The Arts Can Take You Places!
The Teen Ambassador Program is currently on hold due to a staffing shortage. If you wish to be contacted when the program resumes, please email the museum at NMAFAteenPrograms@si.edu.
With support from the George Lucas Family Foundation, the National Museum of African Art engages teens in the arts and visual culture of Africa through workshops, events and our signature teen offering, the Teen Ambassadors Program. Check out videos produced by our Teen Ambassadors, or click on any of the above links to learn more about upcoming teen events and the Teen Ambassadors Program.
Teen Ambassadors Program
The Teen Ambassadors is the National Museum of African Art’s signature teen program. It is an opportunity for teens in the D.C. metro area with an interest in the arts, culture and history of Africa to learn to serve as frontline interpreters at the museum. Our Teen Ambassadors serve as storytellers and meaning-makers in the Museum environment, providing programming to a wide variety of visitors.
In the first year of teen programming in 2015, 1,000 visitors interacted with a Teen Ambassador in events facilitated and designed directly by the teens or youth engagement staff, such as Teen Tours, Teen-to-Teen workshops, and teen events. In addition, another 1,000 visitors interacted with Teen Ambassadors in programs coordinated by other offices within the Education Department. 19 students from the DC metro area have volunteered extensively at the Museum, ranging from 25 to 100 service hours. Within the span of a year, the Youth Engagement Office has established several partnerships with local schools and nonprofits to bring our programming to a wider audience.
Game Development Project
Digital Game Design in African Art
This spring, the Teen Ambassadors at the National Museum of African Art are becoming digital game designers! That’s right—the purpose of the program is to empower students as storytellers and meaning-makers in the museum environment. This semester, the teens’ way of expressing meaning is through games. The teens will be creating digital activities that encourage close-looking throughout the Mosaic exhibit at the National Museum of African Art. Over the next few weeks, they will research the collections, write content, and study how visitors interact with the exhibits. Then, students will create digital games. These games will be “play-tested” by other students, museum educators, and members of the public.
While it may be scary to think an institution is leaving the gallery experience in the hands of teenagers, the core of the Teen Ambassadors program is trust. The ten young people who are participating in this experience are all Teen Ambassadors who have gone through training to lead tours in the gallery and who routinely lead tours in the gallery. They know our visitors, they know our collection, and they are passionate about communicating information about the arts and visual cultures of Africa. In this space, the teens will share what they’ve been working on, and reflect upon the experiences. Each week, one student will share their reflections. We hope you continue to check back often to see the games that our teens are creating evolve. Join us in June at the Museum to play the games the students are creating!
-Alli Hartley, Youth Engagement Coordinator
Week 1 Blog: Sage
Hi everyone, Sage here. Over the weekend, we had our first meeting for the game project. The group went over some of the basics of using Edventure Builder, a fresh and educational website that allows teachers and students to create games. We also talked with one of the developers behind Edventure Builder, Ms. Kellian Adams. She gave us crucial insight into how to make entertaining games.
After checking out numerous games Edventure Builder runs, I know that they are a perfect match for us. Their system allows us to make a plethora of diverse games. From historical personality tests to the creative homebrew game Alli made for the Mosaics exhibit. Edventure Builderwill enable us to turn our dreams into reality!
We capped the meeting off by dividing into our teams for the project. The three roles are Project Managers, Creative Directors, and Product Managers/User Interface. The Project Managers manage the project. They watch over the group and make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible and keep to deadlines. The Creative Directors are the minds behind the game. They will design how the games will look, feel, and play. Last, though certainly not least, we have the Product Managers. They make sure that everything is in tip-top shape for when we launch in May.
Overall, we had an immensely productive day. After our division, we began discussing ideas for the game and made some serious headway. I won’t spoil anything yet, but I promise that you will be blown away with our game when it launches.
Week 2 Blog: Majula
On Saturday, March 5th, the Teen Ambassadors made towers from spaghetti sticks and marshmallows, without talking, to learn about structures, did some audience research by going into exhibits and asking people general questions such as: ‘How long would you spend on a museum game?’, worked more within our groups on our goals, resources and restrictions and some groups decided on the game type they wanted.
The skills we used were our public speaking skills and ability to facilitate conversations with people within the exhibits thanks to our training. We learned how to communicate better with the members of our groups and also found out what resources we had, in terms of art pieces in the Mosaics exhibit.
Some of the accomplishments that were made today were figuring out what game types we actually want and coming to a consensus on the type of audience we want to reach for the game. This happened by going over some of the game types such as close looking and seeing how it worked based on audience responses. Finding out what audience type we wanted for the game was based on the responses in the exhibits as well as our own personal preference.
