Students join MASS MoCA to envision teen space


A project to originate creative space for the region's teens is taking MCLA's arts management students beyond theory as they experience the process first hand.

The effort presents unique learning opportunities as they connect with Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (NBCC) and area youth.

"We needed real-world projects for students to work on and really sink their teeth into," said Dr. Lisa Donovan, an arts management professor at MCLA. "While the NBCC had programs, they needed space. MASS MoCA has done programming to support teens, and they wanted to build on that to create an actual teen space downtown so that young people could start to see that MASS MoCA is for them.

"Through the synergy of all three - with MASS MoCA and MCLA as lead partners - our students are helping to launch some of the programs, conceptualize them, implement them and learn arts management skills along the way."

According to MASS MoCA's Shannon Toye, the work done by MCLA arts management students to mentor the teens has set the precedent for a long-term partnership with the museum.

At a recent "Dream Big Task Force" summit held at MASS MoCA, MCLA students led teens through activities ranging from cartooning and jewelry design to a music jam session and a spoken word poetry slam - from ideas generated by the teens themselves.

With those ideas, MASS MoCA is putting together a plan to create an artistic space for teens in the downtown.

According to one arts management student, "I really loved getting to work on the summit. It was a ton of fun and it was so incredibly rewarding to see the smiles on the kids' faces and see how much fun they were having. I wish I could've worked with them every Friday because they were so enjoyable to be around. It was just something that I could see myself doing later on down the road, which encourages me to continue with my program development."

Another student commented, "Never would I have thought I would participate in something so remarkable and see it form, change, and finally come together and continue to strive."

"As part of our arts management intro course, we talk a lot about moving ideas into action," Donovan explained. "This includes conceptualizing a program, thinking about your audience, marketing and evaluation, how to create a budget, and how create materials to attract people to come to your program."

But while it's one thing to discuss in a classroom  how to implement a project, executing those plans presents an entirely different perspective when additional, unexpected strategies come into play.

"Once a project becomes real, the challenges change, so you have to be much more realistic," Donovan said. "Learning starts to get more practical and nuanced because of the 'on the ground' piece. It goes well beyond theory and into reality." 

"One thing that was most useful is the exposure of problem solving," said Guy Francois '17.  "It was amazing to see how effectively our group has worked to help MASS MoCA. I certainly have not planned anything as big as the summit, and so I grandiosely learned a lot about planning big events as such, which is a skill that I will eventually need to cultivate even better."