Young narrators bring fresh observations to the audio guides for DAM’s latest exhibit

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(Eden Lane/CPR News)
Josemaría Romero stands with one of his favorite works in the exhibition, “The Elder” by Joseph Holston.

The Denver Art Museum is hosting an exhibition from one of the nation's most renowned American art collections, and while the names on the walls are a who’s-who of famous artists, the voices on the audio guide capture some more up-and-coming talent. 

All Stars: American Artists from The Phillips Collection” includes landmark works by Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Childe Hassam, and many more. 

And for the first time ever, select audio guides for the show were created and recorded by a group of the museum’s Young Art Explorers, participants in DAM’s youth programs between 5 and 12 years old. 

“Each summer we have summer art camps, classes for youth,” said Rory Padeken, the curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at DAM. “Our Learning Engagement team took that opportunity to sort of pilot an experiment with a youth audio guide for this exhibition.”

The audio guides capture the young people’s insights, reactions, and perspectives on the art in both English and Spanish. 

Second grader Katherine Tucker found a favorite painting in "New York, Lower Manhattan" by Stefan Hirsch. It holds special significance for her as she was born in that borough of New York City. 

Hirsch’s painting is a pretty good representation of her hometown, said Tucker, because “A, they actually have a lot of buildings. And B, because you can barely sleep at night.  No, I mean it, it's hard. Really hard.”

Juniper Miller-Cole said her favorite painting is "My Shanty Lake George," by Georgia O’Keefe.

“It reminds me of when I camp every year. It reminds me of the cabins that we stay in sometimes and how it gets really stormy,” Miller-Cole, a fourth grader, said.

Ten-year-old Louisa McKinstry liked "Fantasy" by Maurice Prendergast the most, observing that the work is colorful and looks fun.

“Even though it's not the most realistic — it looks a bit more ‘abstract-y’ — I can kind of imagine what it would be like to be there and it feels very nice and peaceful,” McKinstry said.

Fellow narrator Josemaría Romero, a sixth grader who is a regular visitor to the Denver Art Museum, said his favorite painting in the exhibit is "The Elder" by Joseph Holston. Somehow, the man in it “looks familiar.”

“I don't know why. I feel like I've seen that face before. He looks like my sister. Kind of like the nose and all that,” Romero said.

Romero did the guide’s Spanish portions, which he said felt kind of nice.

“I am very proud of the languages I know; it's a privilege. I think I can do more because (I know) Spanish and English,” Romero said. 

During our group conversation, the young audio guide narrators shared that they had a great time working on the project and appreciated the opportunity to showcase their creativity. However, the idea that adults might listen to their guides to learn about the paintings struck them all as a little weird and “kind of wrong.”

Their parents, though, who were listening in, don’t find it weird at all to be taught by their children.

“I do think that kids can teach adults a lot,” said Renee Miller, one of Juniper’s mothers. “Their mind is unfettered; they have less years to have their brains full of other stuff. And I found it really deeply moving as well.” 

Romero’s mother, Alejandra Ospina said the guide offers adults “the opportunity to enjoy a museum differently. To really have interests about paintings and artists and through kids' voice is like another … world. It was magical.”

“No matter what age you are, no matter what you know, everybody is entitled to their opinion,” observed Angelica Daneo, McKinstry’s mother. “And I find it refreshing to hear their opinion because they're frankly a lot of times more insightful … To hear an opinion fresh, it's inspiring and I think it's welcome.”

(Eden Lane/CPR News)
Some of the Youth Art Explorers who contributed to the audio guide for the Denver Art Museum's All Stars exhibit prepare to explore the galleries with their parents.

Komal Dhruv, the Youth Programs Coordinator for DAM’s Family Programs, hopes to see the museum produce more youth audio guides for future exhibits — because she believes all visitors can benefit from them.

“Kids' opinions and feelings and humanity coming through in this audio guide is really important. And I think, also, hopefully, (it) encourages people who are intimidated by art to be less intimidated and want to explore more,” Dhruv said. 

All Stars: American Artists from The Phillips Collection is on view at the Denver Art Museum through March 3, 2024.

For visitors, the Youth Audio Guide section is indicated by the 200 series numbers next to the pieces and is available to all visitors, just like the rest of the audio guide. You can even access it online

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a quote from one of Juniper Miller-Cole's mothers. The speaker was Renee Miller, not Julie Cole. The story has been updated

The Denver Art Museum is a financial supporter of CPR News. Financial supporters have no editorial influence.