It is possible there is no cooler place to be an artsy young person than in the Netherlands. Were you curating art spaces in famous modern and contemporary art museums when you were 17? Or designing tours and educational programs at galleries? I sure wasn’t. But the teenagers with whom I met while on a professional development trip to the Netherlands are doing just that.
Robin is a Blikopener at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. As he and I walked around the museum, Robin explained to me that the Blikopeners (“Eye Openers”) are a group of teens at the museum who give tours to the general public and who run the Blikopener Spot, a gallery and educational space on the lower level of the new museum building. Marlous van Gastel, who oversees the program for the education department, looks for a variety of teens: outspoken leaders, quiet creative types, knowledgeable art historians. After attending interactive training sessions, the Blikopeners give tours of the museum in pairs. Robin studies art history and knows a lot about the works of art, so he likes to partner with people who are good at asking fruitful questions and engaging audiences in close looking. These Blikopeners never get bored—they can develop new tours and pick new partners, and they work with the curatorial and conservation departments to choose artworks for the Blikopener Spot.
They also partner with other teen programs across the Netherlands. I traveled to Rotterdam to meet with some of the people with whom they’ve collaborated at Showroom MAMA, a contemporary art center by and for young artists. MAMA has about 30 Rookies, young people ages 16-26 who work on all aspects of the center’s operations. Recruited and trained by Margriet Brouwer, the Rookies design exhibitions, develop educational programs, assist visiting artists, raise funds, and more. Bram, a Rookie and current intern (meaning he’s time-based, not project-based), oversees the MAMA Rocks Around website, a resource for Rookies who give tours of the center’s exhibitions to school groups. The website is in Dutch, but he explained to me that it includes suggestions for interactive activities (e.g. If the person in this artwork had a Facebook page, what would it look like? What would be this character’s online persona?) and other tricks of the trade. The management and development of this website is handed off to a new intern every few months to ensure that many Rookies get a chance to spearhead such a project.
Showroom MAMA also runs a Rookies Junior program, the first iteration of which began as MAMA’s All Girls Street Art Collective, a group which has since evolved into an independent artists’ collective called ONSKRUID. They were commissioned to create a six-meter high wall for the Kunsthal Rotterdam exhibition The Fashion World of Jean-Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, and in July they led a workshop at the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht. I met with two of these nine young women, Lara and Yaël, who blew me away with their talent, confidence, and general awesomeness.
Lara first approached the Collective as a writer unfamiliar with street art but eager for a creative outlet. Under the leadership of Martine Poot, the Collective explored street art around the Netherlands, met with female street artists, and created art collectively and independently. Each member came up with her own signature style. Staying true to her roots as a writer, Lara bases her artwork around words. Her tagline of choice? “More chaos please.” The Collective’s artworks were shown last spring at Showroom MAMA—a remarkable exhibition due to the quality of the artworks and the fact that all the artists were younger than 18.
These teens at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and Showroom MAMA and the supportive staff who run these programs are changing the face of the Dutch contemporary art scene for the better. Art should not sit passively by in stuffy institutions. It should inspire and empower. Art should be in the hands and minds of the interested, the creative, and the young. Lara said it well: more chaos, please.