Young at art: CJM program turns teens into teachers

At 16, Andrew Herwitz has already created two online movies for the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco — an advertisement for “Teen Night” and a spot introducing Josh Kornbluth’s one-man theater piece, “Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?”

“I want to be a filmmaker with all my heart,” says Herwitz, 16, of Pacifica. “At the museum, I found a way to bring that skill into a business setting. Now, I’m not just telling stories, but also incorporating advertising and marketing. It’s the nitty-gritty of what film can be.”

Herwitz is one of nine students currently involved in Teen Art Connect, a career exploration and internship opportunity that molds participants into educators at the CJM. The paid, yearlong program combines workshops in presentation skills, visual literacy, and art and museum education with job-readiness training

Teen Art Connect interns Sasha Vu (left) and Nancy Chan leave messages on the interactive exhibit “Birthing Tikkun Olam.”

Those hoping for a slow-paced, kickback experience need not apply.

“We’re looking for teens who express an interest in having a job,” says Mary Eckstein, the CJM’s youth program coordinator. “An interest in the arts or cultural field or museum work is also important. We recognize that applicants might not have a ton of experience, but their passion needs to come through.”

A junior at Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, Herwitz spends about 10 hours a week at the CJM, splitting his time between leading architecture tours, assisting with kids’ art activities, working the coat check and working one-on-one with people in the public relations and marketing department.

Fellow intern Nancy Chan has a similar schedule, except she’s shadowing the CJM’s assistant curator, Dara Solomon, and learning the process of installing exhibits.

Teen Art Connect interns are paid minimum wage for hours worked and receive stipends for completing the summer training and Sunday training sessions. A free membership to the CJM, plus free admission to museum events, is included in the program.

There is a clear Jewish component to the program, as the 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders are immersed in Jewish-themed installations, artwork and performances. Being Jewish, however, is not a requirement.

“Teens with different cultural and religious backgrounds situated in a culturally specific museum creates an opportunity for dialogue,” Eckstein says. “We talk about different holidays, how they’re connected and similar. It’s an important aspect to the program.”

Just as important are the skills garnered by being a Teen Art Connect intern. Before leading student tours, Herwitz created his own script based on packets of information about the CJM’s décor. After rehearsing (a lot), he gained the confidence necessary to guide museum-goers around the grounds.

The first group of Teen Art Connect interns stands in the atrium of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

“This is the first serious job I’ve had,” says Herwitz, who dons business-casual attire and official lanyard while on the job. “When you’re at the museum, you get a glimpse of the whole operation.”

Interns interact on a regular basis with curators, who interpret the installations and lead discussions about them. The students are expected to walk around the exhibits, learn the background and context of each painting, and get a feel for what the art is all about.

This aspect of the program intrigued Chan, a 16-year-old San Francisco native who wanted to understand a religion she knew very little about.

“I never knew anything about Jewish culture except for Chanukah,” she says. “I love the art that is displayed because it reflects very personal emotions that the artists may have about their culture. And though I may not know what specific religious aspects the artists are referring to, I can still sense the efforts and skill put into the art.”

Teen Art Connect started last year in conjunction with the opening of the CJM’s new building, with the first cohort of participants training just before the museum’s opening in June. The program finishes in April, and Eckstein will begin interviewing and selecting new interns. Students in 10th and 11th grades have the chance to stay with the program until the end of their senior year.

“Just as much as I’m contributing to the museum, the museum is contributing to me,” Herwitz says. “It’s educating me, and showing me how the business and art worlds work.”

Teens interested in participating in the 2009-10 Teen Art Connect should submit applications by March 25. To receive a brochure and application form, visit and download the files from the “youth” page. Information: (415) 655-7851 or

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