The University of Wyoming Art Museum’s Teen Open Art Studio Time (TOAST)

The University of Wyoming Art Museum has created Teen Open Art Studio Time (TOAST), a free art program specifically for Laramie teens ages 13 to 18. Teens can explore a multitude of artforms, learn about different artists, and socialize with others their age. The program has moved to fully online format, and the first weekly meeting of the new year will be held Friday, January 8th from 4-5 over Zoom. For more information on the Friday meeting, visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/2130562707081023?acontext=%7B%22event_action_history%22%3A[%7B%22mechanism%22%3A%22search_results%22%2C%22surface%22%3A%22search%22%7D]%7D

Michelle Visser, the Teen Coordinator at the University of Wyoming Art Museum and the founder of TOAST, says she researched the most successful ways to create teen art programing. “I spent a long time just looking at what other museums were doing for teen programing.” Visser held a pizza party in 2019 to brainstorm with local teens about their ideas. “We decided that the best opportunity to provide programing for teens at the Art Museum, was to offer open studio time.”

Visser explains that open studio time provides a form of exploration and freedom. “Having teenagers myself, I am very aware of the broad spectrum of interests of teens,” she says. “Because of my own experience in education, I know that there are always those teens who are seeking something that resonates with them. Art is often a class during the school day in which some of those teens feel really successful…it’s that freedom to just go in and have an open-ended exploration that is outside of that class-like feel. I really felt like what I was hearing is that teens wanted a place where they could do art, but where it doesn’t matter what the medium is. And there is no time limit or deadline.”


The first TOAST meeting was held in January of 2019 with the goal to have six or seven teens in attendance, but Visser ended up with at least double of what she expected. Many teens came to the studio knowing they wanted to be there, but not knowing what they wanted to create. The simple idea of hanging out with other teens was what they enjoyed. “There is a lot of safety within TOAST to just show up and know you were in a safe place to create what you wanted when you wanted.”

During the open studio time, teens explored many mediums ranging from drawing and painting, to collage making, jewelry making, and sculpting. “If one teen had a curiosity about something, it was an opportunity for everyone else to learn from them.” Visser explains that often a trend would begin within the group such as a knitting fad that began with one student wanting to learn to knit, or a button making trend.

The Art Museum welcomed special guest artists who would work with the teens in workshops, such as a screen-printing workshop with artist Nikki Pike in the fall of 2019. “I just was always trying to find a way for teens to recognize art as a profession,” Visser says.

The program was greatly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, but in May of 2020, Visser collaborated with the mentoring program manager of the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, NE to create a Post Card Art Swap. “We had 21 teens from Omaha, from Laramie, from Rock Springs, from Sheridan, we even had one teen from Iowa.” The teens were given a few weeks to create their postcards and were then paired up with another teen to mail the postcards to each other. “At the time, there was so much talk about the possibility of the postal service going under, so it felt like a multipurpose project. A way to use old-fashioned communication in a time when in person communication is limited.”

While the Art Museum is currently open, all events are done virtually. TOAST via Zoom is resuming on Friday, January 8th from 4-5 and is open to all teens ages 13-18. Teens are invited to join every Friday for one hour of art games, conversation, and investigation of art from the UW Art Museum exhibitions and collections. They will also be able to meet guest speakers and visit art galleries virtually.

For more information on TOAST, please email Michelle Visser at mvisser@uwyo.edu. Or visit the event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/2130562707081023?acontext=%7B%22event_action_history%22%3A[%7B%22mechanism%22%3A%22search_results%22%2C%22surface%22%3A%22search%22%7D]%7D

Zoom link for Friday: https://uwyo.zoom.us/j/98686219873

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