PAFA’s Youth Council Curates an Exhibition

Walking through the halls of PAFA’s Historic Landmark Building, visitors get a chance to see the best of American art.

The majority of the exhibitions are hand-selected by PAFA’s curatorial team, but through August of 2018 one room of the museum features an exhibition put together by a special group of curators.


  • PAFA Curator Anna Marley poses with a student from the Youth Council.
    PAFA Curator Anna Marley poses with a student from the Youth Council.
  • Members of PAFA's Youth Council at the exhibition's opening reception.
    Members of PAFA's Youth Council at the exhibition's opening reception.
  • Members of PAFA's Youth Council at the exhibition's opening reception.
    Members of PAFA's Youth Council at the exhibition's opening reception.

I’ve Always Worked Hard is the latest exhibition from PAFA’s Youth Council.

The Youth Council is a free after-school program that offers interested teens a chance to create a prominent place for young audiences in the daily life of the museum. The Youth Council organizes poetry nights, poster-making events for their peers, and curates an annual exhibition.

Abby King, PAFA’s manager of Public Programs said the Youth Council, now in its fourth year, was created to draw more teens to the museum. Instead of adults and other museum professionals planning programming for teenagers, the Youth Council plans events they know will appeal to their peers.

“The reciprocal relationship is that they get to understand the ins and outs of a museum and we help them with school and professional development,” King said. They’ve gotten to meet with everyone from Brooke Davis Anderson, who’s head of the museum, to going to the vaults and really getting a sense of what happens here.”

Previous Youth Council exhibitions include Education Makes Me a Modern Girl with works from the Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art by Women, Robert Motherwell: A Series of Mistakes in PAFA’s Works on Paper Gallery, and Vibrant Surprises.

I’ve Always Worked Hard focuses on social realism as a means of social or political comment, with a sense of social consciousness. Youth Council member Chloe said the exhibition focuses on urban works since many of the council members live in Philadelphia

“We chose to step out of the traditional timeframe of social realism in order to incorporate a wide range of relatable and valuable examples of work,” Chloe said. “We hope this show allows you to see the many ways people work throughout their lives. Some of the works show traditional labor and others show those that are not always recognized such as motherhood, artists, and performers.”

Kiersten, another Youth Council member, said organizing exhibitions has taught her to work together with classmates and listen to different people’s perspectives.

“If you don’t at least listen then you don’t get the insight that you get when you collaborate with your peers,” she said. “I now see them as resources instead of competition because you can be there to help each other.”

Kiersten has been a part of the Youth Council for most of her high school career. She hopes to become a physicist and appreciates the addition of art to her usually STEM-heavy school week.

“I love so much the experiences I have here because there are no art classes at my school,” said the high school senior. “I take a lot of math classes and this is the only place where I have the opportunity to be engaged with people who are vibing on a different wavelength. I think it makes me a better person.”

King said the Youth Council isn’t meant to replace art in the classroom but is a supplement to a child’s learning experience.

“This is a unique opportunity where they do get to do some art making but really understand an institution from an insider point of view. We do get a lot of kids who love art but maybe aren’t interested in the making of it,” she said. “Youth Council helps them grow as leaders, work as a team, and learn communication skills, all in an art context.”

For Lily, participating in Youth Council has shown her a possible career path. She hopes to become a curator and will major in curatorial studies in college.

“I really love history but I didn’t want to teach it,” she said. “So I was looking for a good in-between where I can share my love of history but I don’t necessarily have to be a teacher.”

As the school year winds down the Youth Council is planning its final event of the year to coincide with the closing of Nick Cave: Rescue and is saying goodbye to the graduating seniors who will hopefully come back to visit and see what their peers are working on next year.

“It’s really unique for teens to be given such a great opportunity,” Kiersten said. “And have access to such amazing resources.”