Art Works Blog

ARTLAB+, the Hirshhorn’s YOUmedia Space, Ushers in a New Conception of the Museum for Teens

Local teens experiment with music software in the Hirshhorn’s YOUmedia center. Photo by Maya Munoz

The Hirshhorn is known as the Smithsonian’s contemporary and modern art museum, but in October 2011, when it opened its YOUmedia space, ARTLAB+, it also became a new home for budding young artists and designers. ARTLAB+ is an informal learning space and a digital studio with professional technology including a sound studio, green screen, animation software, and broadcasting capabilities. As part of the museum’s initiative to embrace the future of art and technology, ARTLAB+ will also be expanding into the Hirshhorn Museum lobby in 2013. This will be an exciting opportunity to start connecting the museum’s collection of world-class art objects directly to the museum’s digital learning programs. The ARTLAB+ and future lobby space are both free and targeted toward local teens, 13-19, offering them a variety of technology and platforms to make their ideas visible and reach a broader public. Most importantly, as a YOUmedia space, ARTLAB+ connects youth with local professionals who serve as mentors, and supports Washington, DC-area teens in building a creative community. ARTLAB+ fosters the next generation of innovators, employable technicians, creative artists, and museum-goers.

Studies in museum attendance point to education as the number one indicator of a person’s likelihood to attend cultural offerings. With cutbacks to high school art programs and museum field trips, ARTLAB+ fills a gap for many teens looking for a creative outlet or way to express themselves. The location of our YOUmedia space in the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden also encourages teens to make connections between their own art-making and design-thinking with a broader art community. Not only do ARTLAB+ mentors encourage experimenting with technology, but teens are invited to sit, think, and contribute to group projects. During the hours of the drop-in center and workshops, friendships develop across geographical and economic boundaries since participants come from different parts of DC. ARTLAB+ programming fosters the ability for teens to collaborate and go beyond their comfort level with people and ideas by encouraging peer-to-peer learning. These values contribute to a quality life and an exposure to new possibilities.

Over the last year creating the Hirshhorn’s YOUmedia space, it has been surprising how what was originally conceived of as a technology-driven effort, in truth, has become an effort driven by local teens’ need for a safe space to build an interest-driven community. The technology has become a tool for these teens to build their own culture, a culture where they find acceptance and the potential to think of themselves in ways they can’t within their schools or neighborhoods. It has been inspiring to see these positive feelings focused on institutions that would otherwise be considered as “uncool” or alienating. The YOUmedia space has helped the Hirshhorn usher in a new conception of the museum as a place where teens can find their own voice and where what they say is considered of equal value to the objects shown in its galleries.

The ARTLAB+ space and programs is funded, as a member of the YOUmedia Network, by the MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding for ARTLAB+ programs comes from the Pearson Foundation, in partnership with the New Learning Institute, along with funds from the Knight Foundation, Vivian and Elliot I. Pollock, and internal Smithsonian Institution funds from the Youth Access Grant.

Want to learn more about how arts educators can reach youth immersed in today's inter-connected multi-media environment? Join us for the  Federal Interagency Task Force on the Arts and Human Development webinar tomorrow, August 1 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. ET. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter. Look for the hashtag #NEAtaskforce

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