Volkswagen Newsroom

A bucket list Beetle: After being diagnosed at 27, a cancer patient finds and restores her dream car

August 19, 2019

Whitney Wickesberg still remembers the distinct smell of her dad’s bright orange Super Beetle Volkswagen. In her teens, she used to sneak out to her parents’ garage, lie in the backseat of the Beetle and dream of the day when she would get her shot in the driver’s seat. “I really fell in love with it,” Wickesberg says.

But before she was able to earn her learner’s permit, her parents sold it. Heartbroken, she channeled her disappointment into full-on Volkswagen fandom. “I kind of became obsessed,” Whitney admits. “I had a large Volkswagen Beetle poster in my room and owned all sorts of little model cars.”

Since then, owning a vintage Beetle had been at the top of Wickesberg’s bucket list. It remained a far-off dream until 2016 when she was diagnosed with lymphoma or cancer of the immune system. She was only 27 years old.

At first, she thought she had a common cold, but then noted a large and unfamiliar lump in her neck. Several weeks and doctors later, it was determined that she had lymphoma, required medical attention and would need to be housebound for nearly six months as she recuperated from chemotherapy treatment.

During her time indoors, she decided to track down her dream Beetle – a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle – online. She found one in Wisconsin and asked family members to travel there to assess it. After receiving their blessing, she purchased it and had it shipped to Texas.

“It gave me something to look forward to and I could start envisioning my future,” Wickesberg explains.

Whitney Wickesberg as a child with her dad’s original orange Super Beetle.

As soon as the Beetle arrived, however, Wickesberg discovered that Barkley – her nickname for her new ride –needed some TLC. The seats needed new upholstery, the engine was faulty, and the headlights had to be replaced.

She began watching Volkswagen and car repair YouTube videos and buying old official Volkswagen service manuals to learn more about car mechanics to help restore Barkley to his best state. “My husband, a self-proclaimed Volkswagen nut, offered to help me, but I really wanted to learn – and fail – on my own,” Wickesberg says.

She even went as far as to order a hazmat suit on Amazon so she could safely work on the car in her off-weeks from chemotherapy. “I started off learning how to do simpler things, like oil changes, and then graduated to interior work,” Wickesberg says. “I was having the time of my life looking at, and learning about, all its components.”

“A lot of people say, ‘I could never learn that [or] I could never do that,’ but it just goes to show that if you want to learn something bad enough, you can,” Wickesberg added. “It may not be easy at first … but in the end, I can promise you, it is so rewarding.”

Whitney Wickesberg works on Barkley the Beetle during her chemotherapy treatment.

With determination and hard work, she was slowly able to transform Barkley into the Beetle she had imagined, her dream ride. “It sounds crazy, but even though I had on this ridiculous hazmat suit, in that moment I felt completely normal, like I wasn’t going through cancer,” Wickesberg noted. “I only had the future to look forward to.”

On the day she found out she was cancer-free, Wickesberg also received a positive Volkswagen omen. While on the way to her one year-and-a-half check-up at her oncologist’s office, she spotted a Bahama blue 1966 VW Beetle. “I looked over to my mom and said, ‘This is a sign. I know it’s going to be okay,’” says Wickesberg.

She was right. Years later, she is still cancer-free, loving life and planning future adventures for her and Barkley. “Driving [him] for me is one of the best feelings in the world,” Wickesberg, now 30, says ecstatically. “Even though he doesn’t go very fast, and sometimes he’s fussy, he has a new lease on life – like I do – and that makes me so happy.”

Barkley the Beetle. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage & compliance with required safety & other standards.

Watch the Volkswagen ID. R take on its latest speed challenge – a racing drone

August 16, 2019
Concept vehicle shown. Not available for sale. Specifications may change.

From Pikes Peak to the Nürburgring and Goodwood, Volkswagen’s electric ID. R race car has set records around the world, showing how electric power can transform vehicle performance. Its latest challenge isn’t a famous track, but another type of breakthrough technology – a racing drone.

Launched earlier this decade, drone racing now sports thousands of players worldwide and several professional leagues. All feature tiny, remote-controlled aircraft capable of reaching speeds of 85 mph or more through wild obstacle courses. For this video, a racing drone took on the ID. R through a twisty course set up inside a Volkswagen factory. Take a look at what happens when two pieces of the future come together.

 

 

Reviving auto shop classes for the EV era, one old Volkswagen at a time

August 14, 2019
The class converted a gasoline-powered 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet to electric power. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage and compliance with required safety and other standards.

When Ron Grosinger began teaching shop class in 2005 at Memorial High School in West New York, N.J., the program was struggling to survive. In a school facing many challenges, the elective course had dwindled from six teachers to two and rarely offered any hands-on learning, Grosinger says.

As in many schools across the country, the shop program was on the path to being eliminated. Between the extra cost of running capital-intensive classes and a growing focus on college preparation, enrollment in vocational classes has dwindled from prior decades – even with a growing economic need for future mechanics.

To keep the class afloat, Grosinger knew he’d have to get creative to stay relevant. “If you’re teaching students about gasoline cars, that’s basically the equivalent of 8-track players,” says Grosinger.

So, in 2008, he approached the school’s administrators with an innovative idea: he would teach his 27 students, step-by-step, how to convert a gasoline-driven car to electric power.

“With the electric car, I wanted to prove two things,” says Grosinger. “First, [I wanted to prove] that we could convert it. Everyone was telling me at the time that it was impossible when really, we just didn’t have the option yet [on a large scale].

“Second, and most important, I wanted to prove that kids are super capable. You just have to give them a chance.”

