At the ripe age of fourteen, New Yorker Audrey Banks came up with the idea to start an exhibition space as a platform to show her paintings. Two years later, she realized she could use the space to showcase the work of her generation and was bent on making her dream a reality. Soon, a friend’s father offered his company’s space at the New York Open Center, and the Teen Art Gallery was born.
“From there, we kind of winged it,” Banks says. “We had no idea what we were doing—no one teaches you how to open a gallery in high school. We used Facebook to spread the word and get submissions from fellow students.” One of Banks’s friends (and current member of the cleverly titled T.A.G. team), Daniel Ramos, remembers how fitting the project seemed at its start. “I was surrounded by tons of talented artist friends, yet I’d never heard of a gallery dedicated to teenage art,” he says. “So when T.A.G came along, it was like an idea that had the perfect niche.”
T.A.G. scheduled its inaugural show in July 2011, when Banks was a junior at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan. The untitled exhibition, which was covered by the New York Times, featured twenty-five works by teens aged twelve to nineteen that were hand-picked by the T.A.G. team from more than seven hundred entries gleaned from an open call email, Facebook, and letters sent to high schools in all five New York boroughs. With the mission of redefining the working artist profile and providing a foot in the door for young people interested in pursing careers in the art world, T.A.G.’s effort gained speed, members, and clout.
This June, T.A.G. will present its next similarly formatted exhibition at Salon 94 Freemans. T.A.G. team member Paris Starn, a senior at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, scored the offer after contacting gallery owner Jeanne Greenberg. “I love that T.A.G. gives teen artists a respectful platform to show their work,” says Starn, who has interned at V Magazine and is a permanent art blogger for Opening Ceremony. “As time has gone on, our projects have become bigger and require more effort.” Last year, for instance, work shown was only from New York City area teens. This year, works will be chosen from a national pool.
The entire fourteen-member T.A.G. team has a hand in the selection process. First, Banks reviews all submissions and picks the ones she thinks are eligible to be featured. Then, she uploads the images to a private Facebook album, which is reviewed by the rest of the T.A.G. team. Eventually, the works get narrowed down to a reasonable size for exhibition.
Running a gallery, however, doesn’t exempt the T.A.G. team from the harrowing perils of teenagerdom. Some of their biggest obstacles have been juggling homework and gallery work. “We always have to plan months in advance and do things slowly so we can balance both—not to mention studying for SATs and applying to colleges,” says Banks. Raising money for the shows has been another sustained effort. In 2011, the teens used Kickstarter to raise $10,000 for their three exhibitions. The funds are earmarked for framing, printing, sound systems, projectors, and space rental. Right now, they’re in search of sponsors for future endeavors.
Now a high school senior, Banks doesn’t plan on being T.A.G.’s director for much longer. “By my own rules, I have to give up T.A.G. when I turn twenty,” she says. Currently, she’s looking for younger members interested in taking the reigns when all but one of the current T.A.G. team heads to college next year. “The goal is to create a super group of overly ambitious and entrepreneurial teens,” Banks says. “If we do our job correctly, I have no doubt that T.A.G. will continue to thrive.”
Charlotte Lee, the sole sophomore of the group who joined last fall, will co-curate T.A.G.’s August exhibition in anticipation of spearheading its second generation. “As an artist myself, I understand the desire to show your work in a meaningful place,” she says. “High school athletes have the field, actors have the stage, and I’m hoping to create a place for young artists.” If Banks’ dedication has inspired her peers in the same way it has generations her senior, T.A.G. should be a legacy that will be around for a long time.
T.A.G is led by Audrey Banks and Paris Starn and includes Daniel Gatenio, Charlotte Lee, Sophie Donlon, Alyssa Asaro, Sierra Pittman, Sophia Orlow, Daniel Ramos, Noa Bricklin, Sam Williams, and Sasha Davydova.