Teens craft audio tours for Philly galleries and museums

 Students who created audio tours (from left) Asia Kaiser, Academy of Natural Sciences; Asef Khurshan, The Barnes; and Sharon Shania, Eastern State Penitentiary, gather at The Barnes for a press event. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Students who created audio tours (from left) Asia Kaiser, Academy of Natural Sciences; Asef Khurshan, The Barnes; and Sharon Shania, Eastern State Penitentiary, gather at The Barnes for a press event. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Most museums offer hands-on art sessions for children, cocktail parties for young adults, and art classes for older adults. Teenagers are the gap years.

Last year, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance tired to fill that gap with its STAMP pass (Students at Museum in Philly), giving free admission to 15 museums in the city.

This year, the Alliance is introducing audio tours of select museums, made by teenagers for teenagers.

“What we wanted to do was have audio tours in a teen voice that highlighted things that teens thought were cool,” said Nicole Allen, director of community engagement for the Alliance. “I’ve done a ton of audio tours, sometimes they can be a little boring. I can only image what a teen thinks. I think it’s kind of cool to hear someone your age talking about it.”

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The first five audio tours will debut Thursday May 28, at a party hosted by all five museums along the Parkway in Philadelphia: the Art Museum, the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Science, the Barnes Foundation, and Eastern State Penitentiary are collectively hosting high school students from around the city with free admission, DJs, a performance by rapper Chill Moody, food, and a scavenger hunt inside the galleries.

Each venue will have its own audio series, highlighting select items in their collections. The audio spots are streamable via smartphone at spts.us/stamp.

Ten more museums will each have their own audio spots created by teenagers at the end of the summer.

High school students on the STAMP teen council were asked to interpret and comment on things in the museum that excited them. Sharon Shania, 16, a student at Prep Charter High School in Point Breeze, created commentary for Eastern State Penitentiary, the defunct prison in Fairmount that has become a historic site.

“I wanted to do this one dungeon in the basement. It’s for criminals who were acting up,” said Shania. “It’s really creepy down there. I love creepy.”

Each museum gave the students access to the collections beyond the regular public tours. Asia Kaiser, 17, from Masterman High School was told things about the artifacts at Academy of Natural Science of Drexel University that its docents don’t normally mention.

“They had gotten a moose, but they realized its antlers were smaller than the antlers of a moose in another museum,” said Kaiser. “So they got another moose, a bigger one, and just put the antlers on the original moose.”

At the Barnes Foundation, 16 year-old Asef Khurshan selected some of the paintings in Dr. Barnes densely assembled galleries and encouraged patrons to really move around the room to appreciate them,

This is the voice of Asef Khurshan, a sixteen year-old from Masterman school. In this audio post he encourages the viewer to really move around the room while considering two paintings by Russian modernist Chaim Soutine.

“Stand in front of [Chaim Soutine’s] Praying Man, now back away a bit,” said Khurshan in his audio guide. “How does this painting change? Do the lines become more clear, or less? Move closer again.”

Khurshan finds the Barnes interesting because none of the paintings have wall text next to them, so the viewer has to swim through the dense assemblage of art on his own.

“The Barnes is really about putting yourself in it, and letting your mind interpret it,” said Khushan. “I wanted to make the listener really feel it, and make their own interpretation. There’s no right answer.”

In a similar vein, the Michener Museum in Doylestown will host a summer class for children and teenagers to develop audio tours for that museum’s collection.

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