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Akanke Mason-Hogans has fond memories of living with her grandparents when she was young. One specific mental image she recalls is of playing in a white rocking chair with her brother in her grandparents office.

Now a 15-year-old high school student, just the symbol of a rocking chair can bring back some of those strong positive memories from Akanke’s childhood.

Akanke is a member of the Nasher Teen Council, a diverse group of high school students who collaborate and engage with art at Duke University’s Nasher Museum. As a member, Akanke has taken art classes at the museum. In one painting project she worked on, Akanke decided to create a rocking chair as an artistic expression of her childhood memory.

The Nasher Teen Council works to make the world of art inviting and accessible to teens in Durham. The program accepts students from all across the city, including students from schools without art classes, to come together at the Nasher and learn.

Teens on the council explore galleries together, attend talks about various exhibits and even get the chance to create their own.

The Nasher also benefits from the energy the teens bring to the exhibitions, and stays in conversation with the council throughout the year in order to stay relevant and engaged with conversations around social issues they bring up in response to the art.

Akanke attends an early-college high school program. She has always been interested in art, but art classes from her school were not accessible to her when she applied to the council.

“The vibe that I got was that it was a space of kids that really liked art,” Akanke said. “I had an interest in art before, but I hadn’t really been exposed to it.”

After going through the interview process and being accepted, Akanke started attending weekly meetings at the museum, where she got to know other students from very different backgrounds.

“There are people all across Durham, so there are different talent levels. That kind of challenges you to ask them ‘How did you do this?’ and then push yourself to get better and grow.”

While there are different talent levels, cultures, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds and genders represented on the council, they are all able to come together through art. Recently, Akanke coordinated a documentary screening in Durham and Chapel Hill. Some of the artists she chose to feature were teens she had met from the council. Akanke says now she has a whole new group of friends she would not have otherwise met.

“It’s awesome to have a group of kids who all like the same things as me,” said Akanke. “We can enjoy art together.”

Anne Marie Hagerty

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