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AGSA looks beyond the traditional gallery space with online teen program

Nat Rogers
AGSA Neo Teen Takeover

The Art Gallery of South Australia’s ‘Neo’ program is usually all about getting teenagers into the gallery. Which creates some interesting challenges when a pandemic has forced them to stay away.

“The program I look after usually consists of physical events, with 300-500 teens coming into the gallery,” artist and AGSA teen programs officer Bernadette Klavins tells The Adelaide Review.

Since COVID-19 restrictions forced AGSA and its contemporaries to close in March, Klavins and a team of Neo ambassadors aged between 13 and 17 (“it’s been great working with them via Zoom chat meetings and Slack”) have been working to reimagine their program outside the gallery space. 

It obviously doesn’t make sense to pursue physical events at this time, so we pretty quickly turned to an online platform to find a way to present what would usually be our large scale event for the year, the ‘Neo Teen Takeover’, supported by The Balnaves Foundation.”

In this instance, the program’s ‘Monstrous’ brief comes in response to the 2020 Adelaide Biennial’s ‘Monster Theatres’ theme. The exhibition, which has had its season essentially halved by the pandemic, featured a colourful and at times confronting array of multi-disciplinary work. 

“The way we’ve been responding to different artworks in the exhibition is to try and find fun and accessible points of connection,” she explains. “But also use it to start conversation around things happening in the world.”

In this context, even the darker, sharper edges of ‘Monster Theatres’ that don’t exactly scream ‘youth programming’ – and in the 2020 Biennial, there are many – can play an important role.

The Bait Fridge
AGSA’s ‘Monstrous Neo’ program will include a Zoom-based workshop with local artists

“Where possible, we try and use the concepts within the artworks to prompt conversation from the teens attending the events,” she says. “Now, it feels like a really good time to talk about mental health and the social context that we run these events in, so we’ve got Headspace on board for this event and they’ll be sharing tips about how to deal with feelings of isolation, and how some of those ideas are mirrored in some of the artworks. We’ll be tackling it through that emotional level.”

But there’s also plenty of light to be found, from a Zoom-based ‘digital disguise’ workshop to TikTok dance challenges, a Stelarc-inspired robot build by Adelaide Robotics Academy, and a series of Goya-esque Dungeons & Dragons games led by local artists like printmaker and dungeonmaster Jake Holmes.

“Other parts of the program take a more fun response to the idea of ‘the monster’; we’ve got live Dungeons & Dragons sessions happening where the monsters and the plot line of the game is created in response to the Sleep of Reason exhibition,” she says. “So the monsters are pulled from Goya’s prints, which is a nice way to introduce the artwork.”

AGSA is far from alone, of course, in being forced to find out-of-the-box solutions to its bread and butter business being shuttered. Around the world galleries and artists are exploring digital solutions, from more lo fi, social media-based programming to more sophisticated projects to redefine what a museum or gallery can be.

Saul Steed
Bernadette Klavins

“Artists are among the most resourceful people, so we’re actually in good stead to respond quickly to things not happening the way we expected,” she says. “So I think working with artists to [continue to] showcase their work is something all galleries are working towards. How can we keep moving forward, and keep sharing physical artworks that often require being physically presence in the space, or engaging with it through texture or sound? How do you not try to replicate those experiences online, but find new ways to keep people engaging with the work?

“There are lots of different, creative ways to bring artwork into the everyday lives of people who are stuck at home and looking for inspiration, or just an outlet, an escape.”

Like other museums around town, Klavins says this unexpected period of adaption is also a good opportunity to explore new ways of connecting with audiences that will make our galleries and intuitions more engaging and accessible in a post-COVID world.

“I think it’s a nice way to engage with teens who might not usually be able to come to the city on a Saturday night after hours and attend an event, like regional audiences,” she says. “We’ve had interstate teens book into our virtual workshops – we even had one person from America book in. So we’ve had a lot of reach. 

“It really helps break down the barriers for lots of young people, and we’re thinking more seriously about how online programs can always support our physical, in-person events in the future.”

25 April

AGSA:
Monstrous Neo
Digital Teen Takeover

Walter Marsh

Walter Marsh

Digital Editor
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Walter is a writer, editor and broadcaster living on Kaurna Country. His work has appeared in Rip It Up, The Saturday Paper, Smith Journal, Royal Auto, Swampland Magazine, Broadsheet and The Thousands.

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