Find Posts By Topic

Young artists find inspiration in the Conservatory

Northwest African American Museum Youth Curators with Volunteer Park Conservatory Senior Gardener Bridget Lamp

Northwest African American Museum Youth Curators with Volunteer Park Conservatory Senior Gardener Bridget Lamp

Seattle’s park system has served as a muse to many artists. It’s not uncommon to see paintings of the Green Lake path or photos taken from Kerry Park. The Volunteer Park Conservatory is another perfect place to find inspiration, and that’s exactly where 10 youth curators found it this year.

Youth curators tour the Volunteer Park Conservatory.

Youth curators tour the Volunteer Park Conservatory.

Each year, the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) hosts a 12-week Youth Curator program for teens ages 14-18. The goal of the program is to introduce youth to the philosophy and practices of museum work through creative, community-engaged projects on timeless and contemporary topics. The youth gain social skills, learn and understand new concepts and develop artistic expression.

This year’s participants created a museum exhibit, “Transparent, Translucent and Opaque,” that is a response to the natural world in both written word and glass art. A major component of the project was to gain inspiration from visits to the Volunteer Park Conservatory. The Youth Curator exhibit complements an upcoming NAAM installation by award-winning glass artist Debora Moore, Glass Orchidarium, showing May 16 – Nov. 9, 2015.

Since Moore’s exhibit will showcase sculpted glass orchids, Youth Curator Program Lead Stephanie Johnson-Toliver knew a trip to the Conservatory would inform the students’ creative process.

“I can’t say enough about the wonderful cooperation and interest from Volunteer Park Conservatory for NAAM Youth Curators,” Johnson-Toliver said. “I’m singing their praises. They helped round out the project to make it a huge success.”

Conservatory Senior Gardeners Bridget Lamp and David Helgeson were eager to support Johnson-Toliver’s request. Lamp led the students on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Conservatory’s Lower Greenhouse and allowed the students to examine its orchid collection up close. It was a unique experience since only a fraction of the collection is on display to the public at any one time.

After their visit, one of the students used plant biology descriptions provided by Lamp to create a story that received a standing ovation of NAAM’s gala on April 18.

The 2015 Northwest African American Museum Youth Curators

The 2015 Northwest African American Museum Youth Curators

The Youth Curators also toured Chihuly Garden and Glass, spent time working with urban poet and writer Jordan Keith and visited Pratt Fine Arts Center where they created their final project, glass art tiles to be put on display.

Six of the tiles were auctioned off at NAAM’s gala and earned $30,000 for the museum.

“In early April I saw and heard the students’ finished pieces – both in glass and written word,” Lamp said. “I was struck by their stories about orchids, a wonderful mix of fantasy and the natural world. To my delight, it changed my perspective on the plants I work with every day. I now see birds, monkeys and babies as they did in these flowers. Though I only met the curators a couple of times; I am very proud of what they accomplished.”

The students’ work can be viewed at NAAM now through Nov. 9, 2015. For more information on the Youth Curator program, please visit

“It’s so important to have these strong community connections,” Johnson-Toliver said. “After the students visited the Conservatory, they just took off; it was like they went to another planet. They created meaningful stories and saw how their work could make a real impact.”