Teen Docents from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art touring Dillard University's art collection. Photos by Trent Thomas, who is a teen docent, a junior at L. W. Higgins High School and studies visual arts at New Orleans Creative Center for the Arts (NOCCA.)
Words by L. Kasimu Harris
University Communications & Marketing
Images by Trent Thomas
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
While some high school students use the summer as a respite from their formal education, the learning is continuous for teen docents from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Ten students from the program visited Dillard University in late July, when I had the opportunity to lead them on a tour of campus, where they viewed the University’s antiquities and more recent works from students and John Barnes, program coordinator and assistant professor of visual arts.
We started with the history of the Zulu Club exhibit that was displayed in the Will A. Alexander Library. Although the exhibition is not fine art, it is a vital aspect of New Orleans culture. Afterwards, we meandered across the Avenue of the Oaks to the Dillard University Center for Economic Freedom (DUCIEF), where Ezekiel’s Wheel, a large installation by Terry Adkins that was a part of Prospect.3: Notes for Now, is housed in the lobby. The students viewed, shared their interpretations and then discussed the work that was inspired by and included a W. E. B. DuBois’ quote from “The Souls of Black Folk” on double consciousness. Several other notable pieces in DUCIEF were by John Scott, Sue Jane Smock and Elizabeth Catlett, who also taught at Dillard.
"Ezekeil Double Drums installation by Terry Adkins that was a part of Prospect.3: Notes for Now.
“By familiarizing our teens with renowned art departments and introducing them to successful artists, we hope to expose students to the multitude of opportunities and career options available to them,” said Ellen Balkin, education manager at the Ogden. She added that an important goal of the Teen Docent Program is to assist New Orleans area public school students garner success in high school, college and beyond and that visiting campuses is a means to accomplish that aim. Moreover, the students receive a stipend and are trained as docents and lead visitors on tours of the museum with educated insight into the art, and they are also summer camp counselors tasked with creating original works of art to share with community members.
Last year, Ogden’s Teen Docent Program was one among 285 across the country to be nominated and they were one of 12 to receive the 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor for teen development programs. Balkin and a student traveled to Washington, D.C., where First Lady Michelle Obama presented them with the award.
"Encouraging the youth from the community inside of a creative environment, is an excellent way to ensure that they will see a place for themselves inside of the arts," John Barnes, associate professor of visual art, said.
From DUCIEF, the students visited the Office of the President, where works from Hale Woodruff, Ida Kohlmeyer and Gilbert Fletcher, ‘70, among others, are displayed. Barnes met the docents in the art gallery inside the Samuel DuBois Cook Fine Arts Center. He talked about the program and pointed out art from Dillard students and the gallery also had pieces from Barnes. I showed some of my photographs and my performance video and then we talked about my process and inspiration.
“The art at the University is diverse,” said Jon Thomas, a senior at International High School. Additionally, she expressed her intrigue of the classroom experience that Barnes described. Thomas said: “I love how the artists are allowed to be creative in their own way and how no one is telling them how to use their creativity.”
L. Kasimu Harris talking about W. E. B. DuBois and how art is a reflection of society.
There is a link between the classrooms at Dillard and the gallery walls at the Ogden, home to the largest collection of Southern Art in the world. “We look at the Ogden as an extension of campus, in terms of learning the inner working of a museum and the professional art world,” Barnes said. He added that Dillard is a place that merges with their outreach goals and also benefits from the flow of quality students in terms of recruitment. Recently, the Ogden has worked to strengthen its relationships with Dillard University professors and students. Balkin explained that it’s a natural connection because both Barnes and I have exhibited at the Museum and participated in their outreach programming. We were both in the Louisiana Contemporary in 2014 and 2015 Louisiana Contemporary, where Barnes earned first place with “Doe Poppin,” a wooden sculpture. I was also in The Rising, a group photography exhibition that garnered national media attention, in 2015. Last year, Lionell S. Thomas, ‘18, and James McClue, ‘16, participated in the HBCU Art Showcase at the Ogden. In fact, for the last four years, Dillard has maintained a constant presence in the juried Louisiana Contemporary annual exhibition that has a very stringent selection process for the artists it presents. In 2014, Christopher Bunch, ‘14 won the People’s Choice Award in the exhibit and this year Dillard graduates Ernest Littles and Jer’Lisa Devezin are in the Louisiana Contemporary that runs until September 18.
Balkin says she hopes to grow the interconnection and develop new collaborations, soon, that benefit both institutions. She added: “I am especially proud of the fact that two of our Teen Docent alumni [Lionell S. Thomas and Myron Solomon, ‘20] are now students at Dillard.”