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Anoka Middle School for the Arts students earn unique opportunity to help curate exhibit at Minneapolis Institute of Art

Anoka Middle School for the Arts students (10/16/19) In January, a new photography exhibit will be opening at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) called “Just Kids.” The exhibit will feature photos of children, but what makes it really special is that the pieces being selected for the display are being curated by middle and high school students from around the Twin Cities.

In fact, of the 11 students who were selected to participate on the advisory board of student curators, three are eighth-graders at Anoka Middle School for the Arts (AMSA): Lucy Cawthra, Bella Creekmur, and McKenna Jones.

“It’s a really cool opportunity,” Lucy, said. “I mean, we’re the actual curators of this exhibit, and we’re just kids. It’s exciting.”

Jolanda Dranchak, the curriculum integrator at AMSA, couldn’t agree more, and added that it’s kind of an unprecedented opportunity.

“It’s a big deal. I’ve never seen an opportunity like this,” Dranchak said. “Usually the curator of an exhibit is someone with a great deal of experience in the arts, and they're molding the work of a young artist into something to display. But here, in this case, we have a group of young adolescents, and they’re interpreting work through their young eyes and their young minds. That juxtaposition is wonderful.”

Of the 11 students serving as curators, only four are middle schoolers, including the three from AMSA. When applying, the students needed to be able to attend three half-day workshops at MIA, concluding Oct. 19. The work, McKenna said, is surprisingly writing focused.

“Basically we’re each selecting a couple photos of a packet of 90, and then writing a description of the photo,” she said.

Lucy added that part of the writing is also to answer questions about the photo. “We’re kind of filling out a questionnaire about a photo, but we’re doing it artfully and articulately,” she said. “It’s cool to look at a piece of art and really think about it — someone poured their heart and soul into that piece. There’s a person behind every image. A story. It’s wonderful.”

For Lucy, the opportunity is right up her alley. She said she has a love for creative writing, and the writing component is why she applied to participate. McKenna, meanwhile, loves photography, which is why she wanted to get involved. Bella just loves art and wanted to try something new.  “It’s something I’ve never got to experience before,” she said. “I knew it was a big opportunity.”

Beyond selecting photographs for the exhibit and writing descriptions, the students have also gotten to work on designing the layout of the exhibit hall, met artists, and are learning about the world of working at a museum.

Dranchak said she’s happy the three students got to experience something like this. “I think it’s in our name. This opportunity really speaks to all the arts,” she said. “This kind of work connects photography, creative writing, visual and spatial design, critical thinking — all things that they’re learning right here at (AMSA).”

In January, when the exhibit opens, the three students will be on hand to experience all the pomp and circumstance of an exhibit opening, which has some of them nervous because somewhere between one and two thousand people are expected at the opening.

“It’s surreal, but it‘s a dream come to life,” Bella said. “I never thought I’d get an experience like this.”

The exhibit will open in January, and be open for approximately six months. More information will be shared when it becomes available in the coming weeks.