Primary tabs

How Can Arts Organizations and Teens Benefit from Working Together?

On Tuesday, June 6, we co-hosted "Making Strides: Teen Programming in Cultural Institutions" with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA), a workshop to empower creative professionals as they start, maintain or expand their teen programming.

The topics covered ranged from hiring teens, providing safe spaces and empowering teens as content creators to working with disadvantaged teens, securing funding for your programming and instituting internal program evaluation.

The keynote for the event was given by Lynn Berkowitz, Senior Director of Museum Experience and Innovation at the Please Touch Museum (which, little-know fact, has its own teen program) and former Family and Community Programs Manager at The Barnes Foundation. Lynn spoke about her own experience partnering with teens, schools, and teen-serving organizations in her work at these institutions, and stressed that the most important questions to consider before embarking on creating new programming for teens are why it is important for your institution to engage teens, and how it fits within your mission. In The Barnes' case, Lynn cited the need to cultivate the next generation of supporters, visitors, members and sponsors by investing in them at an early age, and fulfilling the institution's mission to enrich lives by promoting the advancement of education and appreciation of fine art.

Following that introduction, ten teen program representatives and educators gave lightning-round style presentations on what they see as the critical things to know within their area of expertise:

Hiring Teens, presented by the WorkReady program of the Philadelphia Youth Network:

  • Don't ask the same interview questions you would pose to an adult, like "What are some past projects you managed?" or "Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a colleague, and how you resolved it." Focus instead on what the teen is hoping to get out of the experience, and what skills they have that they are hoping to build on.
  • Make sure the experience gives teens the opportunity to learn 21st-century skills such as productivity, flexibility, initiative and technical proficiency. Most of these skills are learned when you have a job, not in school.
  • Go in with the attitude of providing teens the opportunity for their very first job, and enhancing their skills for the future.

Teens as Advocates, presented by Philadelphia Youth Commission:

  • Stop thinking about teens as our future. They are our present, and we need to start building these leaders now.
  • The idea of teens as advocates is to give them the space to be included in planning conversations, and advocate for their peers in spaces teens can't normally navigate. Teens should be included in the entire decision process, and feel that their opinion is valued.
  • Be strategic in who you tap as teen advocates within your organization, and be mindful of diversity that reflects a wide range of backgrounds and points of view.
  • Strike a balance between empowering teens with opportunites to speak up, but also recognizing that they need be built as leaders so that they are also prepared to speak up when they are in key positions to advocate more widely.

Program Evaluation, presented by Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts:

  • You can and should evaluate your own programs, without expensive consultants. But, do not attempt self-evaluation if you're only looking for reasons to tell a funder why the program is great.
  • Successful evaluations result in decisions that affect future outcomes.
  • Have a small number of reasonable goals. Write them clearly, and define the terms, so that there are no "unspoken goals" within your team. Make sure your evaluation goals aren't too broad, are measurable, and are related to the goals of your program. (And by the way, you need to know the goals of your program to figure out the goals of your evaluation.)
  • Generate data that you will actually do something with. Be realistic about your organization's history with using data to inform decisions, and whether or not there is capacity to use the new data you will generate.
  • Your evaluation should be replicable, meaning you should be able to explain it to a colleague for them to use in their own program. 
  • Some methods you can use on both teens and staff: pre- and post-program surveys, interviews, and observations of behavior and skills. Be sure to get parent/guardian permission to record any interviews with teens, and be upfront about observing behavior so that you don't come off creepy.
  • Consult lit reviews for best practices on what you're doing—there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

Grant Funding, presented by the Philadelphia Cultural Fund:

  • Make sure your program is aligned with your mission and the heart of your organization.
  • When looking for funders, you want one that aligns with your work.
  • Know your program: how much it costs to run, what your staff is capable of, the budget you're seeking, objectives and goals, and qualitative and quantitative data.
  • Develop a relationship with funders. Talk to them to get insight on what you need for a successful application, or what you can improve for the next round. If you're not a good fit for that funder, they might even have better-suited resources they can recommend.

Incorporating College Readiness Into a Teen Program, presented by the Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University:

  • Take teens on multiple college tours, led by their peers or program alumni.
  • Offer workshops on things teens need to know when applying to college, like the Common Application and FAFSA.
  • Provide opportunities for mock college and job interviews. This is also an opportunity to engage alumni.
  • Connect teens to internship experiences and job opportunities that fit their interests in and outside of your institution.
  • Track the results: graduation rates, how many continue on to higher education, how many enter the field your program studies.

Running a Multi-Year Teen Program, presented by the Karabots Junior Fellows Program of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia & Mütter Museum:

  • Track teens' program and academic progress. Your job should be to ensure they graduate high school and go to college.
  • Don't let them get bored.
  • Let them bring their friends, and make sure there is time and space for forming new friendships within the program.
  • Provide an informal hangout space to socialize and let them talk.
  • Push them out of their comfort zone, but carefully. And be prepared for them to push you out of yours, too. It's OK to admit you don't know everything.
  • Always have food!

Fostering Cross-Institutional Collaborations, presented by the STAMP program of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance):

  • Take feedback from your community and institutional partners
  • Listen to the needs and challenges of your partners, and find solutions where you can mutually benefit.
  • Collaborate on programming, but also on promoting other opportunities for teens.

Working with Special Needs Teens, presented by Moore College of Art & Design:

  • Consider the capacity of your program to work with kids with special needs. Where do you need adaptations before you can pursue this?
  • If you do not have the capacity, you can partner with other organizations who do, or refer teens to another resource.
  • Focus on positive behavior modification, positive structure and rules, and the systems and routines that are already in place for a special needs child.
  • Be kind but commanding when you talk to kids.
  • Don't take their behavior personally.

Creating Safe Spaces for Teens, presented by Attic Youth Center:

  • Think in terms of power and privilege instead of elements of difference.
  • Stepping forward with diversity and inclusion means stepping back to make space.
  • Shift the emphasis from the individual to the institutional. Focus less on who these teens are, and more on how you can best support them.

Teen Buy-In, presented by Philly Youth Poetry Movement:

  • Teens need spaces to be creative, find their voices, and become who they are meant to be.
  • If teens don't see themselves in your mission and programming, they will feel disconnected.
  • When working directly with teens, your ideal role is lifelong mentor. Be present, and exchange with them.

How do you engage teens in your work? Let us know by tweeting @philaculture.