Youths tackle the old stuff at mu­seum

High school stu­dents get chance to re­search, de­sign tours of ex­hibits

Albany Times Union (Sunday) - - CAPITAL REGION - By Diego Men­doza-moy­ers

A low-lit room in the Al­bany In­sti­tute of His­tory and Art fea­tures land­scape paint­ings from the Hud­son River School wrapped around the room’s four walls — each beau­ti­ful on the sur­face, but per­haps hold­ing a mes­sage wrapped within his­tor­i­cal con­text, or artis­tic tech­nique.

“What draws your at­ten­tion?” asks Colonie Cen­tral High School se­nior Me­lena An­drade, point­ing to a par­tic­u­larly col­or­ful paint­ing. “Not many other pieces are this vi­brant and bright, and that’s one of the char­ac­ter­is­tics I like to point out. And then we just con­tinue talk­ing about ... what the themes and in­ner mean­ings are about.”

The paint­ing is one of sev­eral that the In­sti­tute’s “Ju­nior In­ter­preters” learn about and re­search as part of a pro­gram put on by the mu­seum. A to­tal of 20 Cap­i­tal Re­gion stu­dents ages 13 to 18 par­tic­i­pate in the mu­seum pro­gram, now in its sec­ond year, which runs the length of the school year.

“We talk about each paint­ing, we try to en­gage the au­di­ence a lot and ask them ques­tions and make it more in­ter­ac­tive, so it’s ba­si­cally

them sort of lead­ing their own tour, but you also pro­vide in­for­ma­tion,” An­drade said.

The in­ter­preters study the his­tory and in­tent be­hind pieces fea­tured through­out the mu­seum’s longer-term ex­hibits, like the Hud­son River School, an­cient Egypt and colo­nial Al­bany ex­hibits.

In­ter­preters craft their own guided, in­ter­ac­tive tours through the ex­hibits, of­ten ask­ing mu­seum pa­trons ques­tions to un­cover a mes­sage an artist may be con­vey­ing, or give ad­di­tional con­text to his­tor­i­cal items, like an Egyp­tian sar­coph­a­gus or even a 500-year-old loaf of bread.

“It’s not some­thing where a mu­seum staff mem­ber writes some­thing and then

hands it to them and says ‘here’s what you’re sup­posed to say.’ They look at it from their own per­spec­tives, and pro­vide tours through their own voices,” said Patrick Sten­shorn, di­rec­tor of in­ter­pre­tive pro­grams for the in­sti­tute.

“It’s a way to get sort of a younger per­son’s voice out in pub­lic and also de­velop some of the skills that hope­fully will let them, as they go off to col­lege or the work­force, suc­ceed,” he said.

Through­out the pro­gram, the stu­dents are taught about his­tory and art, but also pub­lic speak­ing and in­ter­ac­tion with vis­i­tors, some­thing John Ezra Mal­ibago, a Colonie Cen­tral se­nior, said has trans­lated to the rest of her daily life.

“A big les­son I’ve learned was that it’s OK to make mis­takes and still own up to it,” Mal­ibago said. “It re­ally kind of made an im­pact for our fu­ture tours be­cause

ob­vi­ously you don’t know ev­ery­thing, but you can still ask for help. And you can still learn from not know­ing ev­ery­thing.”

The in­ter­preters also write and record their own cu­ra­tion of par­tic­u­lar paint­ings or items on dis­play, which vis­i­tors can lis­ten to at home or as they tour the mu­seum via record­ings posted at aiha.on­cell.com.

Alaina March and Ade­line Weather­wax, both stu­dents at Tech Val­ley High School, joined the pro­gram after their so­cial stud­ies teacher en­cour­aged them to.

The two prac­tice their tours through the Egyp­tian ex­hibit to­gether, but be­cause each in­ter­preter cre­ates a unique tour and high­lights dif­fer­ent items on ex­hibit, their two tours in the same room may be sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent, they said.

“You could stay here to­day and hear Ki­maya, Ade­line and Alaina all do some­thing slightly dif­fer­ent,” Sten­shorn said. “They all have prob­a­bly some over­lap­ping, but in some way shape or form, their voice is all dif­fer­ent.”

Thir­teen of the stu­dents cur­rently in the pro­gram are in their first year and be­gan in Septem­ber. An­other seven par­tic­i­pated last year and through last sum­mer.

For An­drade, the ex­pe­ri­ence has helped ex­pand her love of art, which she hopes to study. She also said its helped with her col­lege ap­pli­ca­tions — and, ap­par­ently, made her stand out in the col­lege ad­mis­sions process.

“I in­cluded (the in­ter­preter ex­pe­ri­ence) in all my ap­pli­ca­tions,” An­drade said.

“One school sent me a pair of socks be­cause they said my in­volve­ment knocked their socks off.”

Diego Men­doza-moy­ers / Times Union

John Ezra Mal­ibago, a se­nior at Colonie High School, talks about a pair of Thomas Cole paint­ings.

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