‘Raw’ Talent: Young Curators show at Aspen Art Museum | AspenTimes.com

‘Raw’ Talent: Young Curators show at Aspen Art Museum

"Wild Girl," by Aspen High School student Kelli Callahan.
Courtesy photo |

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What: ‘Raw,’ presented by Young Curators of the Roaring Fork

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Opening reception, Sunday, March 15, 3 p.m.; exhibition on view through March 29

More info: www.aspenartmuseum.org

What: Open Mic Night, hosted by Young Curators of the Roaring Fork

Where: Aspen Art Museum

When: Friday, March 20, 6 p.m.

More info: www.aspenartmuseum.org

Over the past six months, a group of talented valley teens have been meeting weekly, evaluating art by their peers and talking about what it means to be raw.

This weekend, the result of the efforts by these students in the Aspen Art Museum’s Young Curators of the Roaring Fork program will be unveiled in a group show titled “Raw.”

“It’s a way for us to speak out,” young curator Calli Ferguson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Aspen High, said this week at the museum before hanging the show. “It gives us a voice through art.”

Running since 2005, the museum’s Young Curators program annually brings together students from valley high schools to put together an exhibition of work by high schoolers. This year’s crop of 15 curators came from Aspen, Basalt, Roaring Fork and Glenwood Springs high schools. The show includes work by 14 student artists at those schools as well as Rifle High. The curators selected the work from 78 submissions.

The process began in October, when the curators met to begin brainstorming a theme for the show.

“We were thinking about a theme and the idea of raw vulnerability kept coming up again and again,” Ferguson said.

The theme brought a surprising range of works, from Aspen High student Kelli Callahan’s “Wild Girl,” featuring a digital print of a young girl with a head of embroidered flowers and needle and thread, hinting that she is a raw work in progress, to Glenwood High student Skyler Sherman’s close-up photograph of a single eye, smudged at the edges in mascara or dirt, to Roaring Fork High student Jackson Porter Hardin’s “It Gets Loud in Here,” a charcoal portrait of a shirtless man, head in hands, mouth open mid-scream.

“All the pieces are different and ‘Raw’ is different for everybody,” Ferguson said. “When you think about courage and vulnerability you don’t think they go together, but seeing the work you see that you have to have courage to be raw.”

Student artists also submitted artist statements with their work, which sometimes opened the curators’ eyes to their intention.

“Sometimes we wouldn’t see it, how it related to ‘Raw,’ but we’d read the artist statement and go, ‘Oh yeah, wow!’” said Mario Acosta, 17, a senior at Glenwood High.

Once they had all the submissions in, last month, the curators had to decide what their criteria was for selecting pieces, then narrowed them down to a top 30, debated what would fit best together in the show, then cut it down to its final 14-piece form.

“There were so many good ones,” Ferguson said. “But you can’t just choose the best. You have to choose the best for this show.”

That, of course, is what museum curators do — use their vision and perspective to organize a body of work. Sharing their thoughts and arguing about what pieces would combine to make the best show, the students said, was the hardest part of the process. When they first met, last fall, curators stuck with students from their own schools, but over time, they said, they mixed and grew comfortable standing up for their ideas.

“People can have different ideas about what art means when the see it,” said Mae Houston, a 14-year-old freshman at Glenwood High. “Before this I was like, ‘Oh yeah, looking at art is cool.’ But now I’m actually interested in it, and interested in doing it. So it can give teenagers a bigger view on what’s out there.”

Over the course of the program, students split into committees to tackle the myriad aspects of putting on an art show, from marketing and public relations to curating and education — working with museum staffers to learn the ropes along the way.

In past years, the curators met with museum staffers at Basalt High School. This school year, with the new Aspen Art Museum and its education room, they met in the new building. The exposure to the inner-workings of the museum added a new experiential aspect to the program. The young curators said they were fascinated by all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting together an art show and running a museum.

Houston and Ferguson said the experience gave them new perspectives during recent visits to big-city art museums. Acosta said the curating experience has inspired him to pursue a career in graphic design.

Michelle Dezember, the art museum’s learning director, noted that a number of museum staffers were young curators in high school or did Aspen Art Museum workshops as kids.

“You can expose and cultivate a broader range of options for kids,” Dezember said. “You can open the door to working in a museum, in a gallery, being an artist. Wherever it takes them from here, that’s up to them, but we would hope that it plants a seed.”

“Raw” opens Sunday and runs through March 29, with an open mic night open to all high school students on March 20. The curators first considered bringing in a rock band (or “Rawk” band) for the event, but then opted for the open mic format to allow valley teens to get “Raw” in any art form they choose.

“We wanted a place to come and express your work,” Houston said. “You can show your art, your music, your poetry, magic tricks.”

atravers@aspentimes.com


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