Adults who want to understand what it’s like to be a teen in 2017 should imagine jumping into a tub of foam blocks, each one bearing a photo of someone, somewhere doing something better.
The display is meant to capture the Fear of Missing Out that comes from being inundated by social media, so local teens have decided to call it the “FoMO pit.” And in a few days, post-teens in the Bethesda area can check it out.
The pit is part of the Museum of Contemporary American Teenagers, a pop-up exhibit created by students at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. The museum will showcase murals, graffiti, art installations and performances by the high schoolers and seeks to help people understand the teen experience.
“We’re so much more than just being called the iGen, which I’ve heard,” said Julia Mencher, 16, a B-CC junior. “We have the potential to do so much more than just be categorized as people who work iPhones.”
The idea for the project came up last year in the class of David Lopilato, an anthropology and journalism teacher at B-CC. Lopilato asked his anthropology students to come up with a virtual exhibit to explain today’s teen culture, and he was so impressed by the teens’ work that he wanted to put it on display in a physical museum.
He began searching for an empty space that could host the exhibit and ultimately sent the president of Marriott International an email asking for help. The company hooked the students up with vacant space at 7756 Wisconsin Ave., inside a former Japanese restaurant slated for demolition as part of the Marriott headquarters project.
In recent months, the students have been painting, drawing and creating inside the empty rooms to prepare the museum for its Dec. 7 opening.
Camille Devincenti, 17, was involved in setting up a fake storefront that would resemble one that shoppers would find at Brandy Melville, a popular brand that sells all of its clothes in a single small size. In the students’ display, the customer doorway is only one foot wide.
Devincenti said the one-size approach makes it easy to shop at Brandy Melville—“If you already kind of know you’re ‘Brandy size,’ you just go ahead and buy it”—but she also thinks the store symbolizes society’s unrealistic body standards.
In another installment, visitors can sit down for a polite teatime with a teen who breaks convention by turning conversation toward the typically off-limits topic of politics.
Ananya Bernardo, 17, came up with an idea for an immersive concert experience that puts visitors into a dark space surrounded by video clips of live music performances. The high school senior said she wanted to replicate the intense feeling she gets watching shows in basements of homes and other small venues.
“It’s overwhelming because there’s all these people here for this one reason, and you’re all connected,” she said.
Hana Genana, 15, a sophomore at B-CC, paints a girl's face, partly composed of symbols from teen culture. For instance, the girl's pupil is the Apple icon, and she has an "Instagram eyebrow" and a "Kylie Jenner lip." Credit: Bethany Rodgers.
Narek Grigorian, 16, the business manager for the museum project, said he’d like to see the teens’ pop-up concept catch on in other communities across the nation.
“The past generation tries to connect with us, but a lot of times, the connections are not relevant,” he said. “This is a chance for students to express their voice and what they’re really about, versus what others think they’re about.”
Grigorian said students raised money for the museum through the B-CC parent teacher association, students, parents and crowdsourcing.
Lopilato said the teens who fill his classrooms are part of a complex generation that has rejected many categories and definitions embraced by people older than them. They’re natives of the digital age and have a knack for shaping a message for a particular audience, he said. They’re interested in politics and art. They divulge personal information over social media, and yet, they remain opaque by carefully curating their accounts.
“I don’t think adults have a clue of what teens are like,” he said.
The museum will be open Dec. 7 to 9 and Dec. 14 to 16. It’s free and open to the public, although an RSVP is required to visit for the MoCAT ball on Dec. 7. Hours are 5 to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.