Aspen Public Radio: Aspen Art Museum to showcase more than 1,000 student works in Youth Art Expo |

Aspen Public Radio: Aspen Art Museum to showcase more than 1,000 student works in Youth Art Expo

Kaya Williams
Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Public Radio

The Aspen Art Museum isn’t usually the kind of place that crowds its gallery walls. Most months of the year here — and most months of the year at most major contemporary art institutions in the world — works by renowned artists with international reputations get plenty of space to breathe.

Not this spring, though.

For a Youth Art Expo opening Saturday, the museum is filling two entire floors with more than 1,000 works by local students who have created elaborate and experimental puppetry for the show. (For comparison: The same two-floor space housed about 40 works by Hervé Télémaque this winter in what was considered an expansive and career-spanning exhibition.)

Brothers Pablo and Efrain Del Hierro of the puppetry duo Poncili Creación work with teens at a workshop at the Aspen Art Museum on April 22. The museum partnered with Poncili and another puppetry group called MAPS to support and mentor students participating in an upcoming Youth Art Expo that opens April 29.
Simon Klein/Aspen Art Museum

“It’s going to be pretty maximalist,” said Pablo Del Hierro, who with his brother Efrain Del Hierro forms the puppetry duo Poncili Creación from Puerto Rico.

Poncili partnered with the museum to lead workshops, performances, and exhibition design for the Youth Art Expo. The museum also collaborated with the New York City-based non-profit MAPS, which stands for “Music, Art, Puppet, Sound,” to support and mentor local students who are contributing to the massive showcase.

“It goes against the canon of, like, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, five paintings, that’s a room,'” Pablo Del Hierro said during a group interview with his brother and a duo from MAPS at the museum last weekend. “No, this is going to be, like, hundreds in each exhibition space, which is also celebrating the diversity, and how every human is special and every human is worthy of dreaming and doing whatever they want.”

Aaron Rourk, a musician who co-founded MAPS with the multidisciplinary artist Rachel Sherk, agrees.

“For any kids who will be coming to the museum for the first time this weekend at the opening, what better way to make them feel like this is a place that they can come, this is a place that they can dream in?” he said.

The duos of Poncili and MAPS also believe that puppetry is a particularly accessible medium for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

“We’ve always experimented with movement and sound and images and just sort of had a big hoorah when we found puppets,” Pablo Del Hierro said. “And we’re like, ‘Hey, alright,our ideas can come to life, but not in a pretentious way.'”

Efrain Del Hierro added that puppetry is unbound by the constraints of language barriers, allowing the duo to “connect with communities” all over the world while inspiring people to turn their abstract ideas into reality.

“We like people to see our work and think, ‘Oh, I can do that,’ or, ‘Oh, that can be made,’ and that is not only in how our stuff looks,” he said. “It’s also in how our shows go and how we move towards them, and we think that it just immediately resonates with the inner child of everybody.”

Student artworks fill the walls of the Aspen Art Museum for an expansive Youth Art Expo opening April 29, 2023. The showcase features more than 1,000 works by local youth from throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.
YSimon Klein/Aspen Art Museum

That spirit of possibility filled the room at a student workshop at the Aspen Art Museum last weekend as the Del Hierro brothers encouraged participants to see unusual shapes in different ways. Students cut thick foam blocks into larger-than-life plants, animals, and abstract creatures and soon found new potential in scraps that turned into headgear, footwear, and extended limbs.

Efrain Del Hierro said that in the world of puppets, “anything can be something,” and that the medium can help connect people to “the idea of joy and fun within puppets as well.”

It’s a message the MAPS duo wants to communicate, too. Sherk, the non-profit’s co-founder, said the collaborative designed curricula for students throughout the Roaring Fork Valley who worked on pieces for the expo.

“We wanted to inspire them, to show them sort of a world that maybe they hadn’t experienced before and to have them mix something different and new,” she said. “And so we just got to pick out a lot of the work that’s been sent in, and it’s all really exciting. It’s all really different. It’s all just like crazy, amazing, beautiful things that the kids just have made.”

For Efrain Del Hierro, the hope is that the impressive expo will inspire some adults to embrace their kids’ creativity as well as their own.

“This will maybe change the way some adults see what art is, and maybe they’ll prioritize teaching their kids art,” he said. “Because outside of a school setting, creating art, the only way I see that happening is if families are enthusiastic about it.”

He said there’s significance, too, in putting this student work in “a place of eminence” that grants it the same “sacredness” as work from established creators.

“To tell kids like, ‘Hey, this unfettered, crazy nonsensical feeling is important — it’s so important, we’re going to put it in a museum’ is something very strong,” he said.

Sherk said the expo can be an “empowering” experience for students, especially for those who have never visited any museum before, let alone been a featured artist in one.

“I mean, how exciting, to go to a museum for the first time, and it be filled with art that you’ve made?” she said.

And according to her and Rourk, the dialogue that revolves around a museum visit is part of the creative effort too.

Vibrant student artworks in the shape of turtles cover the wall and floor of a gallery space in the Aspen Art Museum for the Youth Art Expo opening April 29, 2023. The museum retained some of the infrastructure from an Hervé Télémaque exhibition for the new show, which features more than 1,000 pieces by local youth.
Simon Klein/Aspen Art Museum

“The (making) process is so important, that’s where art happens. That’s, we could even say, what art is,” Rourk said. “But there’s something magical, also, about the process continuing, when you see it up on the wall or on a pedestal.”

The Youth Art Expo opens at the Aspen Art Museum on Saturday, with programming from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Programming includes afternoon performances by Poncili, MAPS, and teen participants, along with interactive music, rollerskating photographers, and a pancake station. Attendees are encouraged to wear pajamas to fit with a “Puppets, Pancakes, Pajamas” theme.

Registration is free through the Aspen Art Museum website; the expo will be up through May 28.

Kaya Williams is the Edlis Neeson Arts and Culture Reporter at Aspen Public Radio,