TCA’s Human Library

Community Education Events Staff Youth

Heidi Reitmaier explains the dynamic exchanges that occur with the Teen Creative Agency, including one experiment called the Human Library.

I think our Teen Creative Agency never ceases to surprise us. They are 25 teens who work with us for two years, having up to 300 hours of contact time with us in the galleries. We’re preparing them with these great leadership skills, where they’re becoming more confident, more collaborative, more reflective on their own practice, but core to that work that they do here is a public program strand. They do our Living Room, which is a pop-up for half the year, where they’re in our galleries creating these moments of exchange with our audience. And of course, they do 21Minus, where they take over the museum and they invite artists and youth from all over the city to contribute. There’s normally 25 artists who work with about 50 other youth, 25 of our teens, who work with 50 other youth, and then you have up to 75, 90 youth presenting, and over 1,000 people in the building experiencing this kind of moment where literally, the teens take over.

For me, probably one of the extraordinary moments was something called a Human Library, just because I'm very interested in how knowledge is generated in the galleries and how learning works in the galleries. The Human Library is something that was initiated in the Seattle Art Library and the teens took it on as a premise to engage our visitors in the gallery. The idea is that they come with friends or teachers or mentors or peers or siblings, family members, and each of those they then—what’s the word? They connect those family members, or those friends, those visitors to works in a gallery. Then those visitors are essentially the books that audiences take out. So you enter into the Human Library and a teen would talk to you about your interests, as a librarian would.  Then you are basically asked what kind of book you want to take out. I was very interested in the relationship between science and art, so I got a twelfth-grade science teacher, who was my "book," and they take you on a tour of the gallery. So the Human Library is this idea that everyone has knowledge, everyone has resources, and by connecting people together, you can have a different experience of art. So for me, that was a moment where the teens opening a Living Room project, creating a Living Room project, and creating a Human Library in the MCA was a moment, an extraordinary moment. So I got someone’s brother, who was very interested in questions of youth and empowerment, and I got a twelfth-grade science teacher. Both took me on very different tours. We had very different conversations about works in the gallery, and then I returned them to the "library."

Participants at 21Minus, May 17, 2014. Photo: Gillian Fry, © MCA Chicago.

Participants at 21Minus, May 17, 2014. Photo: Gillian Fry, © MCA Chicago.

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