Backstage with Mattress Factory’s Teen Art Cooperative Coordinator Mattie Cannon | Backstage | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Backstage with Mattress Factory’s Teen Art Cooperative Coordinator Mattie Cannon 

'They're so smart and give me so much hope for everything'

click to enlarge Mattie Cannon - PHOTO: MATTRESS FACTORY
  • Photo: Mattress Factory
  • Mattie Cannon

Name: Mattie Cannon, Bloomfield
Work: Teen Art Cooperative Coordinator, Mattress Factory 

What do you do?
I run all of the teen programs for the museum. That includes the Teen Arts Cooperative program, which is the most commitment intensive, with weekly attendance for several months; additionally, the summer workshop series; a youth arts educators network I'm working on starting; and a brand-new, as-yet-unnamed street squad, which is a social media hangout.

How did you get here?
I went to the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts for a summer program, and then attended the College of Wooster for Studio Arts. I started working here right after graduation in 2014. I've been involved with the Teen Arts Cooperative program for four years and running it for two.

Did attending an arts-oriented institution for high school influence your working with high school kids as an adult?
That had an impact on me felt throughout my life. It helped me know I can work in the arts. I saw it exemplified in all these different ways. I worked with caring adults that had conversations with me that were very open and honest, so I came into the arts with realistic expectations.

What do you like the most?
THE TEENS. I love hanging out with them. I could be having the crummiest week and the worst day and then Thursday afternoon rolls around, immediately I feel better. They're so smart and give me so much hope for everything. They have brilliant ideas and are grounded in reality and inspiring, and it's incredible to be around them.

How do teens approach the arts differently than adults? 
Adults want to know they already know. You kind of have to represent things in a way that allows them to feel like, "Yeah, I know that already." Teens are more willing to stretch their brains.

They're not too cool for school?
Before this program, I thought of teens as being self-conscious, not wanting to admit not knowing. But we create a very safe space with our group because it's really small. They’re very good at asking questions if they don't understand something. If you're hanging out with a piece of art, they'll ask, “Why would an artist choose to make that decision?” They ask questions that make me think about the arts.

Do you think their approach and participation here varies from what it would be in graded classwork?
This is by choice. They have to want to be here, and they're ready to go. They're so interested in art, and they want to spend time in the installations, learn about the artists, share their knowledge.

What do they do when they're here?
We run the gamut. There are in-house days — planning, building for upcoming events. They're working on a zine. Teaching artists come in for workshops. If they talk about something specific they're interested in, I'll find someone who does that to meet with them and teach. They collaborate with artists. We take field trips to creative spaces. They absorb information through the program, get to know it, learn how to lead a tour, and share the information that they love about the artwork with other teens within our space.

What is the most fulfilling thing about your job?
I get to still hang out with the alums and see where they end up, and that's really important to me. One now works alongside one of the teaching artists that came in while she was here. I set up an apprenticeship with her when I knew she was graduating, so she's making great life connections. Alums will serve as the new planning committee for the summer workshop series as well.

I look forward to getting to see the impact after they graduate the program, in 10 years or 15 years.

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