Some of the challenges that we’re facing are probably just how to come up with general storylines for the games as well as things like how long the game is going to last. Also, a challenge that we are facing is how much text needs to be in the game versus how many images. How to make it appealing and interactive to our respective audiences could also be seen as a challenge but we will definitely overcome all these challenges through more meetings and more communication with group member and Alli. Also utilizing the resources that we have such as our knowledge of the pieces in the Mosaics exhibit and out game designer, Kellian.
It is only our second meeting but so far, everything seems to be coming together better and quicker than we truly expected. The ideas that the Teen Ambassadors have are really innovative so I have no doubt that our challenges will become nonexistent and our skills, sharpened.
Week 3 Blog: Project Meeting
Our goals for this meeting were to (1) finish writing a description for each of our team’s respective game (2) come up with a list of objects to incorporate in the game and (3) to devise a playmap for the Edventure Builder, which is the primarily the job of the Product Manager. I’m proud to say that everyone was able to complete these goals. In particular, Team #1 solidified their concept and interestingly, Team #3 ended up completely rewriting their idea. Everyone is working on fleshing out the finer details, beginning to write drafts of the game’s texts, figuring out multimedia components, and coming up with compelling game titles.
One concern we have regards the objects themselves. The objects in Mosaics are on a rotating basis, so although we have chosen them, they may replaced with others by the time our game is released. I can’t speak for other teams, but our team had trouble finding information for some of the objects on display. This is because they were donated from a private collection, and so were never properly documented. In both cases, we must be flexible and prepared to accommodate these losses. We have to creatively think of an alternative that does not compromise the theme of our game if the need arises.
Another ongoing issue that all our teams face is that not all of our members show up to every meeting. This is not to be accusatory towards anyone- emergencies and especially the SAT can’t be helped! For example, our product manager did not come to this meeting, which left us to come up with the playmap without them. It just forces the members who do attend to think a bit more creatively otherwise. I for one, find it a welcome challenge. Alli, the youth engagement coordinator and the person in charge of the program, is a helpful additional voice when we needed a third opinion.
Nonetheless, everyone worked so hard today, that we lost track of time! I hate to repeat the sentiment of previous blog posts, but it is an excellent one: hopefully, our subsequent meetings will be just as productive as this one was! I’m excited to see the final result.
Week 4 Blog: Nick
On Saturday, April 2nd, seven Teen Ambassadors primarily worked to produce the general layout and text that would would be incorporated into the three finished games. The text specifically included that of the header, footer, primary text, photo credits, “hint texts,” “success texts,” “failure texts,” and titles. Unlike in past weeks, the Teen Ambassadors did not conduct “Audience Research” and solely directed their attention towards specific aspects of the games themselves. Before beginning individual assignments, the teams attempted to think of a suitable name for the museum’s collective title for such digital gallery games besides the previously suggested “Get Gaming.”
Team One, because its layout was generally formulated prior to the formal meeting, was able to write most of its game text and list images and graphics needed to enhance the product.
Team Two, feeling a need for change, resolved to alter its game’s general idea and successfully formulated a new game map (paper prototype). Although a significant amount of text was unable to be written, Team Two’s members are confident that this game will be fun to design in the coming weeks. Team Three, like Team One, worked to solidify its list of objects and their corresponding texts. Many communication skills were employed today by the teens, for, because of past absences, many members needed to catch up and, in some cases, learn the dynamics of not only “EdventureBuilder” but also the prototypes.
Although both Alli and the Ambassadors felt confident leaving the meeting, one concern involves the production of some of the images that would make the games more appealing to visitors. Because of the games have become increasingly complicated textwise, I am slightly worried that graphics are not being prioritized as they ought to be. Also, another concern involves a test that Team One ran in order to see the progress of its game. After clicking the link to play the unfinished game, the game became “stuck” at one slide and, even with reboots and restarts, it would neither regress back to the start or progress to a further stage. We believe that eventually formally publishing the game will resolve the issue; however, we will make sure to ask Kellian about the issue.
Overall, I and the rest of the Teen Ambassadors are confident that the games will be
produced by their scheduled date and that they will enhance both African Mosaic and the
museum as a whole.
Week 5 Blog: Naomi
This week, we worked on finalizing our games in the Edventure Builder and getting them ready for playtesting. We worked out any kinks or holes in our game designs and went up to the gallery to see how our games would flow walking from piece to piece.
We accomplished a lot this week because we got help and direction from one of the editors who goes through our writing. Using her suggestions, we were able to redirect ourselves if what we were doing wasn’t going to play out correctly in the builder and we got some ideas for how we could add to the aesthetics of our games.
