In fall 2011, Whitney Education began a three-year research initiative to measure the long-term and continuing impact of participation in contemporary art museum teen programs. The study focuses on program alumni, the museums themselves, and the communities where the alumni live. Funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Whitney leads this project in collaboration with the Walker Art Center (WAC), the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). All four institutions have long-standing teen programs that offer a diverse group of participants the opportunity to learn about art, go behind the scenes at each institution, and take on leadership roles within the museum and in their community. As we approach the half-way mark of this groundbreaking study, we are excited to share the progress we have made thus far.
The first step of the study was to research and contact program alumni. Between the four museums there were a total of 600 alumni dating from the beginning of the first program through the end of the 2011 school year. We set a goal of verifying current contact information for at least 75% of all alumni from each program. After an extensive process of outreach and online research, team members at each of the museums were able to acquire current contact information for 472 alumni—nearly 80%! In May 2012 an online survey was launched and administered to this group, and the response rate was extremely positive, with 84% responding to the thirty-four-question survey.
Designed to capture information about how the teen art programs had impacted different aspects of the alumni’s lives, the survey asked participants about their personal development, career paths, and how actively they participate in the arts today. The preliminary data across all four of the participating museums suggest that these programs are not merely important educational opportunities—they are among the most positive, influential experiences in young people’s lives, with transformational impacts that manifest over time in complex ways. For example, 95% of all respondents considered their program experience to be either “a very good experience” or “one of the most important experiences I’ve had” (54.9%).
In the next phase of research, the team will conduct detailed case studies of individual teen program participants. Building upon the solid foundation of data collected from the survey, we anticipate that the case studies will add a rich, qualitative element to the study, enabling us to better tell this important story. The results of the survey are a powerful testament to the lasting impact of this programming model, and we look forward to sharing more news as the study progresses.
By Berry Stein, Assistant to Access and Community Programs, and Danielle Linzer, Manager of Access and Community Programs