Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Our Summer with Teenagers

Take over two dozen teens (including a few tweens) and a very old, dark, and evocative historic house museum.  Put them together.  What will you get?

OK, we don’t really know yet.  But we are finding out!

This summer, Connecticut Landmarks has partnered with Writers Block InK to delve into complex issues regarding history, slavery, race, and the modern implications of all three on individuals, communities, and museums.  As part of an eight-week summer program, these youth are tackling these issues as they think about the Joshua Hempsted House and their own New London community.  

CTL staff, exhibitions designer Robert ,and I have been spending two days a week with the youth as they sort through the many complex stories of the Joshua Hempsted House and New London’s early history.  To help them consider how they would share these stories via a historic house museum, we have led or hosted workshops (e.g., exhibition design, museum theatre, a visit with Joshua Hempsted's diary - check out this video!), and have been taking them to other museums to learn more about what they like, or simply ignore, in museum settings.

The culmination of this summer’s work will be two-fold:

  • An open house the evening of Tuesday, July 30, where they will be presenting the stories of the property, and New London, by sharing the Joshua Hempsted House with community members and stakeholders.  Reach Advisors will be conducting follow-up interviews with some attendees to learn what they think about the stories chosen and the methods for telling the stories.
  • An original dramatic production on slavery, developed by the youth and their leaders, to be presented in mid-August.

We are having a fascinating time observing the youth, asking questions, and finding out their preferences.  Over the next few blog posts, we’ll be sharing more details about the museum visits and workshops, and give you a better sense of where the youth are heading for their open house.  

Susie Wilkening is a Senior Consultant and Curator of Museum Audiences at Reach Advisors.  She will be leading several phases of audience research for this project.

Photo:  Many of the youth at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. 

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