January 12, 2023

Zachary Davidson, Youth Programs Manager, Breaks Down Shattered, the New Teen Exhibition

Tai Bickham


Opening Friday, January 13, 2023, is Shattered, an exhibition created by MCA Denver Failure Lab teen interns who worked under the guidance of Maria Sheets, a fellow senior conservator of Foothill Arts Conservation and widely exhibited and collected stained glass artist. The exhibition features individual and collaborative artistic efforts by the teens featuring assemblage, light, sculptural, site-based, participatory, and interactive works as a whimsical and exploratory take on stained glass and associated media. 

Failure Lab is one of three teen leadership programs at MCA Denver led by Zachary Davidson, Youth Programs Manager. I emailed Zachary to learn more about the program and its upcoming exhibition. 

Hi Zachary! You oversee MCA Denver’s teen programs. Can you share with us a little about the programs offered?

We have three main youth programs at MCA Denver that are quite different from one another which permits us a further reach since there’s something for everyone. 

Failure Lab is our year-long internship program that permits play, failure (of course), and experimentation with art media. In the fall, the kids focus on creating an installation in our teen gallery, the IdeaBox, with a local visiting artist. During the spring, they get a more behind-the-scenes experience and learn from the staff here as they curate their own exhibition.

MoxieMag is our online publication that follows the traditions of DIY and punk zine culture. Since this program is virtual, it’s great for Colorado kids that a commute to the museum would be difficult. This internship is a semester-long, so we routinely have applications open.

Offhand is a special intern alum program in which former interns from the aforementioned programs are able to take part and lead events for teens at the museum and the Holiday Theater.

Failure Lab allows high school students to intern at the museum and work with fellow cohorts to produce a teen art exhibition. Shattered, is the exhibition opening on Friday, January 13, what does this theme encompass?

Shattered is the first exhibition by our current Failure Lab interns, and thematically inspired by principles and physical principles glass. Most kids strayed from that medium to think more metaphorically which in turn led us to the title. The structure for Failure Lab is to champion ideation through self-guided and collaborative exploration, so I encourage our interns to embrace the weird strategies with pragmatic solutions.

Failure Lab teen intern's creating work for the upcoming teen exhibition, shattered

Who was the artist that guided this semester's interns in the curation of the Shattered exhibition? How do you go about selecting the artist mentors? 

Maria Sheets instructed our kids through the process of creating glassworks, and she is a Colorado-based artist with a rich history in stained glass and conservation. Over the summer, my college intern was tasked with finding interesting artists, which led to us meeting and interviewing Maria for the role as a facilitator. She welcomed me to her studio, and introduced me to rudimentary stained glass practices which led to us developing the fall curriculum around projects for our high school interns.

Why do you think it is essential to have programs like Failure Lab to expose teens to different methods of creative expression? 

The Failure Lab name points to its strength, first off. If we want to even approach kids with dialogue pertaining to sustaining and growing interest in the arts and humanities, the emphasis needs to give them space to cultivate which often results in many unsuccessful endeavors before finding their groove. This is especially true for a libertarian city like Denver, which grossly limits the value, time, and subtly in the arts for whatever private interests conflate within the scope of their veneer of utilization and concern for visual culture.

Failure Lab teen interns preparing for their upcoming teen exhibition, Shattered

You’re a practicing artist yourself! Where do you find your inspiration for your artistic practice? How do you encourage the youth in finding inspiration for their creativity? 

I’m fortunate to have a 20+ year career working in the arts and having been collected and exhibited internationally, so I try to share what I know both subjectively and objectively from those trials and errors to the kids. I think I have a strength in sharing the tough stuff while underlining how defining your goals can grant you an optimistic outlook. My inspiration is aligning a work ethic in the arts to be partnered with community growth. I try to not be so didactic and remember to make room for play, too.

It’s the start of a new year! What are you looking forward to in 2023 with the MCA Denver teen programs? 

All of our internships will provide content and/or events for youth and those connected to their success. Our instagram is keeping folks updated on these things, so check in there, folks! Coming up, we have 21 Below which is a youth-centric museum party with teen bands, mocktails, junk food, arts and crafts (like a mural wall and screen-printing) at the end of the month. Look out for calls for submissions for our film festival in the Spring known as The Anti-Hero Short Film Festival. Failure Lab will also have a call for entry for teen artists in Colorado when they curate their spring exhibition. And internship applications for the next round MoxieMag and Failure Lab will open in May.