Reflections on Teen Lounge
Michai Carlisle, a talented young artist in Fleisher’s after-school Teen Lounge program, took the initiative to interview alumni of this award-winning program as part of a paid internship at Fleisher. He also helped to organize a reunion that brought together current and former participants to connect and share their experience. Below, Michai shares the impact of this youth-driven program:
Since its founding in 1898 by Samuel S. Fleisher, Fleisher Art Memorial has dedicated itself to teaching people to value and appreciate art. In more recent years, Fleisher has found a way to connect teens to art through its Teen Lounge program.
Introduced in 2008, Teen Lounge is a free after-school program for students ages 13-19 while the Philadelphia schools are in session. The program has brought together teens from all walks of life and created a community of friends, mentors, and artists at Fleisher. I took the time to contact and interview seven former participants to learn how Teen Lounge affected or impacted their experiences with art and what they thought about the program.
Aigner participated in Teen Lounge for more than five years. During an interview, she said “The greatest thing about Teen Lounge is its acceptance of people. You can be anyone or anything and they accept you. It’s a great resource for defining who you are.”
Leilani, another Teen Lounge alumni, said, “I learned my identity from Teen Lounge. The support that Teen Lounge gave me allowed me to define myself as a non-straight person of color.”
Another former member, Amira, said, “My favorite part about Teen Lounge was choosing who taught us. Choosing who to be around gave me some control. As a teen, you don’t have much control over much in your life, and choosing what you want to learn gives you some freedom.” These choices come several times per year, when Teen Lounge holds proposal fairs for artists to present project ideas. Teens get to meet the artists and select the projects they would like to bring to Teen Lounge.
“Before Teen Lounge I used to think art had to look a certain way but it’s obvious that isn’t the truth. I also liked that I met other young artists who used better techniques that I used because that has taught me to still be proud of what I can create even if someone else can do a ‘better’ job.”
All of the alumni I interviewed agreed that Teen Lounge is a great program to be a part of if you want to be accepted by others and define who you are as a person. Because Fleisher’s community is so welcoming, you will be accepted no matter what you identify as or believe in.
Each one of us here in the program has our own reasons for coming to Teen Lounge every week. I come because I love the people in and around Teen Lounge and Fleisher as a whole. Teen Lounge helps me be more creative as well since I don’t really make art. Leilani also had a similar experience and said, “I have no art skills, but Teen Lounge has boosted my creativity.” She continued, “I can turn things that appear to be flaws into advantages.”
“Teen Lounge has taught me to not be so hard on myself,” said Aja. “Before Teen Lounge I used to think art had to look a certain way but it’s obvious that isn’t the truth. I also liked that I met other young artists who used better techniques that I used because that has taught me to still be proud of what I can create even if someone else can do a ‘better’ job.”
Of all the things I learned during the interviews, something a participant named India said about being welcomed by Teen Lounge stuck with me. “I never really had anywhere to go. Not only could I enjoy myself, I could be myself and everyone around me accepted me for what I really was, which was curious,” she said.
As an after-school program, Teen Lounge offers a safe, welcoming community, and a number of art activities for teens to participate in. The coordinator and teaching artists push you to try your best and encourage everyone to join in. Teen Lounge is a great place for young artists to really develop their skills and discover their own style of art. It exists to support growth as an artist and a person.