When Kayla Curley, a 17-year-old senior at Warren Easton High School, applied for the competitive Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s Teen Docent Program, she had no idea that the summer activity would be the first step on a path to Washington, the White House and and a meeting with Michelle Obama.
But today, Curley and 11 other students from across the country are meeting at the White House to represent their individual programs and receive the 2015 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.
Curley was one of seven teen docents at the Ogden Museum this summer. Ellen Balkin, education manager for the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, decided Curley would represent the group after having the docents write a one-paragraph essay explaining why they wanted to represent the Ogden.
“It’s a big honor because I got picked and they picked my essay,” Curley said. “It’s really exciting and nice for me to have that opportunity, to represent the museum and the teen docent program.”
The 12 winning programs come from across the country and were chosen out of a pool of more than 285 nominations and 50 finalists. The Ogden’s program is the only one to win in Louisiana. Other activities honored at the awards ceremony focus on music, mentorship, building vocational skills, art and science experiences, dance and more.
On top of the award, these programs also receive $10,000 and a year of support and communication with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The Ogden plans to use the additional funding to extend the program to a year and expand it to 10 student docents.
The program benefits the museum and the students, Balkin said.
“We gain trained docents for the summer because they learn how to give guided tours of the museum, and we gain help for our summer camps because they’re our summer camp counselors,” Balkin explained. “We couldn’t do our programming in the summer without them.
“They spread the word of the Ogden, too, when we bring this outreach program into the city, showing people artwork from the museum since they might not be able to get to the museum and see it themselves.”
The Ogden Museum’s Teen Docent Program started in 2008. Over the past seven years, the Ogden has worked with over 40 docents, who have in turn touched 7,000 visitors to the museum.
Each docent goes through a rigorous application and interview process. All the students come from public high schools in Orleans and Jefferson Parish and have gone on to pursue various subjects — from art to nursing to the police academy.
“The idea is to give teens another place to go and a place to create some resume building activities with some real life job experience,” Balkin said. “It also aims to augment their schoolwork. We’re giving them leadership experience, we’re giving them ways to hone their critical thinking skills, and we’re letting them have a summer job. It’s hitting a lot of aspects for them, and it will hopefully add to their success at school and in college and beyond.”
Curley hopes to attend Loyola University, where she plans to study graphic design while perhaps minoring in journalism. She said the program has helped her gain confidence in speaking in front of crowds, and now it will offer her a couple of fresh firsts.
“I’ve never been to D.C. and I’ve also never flown on an airplane before, so that’s two firsts for me,” she said. “It’s also really exciting because I’m meeting the First Lady, and anyone would say that’s a really nice experience for you to have.”
Curley then cracked a smile.
“I might be a little nervous, but excited nervous.”