sherald’s paintings, I sneak into our mural. Many of the participants are graffiti artists. They tag the mural. Others are instagram artists. They tag themselves for future participants to find them.
The participants applied their diverse passions and creative capacities to the art pieces, while also exploring the brushstrokes, symbolisms, colors, and patterns of a scope of incredible artists. In their contributions they seem to honor a rich history of artivists while asserting themselves as a part of that history—weaving their own styles into the styles of the artists they land on, tagging the mural as they would a wall, or as Basquiat would, or as Haring would, scrawling their social medias into the peripheries of their creations to continue the artistic journey online. They engaged with ARTE’s mission of uniting social justice work, education, and the arts to empower young people and artists and revolutionaries. The tapestry, scrawled and scribbled with color and tags and bold linework and the vibrant voices of New York City’s youth, morphed and changed and grew over the course of a loud, joyous, and deeply creative evening.