Nelson-Atkins teens: creating a safe space for expression

Nelson-Atkins teen events are opportunities to socialize and explore art in a supportive environment. These events are planned by and for local teenagers.


Nelson-Atkins teen council member Mariel Pepitone shares ideas with fellow teen council member Drake Potts during a meeting Sept. 4. Pepitone and Potts are both seniors at Pembroke Hill. photo by Beatrice Curry

by Beatrice Curry, Writer

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has been a free space for art appreciation in Kansas City since the 1930s. Their mission statement includes “building community through the power of art.” They don’t stop at providing a free space to enjoy art, they also host community events like the Chinese New Year and Dia de los Muertos festivals. The Nelson-Atkins has carved out a space in the community for local teenagers. Nelson-Atkins Teen events, planned by local High Schoolers are free events that focus on creative expression.

Teen Art Council members, who organize these events, go through an application and group interview process before becoming a part of the council. The council meets regularly to discuss and plan monthly events. 

Returning teen council member and senior at Pembroke Hill High School Mariel Pepitone is part of this collaborative process. “What we do as a council is we meet and we sit down and talk, we usually have one event per month and it’s really a conversation that we are all a part of,” Pepitone said. 

The council also considers the schedules of High Schoolers and plan certain events strategically to provide fun activities when they are needed most. “Last year, we thought it would be really fun to host a dance since it was winter we wanted to provide an opportunity to de-stress and dress up after finals,” Pepitone said.

The themes of these events are often based on exhibitions that are at the Nelson-Atkins simultaneously. “In March we had “conquering and croissants”, we related it to the museum because we had the Napoleon exhibit coming in, ” teen council and senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School member Maxwell Skinner said. 

If possible, council members and anyone who attends the open mic event will take a break from performances to visit the exhibit together. “The Napoleon exhibit was amazing and it was really cool to go and see and you might not know about if your school doesn’t talk about it or you don’t go to the Nelson regularly,” Pepitone said.

Nelson-Atkins teen events are always extremely accessible. They never require an admission fee. Open mics are usually held monthly; the next one will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 11.

Sophomore Anna Koffler, who frequently sings at various local open mic nights, thought the Nelson-Atkins’s open mic stood out.  “It was beautiful in the museum and in a way it felt very safe because it was only teenagers,” said Koffler.

Musicians are not the only ones given a supportive space at these events, everyone who attends has an opportunity to express themselves. “It’s a great creative outlet because everyone has the chance to pitch in and there’s no hierarchy, everyone has an equal place,” said Skinner. 

One of the things Koffler enjoyed most about the event was that “it wasn’t just music there was also poetry,” Koffler said. “I feel like with open mics that aren’t there, it’s usually just music or just poetry or just stand up but the Nelson’s had a variety.”

One of their biggest music-related events is the Shuttlerock battle of the bands in August. Senior Kylie Schuster competed in this with her band Yellow House. What stuck out to Schuster was the positive atmosphere. 

“It was super supportive of young musicians in Kansas City, and I think it’s hard sometimes to facilitate that but the Nelson is really good about it,” Schuster said. “Everyone was cheering each other on and it was a good environment and just a fun place for musicianship.”  

According to Schuster, “there are a lot of really small, underground” opportunities for her band to perform, but there is nowhere for teenage artists in Kansas City besides the Nelson-Atkins “that would be able to manage something the size of battle of the bands.”

Shuttlerock did not only give young musicians in Kansas City a supportive space, it helps them put themselves out there. “The band who won last year’s battle of the bands got a lot of opportunities out the door, the Nelson helped them get a platform,” Shuster said.

For Schuster, the scale of the battle of the bands did not take away from the sense of community. “Larger groups can come in and it’s big enough for them but it’s still a place to promote local art groups, it doesn’t get overtaken by bigger companies and it’s very individual to KC,” Schuster said.