Twenty-three high school students entered SITE Santa Fe’s Young Curators program at the beginning of the school year. It’s a big commitment, that includes weekly meetings to guide participants through every phase of curating a juried art exhibition. With just a few weeks until this year’s show, seven remaining students convene at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s Education Annex—the exhibit’s interim location while SITE is under renovation—to puzzle over the layout of the selected artworks. They are the grizzled survivors of a complicated collaborative process.

"Curating is about so much more than putting art on walls," says Madison Winston, a senior at Santa Fe Prep. "There's public programming and fundraising and so much cooperation. A head curator gets a lot of credit, but there's way more to it than that." Over the course of the free program, the Young Curators get a comprehensive look at the day-to-day of SITE's professional curators—and they're judging themselves by those standards. Santa Fe, meet the city's youngest and toughest art critics.

"Sacrifice is crucial to making a complete product," says Winston. "That is probably the one thing that is true for all curators, that they would agree on." She and her best friend, Ryan Miller, a senior at Santa Fe High, are four-year veterans of Young Curators. The process has several distinct stages, starting with the selection of a theme.

Isabel Jerome’s cardboard crucifix.
Isabel Jerome’s cardboard crucifix.

"We'll literally spend the months of September through November, three months straight, arguing and feeling like we're getting nowhere with a concept," says Winston. This year, they drew inspiration from the fast-fashion documentary The True Cost, and challenged artists to reflect on the environmental perils of consumerism in first and third world nations. They titled the show Pick.

When submissions from teen and young adult artists start to pour in (the age limit is 25), the next phase kicks in. Winston and Miller relish the process of debating which works will appear in the show. Miller, who helped conceptualize this year's theme after studying true cost economics in one of his classes, was concerned with the way artists were interpreting the concept. "There were a lot of works done on small cardboard pieces," he says. "I was like, 'Yes, be sustainable— but transform the material, do something interesting with it.'"

They only had about 60 submissions, low for the program, and ultimately selected 16 artists. "We narrowed it down, and it was not hard," Miller says. "I think it's an important show, but I don't think it's going to be an aesthetically cohesive show." To be fair, he's just as critical of himself as he is of artists. "When I entered this program, I kind of took it for granted that everyone is extroverted and willing to speak up," he says. "I noticed that when I stopped doing that, things got more dynamic."

Today, the Young Curators are meeting with SITE's education coordinator Amanda Lee and Chief Curator Irene Hofmann. The work chosen for the show is mostly small, and they're worried about adequately filling the Education Annex. They've decided to collaborate on an educational collage installation that will fill part of the space, and hopefully unite the rest of the work under the theme. "When you're putting together a show, it's important to look at the artist's intent and the curator's intent," says Ezri Horne, a senior at New Mexico School for the Arts. "Sometimes those don't align, but the piece still fits into the show."

When Horne was in seventh grade, her artwork was selected for a Young Curators exhibition. "It was the first time my work had been on a wall outside of school," she says. "In Santa Fe, there's not very many open calls for art that are directed towards youth."

Horne has participated in the program for three years. Her favorite piece in this year's show is an assemblage by a 14-year-old artist. "It's called 'Happy Birthday to Me,' and it's this recycled tree with bottles," says Horne. "He's reflecting on the fate of the planet, and he's pretty much saying, 'This is the world I'm inheriting, it's falling apart.' There's this genuine concern there that's really sweet."

Horne is on the cusp of graduating and entering the chaotic adult world, but she seems optimistic. She says her work with Young Curators has helped confirm art's transformative influence on society. "I think everyone in this group does have concerns about the world, and what we're going to do with it, and how we're going to change it," she says. "Young Curators is a good platform for people to get together and talk about it."

Pick Opening Reception
5 pm Thursday May 11. Free.
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Education Annex,
123 Grant Ave.,

The True Cost Screening
7 pm Wednesday May 17. Free.
CCA Cinematheque,
1050 Old Pecos Trail,