Youths tackle the old stuff at museum
High school students get chance to research, design tours of exhibits
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.”
John Ezra Malibago, a senior at Colonie High School, talks about a pair of Thomas Cole paintings.