We still have a bit of a ways to go (I know that my group does, at least) and it’s even more difficult to be productive when not everyone can be present at every meeting due to scheduling conflicts and things beyond our control. Nevertheless, I’m certain we can have a drat ready by the game testing days as long as we keep up the good work.
Hopefully next week can be just as productive and informative as this one was and we can make as much progress as possible.
Week 6 Blog: Eleni
This week, we’ve been putting the finishing touches on our game.
Of course, it’s a really gratifying feeling to see this project transform from ideas to concrete, playable, working games. When we started, our games were nothing more than flowcharts and brainstorming on scrap paper. This week, we are rounding up final edits and getting ready for Alpha testing.
There is quite a bit of work involved in getting the nitty gritty stuff done. From final edits of texts to making sure all the links and videos are working properly, it is definitely important to check every detail, and that’s what we’ve been doing. As all these details fall into place, they come together to make something that we are all really proud of.
I truly believe that this project is really going to improve the experience of visiting the museum for a lot of visitors. Many visitors don’t want the commitment of a tour, but would still like a structured way to interact with the art. These games, to me, are the perfect solution to this gap in the market, so to speak. We’ve worked a lot as Teen Ambassadors on perfecting our storytelling skills to live groups of people, but this is the first time we’ve had the chance to tell a story in a new way. We won’t be there in person when people play our games, but I think that we’ve done a great job telling stories about art and Africa that are just as engaging and informative as our tours.
In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be Alpha testing and getting finishing touches over and done with. I can’t wait to see the final product rolled out to visitors and to get some feedback on this project. All in all, I’m very proud of how far these games have come and how much they will improve visitors’ experiences.
Teens Talk Interview Series
Throughout the course of the year, the National Museum of African Art hosts many visiting artists. In these videos, Teen Ambassadors interview artists.
In summer of 2015, the artist Ato Malinda did a residency at the National Museum of African Art. Ato Malindo’s video On fait ensemble (We Do Together) is on view as part of the museum’s exhibition The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists. In this video, Teen Ambassadors Nick, Amyra, Majula and Taylor speak to Ato about her career as an artist and her work.
In December of 2015, the Teen Ambassadors interviewed artist Marcus Neustetter. Teens Zola, Nick and Taylor had an excellent interview, in which they discussed Marcus’s art and community engagement.
Teen Art Contest
In 2015, the National Museum of African Art hosted a teen art contest. The winners were Adero Brooks and Akilah Johnston.
Acrylic and Tempera on wood
“I used a mask from the museum’s website and decided to modernize it. Many of the styles that we wear today are very African inspired and my teacher and I came up with the idea to recreate the mask and give her up-to-date colors and styling.”
The Daughters of Africa
Styrofoam Board, Fabric, Mud Clothe, Cowrie Shells, Pipe Cleaners
The first thing I thought about when I read the prompt about “what Africa means to me,” is the women of Africa. I wanted to portray the different types of women from the African continent. Also, when I think of Africa I think of the various handcrafted fabrics from Africa like kente and Mud clothe as well as other African inspired clothes. The cowrie shells represent the wealth of Africa since they were a common form of currency on the continent. The various hair styles (braids, short close cut, locs and the Afro) show the diversity of beauty on the African continent.
Sounds of the City
During the first week of February 2016, Emeka Ogboh participated in workshops at three local high schools and at the museum. Inspired by his soundscapes of Lagos, the Nigerian sound artist worked with 100 local teens to create a collaborative soundscape of D.C. Ogboh introduced teens to the idea of “soundwalks”—journeys through their own neighborhoods to capture ambient sounds of the environment.
Listen below to some of the students’ recordings. And, if you are based in or visiting the Washington area, add your own sounds to the project! We were only able to record at a few locations during Ogboh’s visit—contribute the sounds of your D.C. to our audio map.
To listen to the sounds just click on “LISTEN HERE” in the maps information box.
Don’t miss Market Symphony by Emeka Ogboh at the National Museum of African Art, the innovative exhibition that inspired this project!
The fine print: Ownership of all works submitted to the National Museum of African Art, including copyright, will remain the property of the entrant who submitted the work. However, it is a condition of entry that you grant to the Smithsonian an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide right to use and reproduce copies of the submitted work(s) in the website, for the exhibition, publications, archives, public programs, publicity, promotion, research, postcards, prints, posters, and other products, in all formats now known or later developed (including but not limited to electronic distribution on websites and social media accounts maintained by the Smithsonian), made in connection with the National Museum of African and related exhibitions and programs.
Sounds of the City playlist
Teen programs are generously supported by the Mellody Hobson and George Lucas Education Endowment.