I have the pleasure of running the Getty Villa Teen Apprentice Program (ViTA). Each year our goal is to open the museum from top to bottom to young people interested in the arts and introduce them to the variety of jobs it takes to run a cultural institution. This year, a talented group of eleven students from ten schools around Los Angeles have explored deep and wide within the museum.

The 2011-12 Villa Teen Apprentices

The 2011–12 Villa Teen Apprentices. Left to right, front row: Ellie O’Neill, Aurelia Friedman, Tyler Hendrickson. Left to right, back row: Victor Beteta, Talia Beltran, Kelly Bertrando, Emily Dorrell, Angelina Pizzulli, Lekha Jandhyala, Chloe Cipolla. (Not pictured: Remi Zimmerman)

Our groups are always eclectic, but never more so than this year, when the mix ended up being funky and fun. To give an example, throughout the year the ViTAs meet staff from around the Museum and learn about their jobs, then turn that knowledge to creative projects. A favorite project this year was to imagine your ideal museum. Here’s a sample of the concepts our apprentices invented:

“My dream museum…would be people’s rooms. I feel like the way people decorate their rooms says a lot about the person. Displayed knick-knacks would include photo montages, pencil holders, books, and journals, just so the visitors could dive into the room owner’s life.” —Lekha Jandhyala

“My dream museum is one detailing the history of American pop culture from the 1900s to present day. The museum would be split into four different sections: Music, Literature, Film & Television, and Everyday Life. Each section would be arranged chronologically and have a collection of photographs, memorabilia, posters, primary documents, interviews, advertisements, and clips from news sources (both paper and digital). I’ve always been really interested in anthropology and the way American culture has evolved, and particularly why certain trends become popular at different time periods.” —Chloe Cipolla

“I would want to create a museum about ossuaries (sites/containers dedicated to holding skeletal remains). The collection would consist of all the decorated skeletons as well as the bone-lined walls that hold them. I would also include the history of each ossuary and the religious/social reasons it was created. I love how many ossuaries are completely forgotten about, and some have turned into myths. Just because I’m picky about these kinds of things: the two colors repeated throughout the exhibit (doorknobs, wall color, carpet, sign) would be black and a dulled gold.” —Ellie O’Neill

“My dream museum would be the history of alternative subcultures and discuss the unique fashion, status, mentality, “code,” music, etc., surrounding each culture. The exhibit would be divided by group, including mods, beatniks, hippies, punks, ravers, emos, street/hip-hop, metalheads, surfers, skaters, greasers, hipsters and “rude boys.” As the visitors walk through each section, they would be able to learn and create through hands-on activities that reflect the subculture best, for example a booth where you can spray-paint and “mohawk” your hair like a punk or get to make “kandi” bracelets like the ravers.” —Emily Dorrell

“My ideal museum would contain art but would also be a work of art in itself. I believe that everything in life can be considered an art form, so my museum would hopefully follow this belief as best as possible. My favorite art tends to be conceptual and thought-provoking, so I would want to make that the concentration throughout my museum. An experience of the senses is also key: For example: a room with work from the impressionist period may have colored walls with a slight tint of yellow to give a light, optimistic feeling. Scents would breeze through the room, reminiscent of the French countryside, helping the viewer envision the dreamy life and intentions of this time: to capture the essence rather than the details.” —Talia Beltran

After exploring the museum through discussions and projects, the teens choose a theme together, then research, write, and present their own tours for the public. Through May 20, on Saturdays and Sundays at 12:00 and 2:00 p.m., the ViTAs will take interested visitors into the galleries to look at objects exploring “Love, Sex, and Desire in the Ancient World.” Since their tours run concurrently with the exhibition Aphrodite and the Gods of Love, the result is a perfectly provocative fit. A few of the apprentices even bravely include controversial pieces like the Sleeping Hermaphrodite in their tours in order to discuss topics of gender and sexuality in the ancient world and today.

Teenage apprentices discuss the Roman marble of Leda and the Swan in the Temple of Herakles at the Getty Villa

ViTA participants discuss the Roman sculpture of Leda and the Swan in the Temple of Herakles.

To give a taste of a young-adult perspective on ancient art, here’s how Tyler Hendrickson frames the first-century A.D. Roman statue of Leda and the Swan shown above:

“Most consider that the fame of this statue is due to its many paradoxes. But what I found interesting is that it was considered more acceptable to depict a swan and a women in the act (albeit suggested), than a man and woman. Times have certainly changed. This statue was found in the 18th century in Rome. It is a copy of a Greek statue whose carving is credited to Timotheos. He was the leading sculpture at the temple of Asklepios. To me, the face of the statue represents the emotion intended by the artist.”

Aurelia Friedman was fascinated by the beginning of the Trojan War, and so chose the Storage Jar with the Judgment of Paris for one of her objects, which she describes:

“This Athenian terracotta vessel depicts the judgment of the Trojan prince Paris, who sits amid three goddesses and their guide Hermes, god of travelers and messengers. Paris’s task is to describe which goddess is the most beautiful: Hera, queen of the gods; Athena, goddess of war and wisdom; or Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty. He has yet to announce his decision in favor of Aphrodite. Thus all eyes are upon Paris as his own gaze turns toward the far right where the goddess of love waits, entirely wrapped in her himation.”

Storage Jar with the Judgment of Paris / Greek

Three goddesses vie for the prize of most beautiful on this Greek vessel depicting the judgment of the Trojan prince Paris (pictured at far right). Apprentice Aurelia Friedman chose to focus on this object during her public tours.

Kelly Bertrando sums up her experience with the program this way:

“The concepts of collecting and preserving art intrigue me. This program allows me to develop a set of valuable working skills in an educational environment. I feel that museums like the Getty Villa are important because they preserve a culture that we may not otherwise understand. By studying the art created during the Greco-Roman periods, modern-day viewers are able to relate to and understand the type of world in which the artists lived. For me, the highlight of the program is the ability to see parts of museums that ordinary visitors do not have the opportunity to see, such as walking through the storage area of the museum and seeing the plans for Aphrodite and the Gods of Love. The Getty Villa ensures that ViTA members have an enriching experience by giving them access to the Getty Villa’s library, staff, and artwork. This program gives you the rare opportunity to see how museums work.”

And the ViTA program gives me a rare opportunity to see how teens work. They never fail to surprise, delight, frustrate, and intrigue me with their creativity, curiosity, and energy.

Interested teens can apply for the 2012-13 ViTA session via our online application—applications are due by 5:00 p.m.