Exhibiting new aesthetics

HANG12 program allows high school artists to show work, get experience


Cooper Avery

Members of HANG12, like Rochelly Elias and Evondi Weston, review art to choose pieces for their shows.

By Zia Kelly

The professional art scene is notoriously difficult to break into.

From finding galleries to show work at to building a following of buyers, young artists often have a hard time learning the ropes of the business. However, armed with a newly-awarded $75,000 grant, a small group of high school artists looks to change that.

HANG12, a board of high school students who put together Final Friday art shows, has drawn LHS students to learn about the multi-faceted curatorial process by throwing them into the deadline-oriented gallery business.

The program was started by artist and Lawrence Arts Center instructor Neal Barbour with a handful of students who put on small events, but over the summer, the board grew to include 14 members who now have the resources to do much more.

After writing the grant themselves, HANG12 received $74,670 from the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, which gives the students more power to create professional-looking shows.

“It’s [the grant] affected everything that we do,” junior HANG12 member Emma Reynolds said. “We can make our shows look a lot nicer now because we have money for good frames. Also, it definitely changes how people feel about the group, because now we can pay the members.”

The group functions much like a professional board might, handling everything from finding venues to taking art submissions to installing and marketing the show.

“It’s really ‘choose your own adventure,’” Barbour said. “You can choose to be the graphic designer and get that sort of experience or if you were into marketing, you could get into that realm of marketing and PR work… It really tailors them to what areas they want to go into, but then also the bleed-over into work with different people in different roles.”

When he came to Lawrence four years ago, Barbour saw a need for youth exhibitions.

“I noticed that there weren’t any emerging artists really being shown [at Final Fridays],” Barbour said. “It was people who were established or people from KU…but no younger artists. So I thought it would be great to kind of tap into that, because I know that people are making art in high school and outside of high school and I just wanted to get those people out and showing.”

The program kicked off in June with an original board of eight students. Their first show was at the annual Art Tougeau parade, and the students have exhibited at other venues like the Cider Gallery and the Lawrence Public Library, where their current show is hanging.

“It sounded like a good way to get my artwork out there as well as help other people do that,” senior HANG12 member Asha Reeder said. “Because I know it’s an issue to establish yourself in high school as an artist.”

Barbour started the program through the Lawrence Arts Center. He describes it as “part curation and part creation.”

The group starts each month by selecting a theme for the show. They choose the theme based on their venue and audience. For their upcoming show at Henry’s Coffeehouse, they are curating a black and white show.

After choosing their theme, the group takes submissions for pieces, sometimes commissioning pieces specifically for the show or creating them themselves.

Although the group is used to creating art, HANG12 is their first experience with curation. Instead of drawing or painting, the members take submissions from other high school artists and decide what fits with their theme.

For many of the HANG12 members, choosing pieces to include, and to not include, is the most difficult part of the gallery process.

“It definitely tests what you feel like your aesthetics are,” Reeder said. “Like if you look at something you can’t just look at something and think ‘oh, this looks good in this context,’ you have to think about what it would look like in a group context rather than just individually.”

After choosing artwork, group members choose roles, like submissions coordinator, treasurer and marketing manager, to get the show ready for the Final Friday exhibition.

“I think my favorite part is when we finally get to see everything together because that is when you can see a show forming,” Reynolds said. “Because over the weeks leading up to show we just get to see individual pieces so once we see them together it makes it all real.”

Although the group was formed on the basis of being student-driven, it has had some difficulties working with high schoolers.

“[The hardest part is] definitely just finding the dedication and the time like with students because they’re always busy,” Reynolds said.

With the label “student,” Reynolds said the group has also battled a difficult stigma of being unprofessional.

“Some people… hear [about] a high school art show and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s the district show at the Arts Center,’ but it’s really different,” she said. “It’s getting the difference of what we do across to people that is really hard.”

To combat misconceptions, the group brainstorms marketing techniques to present their shows as more mature.

Many members of HANG12 look to pursue art professionally and they meet with field professionals who serve as mentors.

Local artist and Percolator gallery board member Zia Maude serves as one of the artist-mentors for the program. She meets with the group at the beginning of meetings to discuss issues they may run into while curating shows as well as issues they may encounter in the professional art world.

“Our challenge as artists is quite different, because we are trying to fit our creative minds into a world that is quite different,” Maude said. “We have to learn how to show up for it.”

Aside from the hands-on experience, the education students get in the program is one they wouldn’t get in a traditional art school, Maude said. They learn not just about creating good art but functioning as creative members of society and the opportunities and difficulties it comes with.

“When I went to arts school — and I went to one of the top design schools in the world in Helsinki, Finland — I came out of there not knowing how I needed to show up as an artist,” Maude said. “The minute I had difficulties or challenges I was stumped. I didn’t have the tools. And part of the work I want to do with coaching young people…is to help people of this age before they even hit art school.”

Maude also said that HANG12 is a good opportunity for resume-building because it gives high school artists a place to exhibit their work. She said that small opportunities for exhibition are important for artists looking to break into the business.

As the program grows they will be splitting into two separate groups and functioning on two-month cycles, giving the students an extra month to create their shows.

“It’s awesome,” Reeder said. “Being able to walk downtown and see everyone else’s art and aspire to do something like that and then see that your artwork is on the walls and that you put that up. It’s nice to know that you’re contributing to the art scene.”