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Teen Curators: An Afterschool Program with Good News Only Gallery

(Photo Credit: Courtesy Good News Only)

Elizabeth Shank gives high school students a behind-the-scenes look at the art world with Good News Only, her six-month-old, non-profit art gallery in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. She brings in students to teach them what it’s like to manage and organize a fine art gallery. They are: Teen Curators.This inaugural group—six high school students from Senn High School Bridget Agyeiwah, Muluken Habtamu, Asante Lofton, Jackie Mauleon, Pascal Ndabarushimana, Zoe Steinhardt—opened their exhibit March 3. Titled “Forever Young,” the show is based on Jay-Z’s song of the same title. Evoking childhood, the exhibit incorporates works like Amber Ginsburg & Lia Rousset’s tap shoes that line the floor, Aram Han’s safety pin mandalas and Nico Gardener’s string puppet, and additional pieces from Tony Fitzpatrick, Mary King, Ivan Martinez, CJ Pyle, and Zoe Strauss.

I sat down with founder and president of Good News Only, Elizabeth Shank to find out more about the first group of teen curators and how the gallery got started.

Emily Zulz: Give me the background on yourself. Where you come from? What were you doing before this?

Elizabeth Shank: My background is for the majority, arts administration. I moved to New York after college, and I went to Kenyon College (in Gambier, Ohio). I worked at Magnum Photos, which is a small-ish photo cooperative. And it’s an interesting place to first work in the art world because under one roof you literally have every sort of department or field within the art world—editorial, advertising, curatorial, archiving the library. It was a great first job because I got exposed to different areas. Then, I floated around. I interned at the Whitney Museum, and then the biggest chunk of my past is working at Bruce Silverstein Gallery, which is a photography gallery in Chelsea.

EZ: How long were you there?

ES: I was there five years. … I learned so much from Bruce. He’s a wonderful mentor. But, I got slightly burned out with the whole art scene and New York in general after about 10 years. My husband and I decided to move to Chicago. He grew up in Evanston and obviously Chicago’s another great big city. It seemed like a good step away from New York, but still being in a big metropolitan.

EZ: How long have you guys been in Chicago? How’d Good News Only come about?

ES: Next month will be two years. Part of the move was also a change in lifestyle. So, not living to work, not being so dependent on the job. I’ve been fortunate to take a bunch of time off. So I didn’t look for a job when I got here, and I just started volunteering anywhere that seemed interesting. A lot of that ended up being around here in Edgewater. One place that caught my heart and became more important than some of the others was Senn High School. I tutored and mentored there. I sort of organized a crew of neighbor volunteers in the school. After a year plus of volunteering at six, eight different organizations, I was like “OK, I’d really like to focus on a single project.” I just got to the point where I really wanted a project that could be mine that I could own. I decided to apply for an After School Matters program, which essentially was Good News Only.

And then the program was wait-listed last summer. I was just impatient … so I thought, I think I can do this on a smaller scale. Find a cheap storefront, and make it its own organization. So I just went for it, little by little and that’s how it came about. It sort of started last summer with developing the idea and we got incorporated in September, got the space in October and I started the after school program in December.

The students in the inaugural group picked "Forever Young" as their theme. (Photo Courtesy: Good News Only)

EZ: Tell me about this first group and this first exhibit.

ES: This first group had six kids (two freshmen, three sophomores and one senior). Four out of the six are recently immigrated to the United States. It’s a 12-week program, and they would come two days a week after school. The first few weeks we visited a bunch of museums and literally starting out with the physical structure of the museum—where is it in the city, what does it look like, how do you get in, who greets you, how are the rooms set up. Just understanding how they operate.

From there, focusing on specific exhibitions and how the exhibitions are organized. Some of these kids had never been in art museums. One had never been on Michigan Avenue before. There’s so much that they’re being exposed to. I wanted to be really broad in the beginning to give them a foundation.

And then we visited Terry Dowd Shipping, which is a really neat company in West Bucktown on Armitage. And they handle shipping, crating and storage for really top museums around the country, not just in Chicago. They got to see their space and one of the managers there gave us a demo on how to hang the artwork, how to use a level and again some of these kids had not seen a level before or just basic tools.

Pascal Ndabarushimana and Muluken Habtamu start installing pieces for "Forever Young." (Photo Courtesy: Good News Only)

And then we did a few gallery days, where we popped into a bunch of galleries and heard from people who work in the galleries to compare the large museum to smaller art gallery organization. And then toward the end of the term we started doing artist studio exhibits… In between there we did a few different exercises, to play around with pulling together a show. I had them each do a Tumblr exhibition where they had to come up with their theme, their title, write a blurb, select the artwork. I gave them a bunch of websites to work with, museum databases and galleries.

Toward the end of the term, then, we started brainstorming for this show….We listened to Jay-Z and that’s how we came up with this title.

EZ: Then you had the theme.

ES: The next week we listened to the song over and over again. Let’s pull out lyrics, what is Jay-Z trying to say? Are we truly using this song as inspiration? We broke it down from his poetry into concrete terms that could be easier to pull out of artwork. Then we started making a wish list of artwork that they had seen over the past couple months that they thought would work. Then I asked them each to go through the sites for places that I hoped would loan us artwork to find suggestions. Then everyone voted on what would work and what wouldn’t and that’s sort of how we narrowed it

Studenst work on the lettering for "Forever Young." (Photo Courtesy: Good News Only)

down. We played around before we had the artwork, how it might work in this space, and then they finalized and arranged it.

EZ: Where do some of these come from?

ES: I think another of their favorite field trips was to the School of Art Institute. A student in the grad school there, Michael Webster helped organize a day for us to go in and we saw 10-12 studios in a three-hour span. They got to see all the artists. A handful of the pieces here come from that visit.

EZ: I know this is inspired by the Jay-Z song, so can you go into detail how some of the pieces fit or why they wanted those?

ES: We ended up breaking it into three criteria from Jay-Z’s song. The first was very literal: forever young, kids playing, groups of people reminiscing or having fun, or things like that. The second criterion was object-oriented, so objects that you associate with youth or childhood. And the third is just more emotional, abstract. You look at something and it just makes you feel that sense of youth.

Forever Young
March 3, 2012 – May 25, 2012
Good News Only
5604 N. Ridge Ave
Chicago, IL 60660
Tuesday – Friday, 1pm – 6pm
Saturday and Sunday by appointment
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