How to Catch (and teach) a Millennial

I recently discovered an inspirational video on YouTube uploaded by the maker of ART THOUGHTZ, a hilarious mini-series which takes high-falutin art concepts such as post-structuralism and relational aesthetics  and explains them in the most “ghetto” and sarcastic way possible. These videos are really worthwhile because they both hilariously poke fun at these preposterous concepts, but also manage to convey these complex ideas accurately and compellingly. Via YouTube browsing (as one does),  I found a video of ART THOUGHTZ creator Hennessy Youngman speaking at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. His lecture is titled “How to Catch a Millennial”

, and from the vantage point of the combination expert/everyman he gives some advice on how museums can engage the millennial generation. Much of the value of his speech is not the actual advice he gives, but the tone and attitude of his delivery, itself a manifestation of the millennial attitude and perspective: extremely irreverent, casual, and yet clearly also very intelligent and perceptive.

I thought of this video again when I came across the website for the organization Eyebeam. This company, centered around an art and technology center in NYC running various events and programs, seems like it is effectively implementing Henny’s advice on catching millenials. In particular, I am extremely impressed with their youth programs, which engage young (largely grades 6-12) artists in creating and interpreting new media. I was also impressed with similar work being done at the Institute of Play. These companies bring together the playfulness that I think is omnipresent in millennial culture with its most prominent mediums (new media, video games, etc), and harness the power of play to help educate children, teaching them not only how to play along, but to design their own games and media. I think that these programs get at a truly meaningful form of “interactivity”. The interactive is not simply something you can touch and play with- the truly interactive is putting art back into the hands of the viewers, and showing them how they too can make their own games, their own interactive art. As Henny explains, the idea of the artistic object as something we passively stand in awe of is outdated. But simply implementing interactive technology is also not quite getting the point- the point is dialogue and participation, and inspiring the viewer to create their own medium and begin their own dialogue. These programs are truly empowering, and I think they are also serve as a great model for what it means to make learning interactive: not simply that the child can speak and ask questions, but that they themselves can design a lesson, design a game to teach themselves. This seems to me to be the future of both art and education- learning how to make the former passive audience into not just active participants, but how they can begin to draw an audience of their own.

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