What to emphasize when training teens to give tours at the museum?

This year, we’re really excited to have 17 enthusiastic, talented high school students from last year’s RMA Teens Program back for a second year in our new Teen Guide Council Program. One of their main responsibilities this year will be to give tours to teen audiences, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the skills students need to be effective tour guides.

What I’ve really been thinking about is how to get the teens in a mindset of not to just impart fact after fact (snore) about the Himalayan art on display, but how they can facilitate an experience or authentic conversation for their fellow teens that’s real, exciting, and dynamic. I’ve also gotten a lot of feedback from the teens that they want help developing public speaking skills and confidence both in life and for their tours. How to do both? In order to do this, I’ve combined training experiences for the Teen Guides which teach public speaking and performance skills with an emphasis on facilitating personal connections for the group.

On September 29, the Peace Poets came to the Rubin Museum to do a Spoken Word Workshop with the theme of “On My Side of the Border”. At our museum, students are often reflecting on the cultures they come from as a foundation to learn about others’  cultures. In the workshop, students developed poetry about their backgrounds and injustices they see in their communities and shared their work with the group after learning spoken word techniques. We found it was a powerful way to get to know each other in deeper ways and to begin to address what qualities can be developed as a presenter.

The Peace Poets do a regular free spoken word workshop for teens at El Museo del Barrio (adults can also attend as long as you participate!) which I highly recommend if you’re interested in their work. For me, it was an inspiring way for us to think about how presenting can also be a form of sharing who you are, and to emphasize not just the speaker, but the power of the group community that happens when people are sharing real feelings and observations. Many members of the Teen Guide Council said that it wasn’t just the individual performances that made the workshop special, but what was attained as a group through sharing.

The following week, the students visited the High Five Offices to participate in a Teen StorySlam in collaboration with the Moth. Again, this workshop taught performance skills with an emphasis that we all have a story to tell, that performance is a form of sharing and powerful community.

To build on the idea that an important part of performance is what the audience brings to the experience, we’re going to see the PS122 performance of Hotel Savoy at the Goethe Institute. Students will enter this performance one at a time, into a setting where as an audience of one, they become the main character. After reading an article in the Times about Theater for Audiences of One, I thought this would be a great transition into talking about how it’s not just presentation when you’re giving a tour, but the audience is a critical part of the experience.

A huge highlight of our fall will be to experience a tour facilitated by Museum Education Field Expert Rika Burnham at the Frick Collection. We’re really excited to see how our own observations about a work of art collectively lead to an incredible amount of information. We’ll think a lot about the role that contributions from audience members play and where it makes sense to insert factual information.

I’m looking forward to the rich teen-for-teen conversations around Himalayan art to come once they start giving tours. If you have teens that would like to come and experience a teen-led tour, please get in touch!

About Pauline

As Manager of Youth Development at the Rubin Museum of Art, I design, facilitate and teach youth development programs for teens and college students that take place during out-of-school time. At the Rubin Museum, I can combine my huge love for Asian Art and culture with my other favorite thing: working with students!
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