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Teen Council selecting photographs from the Menil Collection for exhibition.

Image: Ronald Jones

Every Thursday afternoon, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston hosts one of the oldest museum-based teen programs in the country. Since 1999, CAMH Teen Council has provided Houston teens the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the art culture.

“It’s a process of learning about how museums work and learning about the local arts community. They’re really learning about the importance of the museum to a city, or really to society,” explained Jamal Cyrus, CAMH Teen Council Coordinator.

The council members are chosen after a competitive application process that begins every March. This year, 12 members make up the council. Life lessons beyond the gallery include becoming versed in visual literacy, critical thinking, collaboration and working with diverse groups of people.

“Although we have artists in the teen council, it’s not centered around that—it’s centered around art enthusiasts. So, members end up in a lot of places,” explained Cyrus. One former Teen Council member, who spent time as an intern at Museum of Harlem, MOMA, and the Smithsonian, is now in London studying for his masters in philosophy. “…It really does help push them in a certain direction, but also it helps them to see what the opportunities are in that field.”

One of the main focuses for the council is collaboration. Students with all interests are encouraged to become part of the Council.

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Danny Lyon, One of the four girls murdered by a bomb in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama. 1963.

“My background is very focused in writing, so I was able to use that knowledge on the Teen Council,” says Teen Council member Eli Winter. “There is a lot of ways different knowledge basis can come together."

The Council spends a year planning one main exhibition while hosting additional events including fashion shows, music festivals and poetry readings. This year, the Council partnered with the Menil Collection to curate the upcoming exhibition, Root Shift: Photographs of Stasis and Change.

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Richard Misrach, Stonehenge #1, 1976.

Having full access to the Menil’s photo holdings, the Council chose 30 images to display out of the 3,000 available to them. With guidance from the museum staff, the 12 teens took on the exhibit head on.

“We had a basic structure for the theme in the sense of changing circumstances in terms of the environment changing,” member Alex Rodriguez said of the exhibition’s theme. “But, we wanted to morph it into a kind of social, cultural and political [story] and add all of those human characteristics into environmental change and how they’re parallel and work together. We tried to kind of take it more from a relationship stance in terms of humans with earth.”

Along with the incredible opportunities provided to the members, the members gain valuable life experience and the opportunity to create a community. 

“I see [fellow members] at art openings and see them around at coffee shops, and it’s nice because you feel like you’re kind of becoming more a part of the art community,” Rodriguez said.

Root Shift. March 4–May 29. Free. Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross St. 713-524-9400. menil.org

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