Walker Art Center
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Interactions/Intersections: Cultural Globalism and Educational Practice


CA: Sure. Social issues are always easy points of entry into artworks because teens are really concerned with these topics. There is also significant interest in people from other countries and their points of view, and art is an ideal forum for exploring alternative viewpoints and learning about other realities. When you're young there is a lot of idealism and a desire to be understanding and tolerant, so when we talk about these issues that are raised by the artworks, the teens are just, "Yeah, yeah, yeah," completely agreeing with the artists, who are often pointing out injustices and inequalities. It provides a great opportunity to talk to them about how they may have intolerance for the person sitting right next to them. It's an easy way to take issues they care about and apply them to their own everyday actions.

The Walker made the connection very early on between young people and contemporary art. A lot of our literature talks about how artists are often actively engaged in overturning conventional wisdom, and in this way they parallel the processes that are a huge part of the adolescent years--the probing, questioning, and provoking that go on as a young person attempts to find his or her place in society and to create an individual voice. And, as a contemporary art center, we often deal with issues that are challenging and topical. This place is not always a comfort zone for all of our visitors, but it can be like a magnet for teens when you can get them to see these kinds of issues.

But, that being said, WACTAC has never been too accepting of the Walker as a cultural authority. The reason why teen programs have worked so well here is that the Walker has been completely open to the teens' point of view and has given them an amazing amount of freedom in their programming. For instance, this year they made a gallery guide and it opens with the phrase "You are here." They provided their own interpretations of the artworks to show visitors that there is more than just the curator's label on the wall. There are multiple viewpoints, multiple ways to experience the work, and no one is necessarily right or wrong. Their guide maps the places that each artwork took them as individuals, whether it's a mental place, a physical place, a poem, a drawing, etc. They included some research on the historical context and artistic intent, but primarily offered a model for all visitors that encourages them to find their own place in relationship to the artwork.

SS: The idea of mapping as a way to reclaim your place in time and in history is very important. To remap yourself is to be able to place yourself, to reimagine yourself, and to lay claim to power. How did the teens get interested in the idea of mapping? What were some of their conversations around it?

CA: It came from looking at the work of Julie Mehretu, Sarah Sze, Rivane Neuenschwander, and Shirin Neshat. We had presentations on all four of those artists within a two-week period.

SS: Why those particular artists?

CA: They all deal literally with ideas of mapping--attempting to decipher the unknown or unfamiliar, connecting and communicating, recording or tracking presence or the physical. We talked about how maps are not neutral reference objects but vehicles of communication, influence, and power. Maps are like art--they present a point of view, they reflect social choices and political interests. And the distortions in maps, just as in art, are often what point the way.

KMS: Julie Mehretu is currently doing a project with the Walker to remap the Twin Cities as African cities.[10] We are inviting local residents of East African descent to share photographs, words, and perspectives that show Minneapolis and St. Paul from their points of view as a means to conceptually remap the Twin Cites. The project

9 The Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC) is a group of young people, ages fourteen to eighteen, who meet weekly at the Walker to develop and market programs designed specifically to connect young people with contemporary art and artists. Walker curators present upcoming programs to WACTAC, who then identify which programs are of interest to teens. WACTAC also develops its own programs, such as artist residencies, classes, artist's talks, and zines, which it then markets to teens through flyers, postcards, stickers, posters, and print ads. Since the inception of WACTAC in 1995, attendance by teenagers has grown by twenty-nine percent and teens now make up eleven percent of the Walker's audience (100,000 yearly), a figure that does not include school groups.

10 Julie Mehretu is the Walker's visual arts artist-in-residence for 2002-2003. The Ethiopian-born, New York-based painter is currently creating a project titled Minneapolis and St. Paul Are East African Cities.