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Museums by Teens

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It’s time for something a bit more light hearted than usual. So here’s this great story about how a bunch of teenagers who don’t care about some old man named Prince are curating a New Jersey museum exhibit about Prince.

At a large gallery space in downtown Newark, where the art exhibition “Remembering the Purple One: A Tribute to Prince Rogers Nelson” has just been extended to Dec. 31, the writing is on the wall: This is not a show put together by Prince fans.

“I wouldn’t listen to Prince’s music,” reads large purple text under a set of three ’80s-era portraits of the artist.

Several docents freely admit they don’t understand his music or his style. It’s not because Prince’s music appealed to a younger generation — just the opposite. The curators are high school students — born long after Prince’s 1984 album “Purple Rain” was released — and many of them did not know much about the artist until now.

That has not prevented the show, which includes 300 artifacts on loan for the first time from a private collector, from drawing repeat visitors, including members of the New York/New Jersey Prince Fan Club. Qua’Asia Dosier, a curator, knows why. “People get excited to come here and have conversations with us,” she said.

Ms. Dosier, 16, a junior at Newark Arts High School, is one of a dozen students from four Newark schools who curated, built and installed the show, which opened in late September. The teenagers, who also serve as docents, would have chosen a different pop star if it had been entirely up to them. Some suggested SZA, the singer-songwriter who was raised in nearby Maplewood, N.J. But Prince presented a challenge and gave the exhibition liftoff.

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But the students have mostly come around. Accounts of the artist’s influence and legacy have helped. Prince, who died in 2016, is among the best-selling musicians of all time. He wrote hundreds of songs — including “Little Red Corvette,” which was among the first videos by Black artists played in heavy rotation on MTV — and for a while changed his stage name to an unpronounceable symbol, becoming known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”

Still, enthusiasm for Prince among the student curators has its limits. “People ask us, ‘Why Prince?’” said Princess Clarke, 16, a junior at Bard High School Early College Newark. “That’s just the cards we’ve been dealt.”

This is great on a couple of levels. First museum people have to put on exhibits about things they don’t care about all the time and this is good training for that. Second, to be just honest about the kids not liking Prince much (let’s face, while Prince is amazing and one of the all time greats, the 80s production values do not age well unless you grew up in the 80s) is a great way to start conversations. What are museums for anyway? Are they to see some old shit and get….something out of it? Or are they ways to start conversations about the subject? I would hope it was the latter, though I realize that for most people who aren’t museum professionals, it’s the former which is why most museums are boring.

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