Ron Grosinger and one of his students, Isamara Lozano, pose in front of electric-powered 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage and compliance with required safety and other standards.

He had recently taken an intensive, two-week EV conversion course in San Diego and believed the new program would help teach students applied science and engineering principles through automotive applications. With backing from the school, he was able to purchase his first conversion vehicle: a 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet.

Grosinger knew it would serve as the perfect base for this specific build. “Volkswagen vehicles are known for their German engineering and affordability. They’re built with no-nonsense and the parts are readily available,” Grosinger says. “They’re also relatively lightweight, which is great for electric conversion and helps keep the battery costs down for the class. … All the money you put into them is worth it.”

Over time, the students learned how to produce the various mechanical parts in cardboard, then wood, then steel. They welded parts, tackled wiring and learned to solve problems as they arose.

“We completely gutted the car and put it all back together,” says Grosinger.

Ron Grosinger poses with the electric-powered 1990 Volkswagen Cabriolet. Disclaimer: Modifying vehicles can adversely affect warranty coverage and compliance with required safety and other standards.

Within a year, he noticed the student makeup of the class had expanded to advanced math, science, physics and engineering students. Also, there were many more female students. “The girls in my classes are amazing engineers,” says Grosinger. “Through hands-on learning, I hope they are encouraged to maintain and broaden their interest in STEM careers.” His goal is to get the male to female ratio up to 50-50.

Every year since his first year of teaching, Grosinger has upped the ante and challenged his class to take on new projects. In the decade since the program was revamped, enrollment has dramatically increased. The department has now expanded to four teachers and the school added an after-school automotive program.

“Teachers should encourage students to explore new and more efficient ways to move a person from point A to point B, whether that system is a train with solar panels on it, a car with an electric motor in it or retrofitting an existing technology with a different energy source,” says Grosinger. “And don’t come up with the solutions for the students.”

The various automotive build projects have also led to the award of additional grant money that has helped pay for new and improved equipment. Most importantly, several of Grosinger’s students have gone on to work in the automotive field.

Grosinger attributes the popularity and growth of these courses to the promotion of STEM subjects and the infusion of high-tech equipment, like 3D printers, in the programs.

“It’s all about giving students options,” he says.

Lozano, above, hard at work in Grosinger’s EV conversion course.

Flint brings back its historic Soap Box Derby, with a little push from Volkswagen Group of America

August 13, 2019

As the cradle of the American automobile industry, Flint, Mich., has always been a playground for four-wheeled innovation. In the boom times of 1936, the town held its first Soap Box Derby for children and adults to home-build their own gravity-powered racers. Thousands of fans and even the occasional national political leader would attend the events, which were held until 1995.

Since then, a lack of resources has kept the event on hiatus – until this summer, when Volkswagen Group of America helped bring Flint’s Soap Box Derby back to life, with a dozen cars running for glory in early June.

Shane Schmitt, an employee of Volkswagen Group of America (VWGoA) in Auburn Hills, Mich., saw a chance for the company to not just sponsor a race, but promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education while reviving a fun tradition for Flint.

“Audi and Volkswagen’s involvement in this unique race was an exciting opportunity,” said Schmitt. “The race, and what it sought to teach the kids, aligned with our core beliefs as a company. Our involvement was much appreciated by the organizers of the event, and it was a wonderful chance to reach out to the community of Flint.”

If you’ve never seen a soap box race, the whole idea of putting a “soap box” on wheels can be a bit misleading. Like real race cars, soap-box cars must be built to a set of rules for weight and design. Even though they’re only powered by gravity, they can reach 30 mph on typical-length tracks.

Volkswagen Group of America was a “Super Stock” level sponsor of the race, which funded the purchase of two derby cars as well as the transportation of the winning car and driver to the All-American Soap Box Derby World Championships in Akron, Ohio.

Thanks to the sponsorship, local middle school students in Flint were able to participate in every aspect of the vehicle assembly process. Students had the opportunity to collaboratively build the derby cars, learn about vehicle assembly in a hands-on environment, work through pre-race inspections, and participate in the race as either a driver or pit crew member.

To help the students with the build process, employees from Audi quality tech service and Volkswagen sales and marketing came together to work on the design of the derby cars and the vehicle’s display decals. Other VWGoA employees volunteered at pre-race build workshops. After building was complete, two cars were entered in the Flint Soap Box Derby—one branded Volkswagen, and one branded Audi.

The Volkswagen vehicle took home second place and Audi placed eighth. All told, 38 kids took part in the derby experience, and the winning car went on to compete at the national level in mid-July, bringing a bit of automotive history back to Flint.

 

How one teacher funded over 100 classroom projects through DonorsChoose.org

August 9, 2019
Allyson Maiolo poses with her Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Allyson Maiolo, an elementary school teacher for more than 20 years, has raised more than $40,000 for her students on DonorsChoose.org. Since discovering the site in 2007, Maiolo has had more than 110 classroom projects fully funded – mostly through anonymous donations – thanks to the crowdfunding platform.

“It only takes five minutes to create your account and less than 20 minutes to build your page,” says Maiolo, who currently teaches third grade in North Port, Fla. “Everyone can spare [that time] to get something amazing for their classroom that will greatly benefit their students’ lives.”

Her first fully funded project was a collection of whisper phones and lower-level reading books to help students struggling with reading comprehension build their reading skills and confidence. “From there, I got on a roll,” Maiolo says. Since then, she has raised thousands of dollars to help buy basic classroom needs, such as pencils and books, to technology, sports equipment and furniture.

That’s what’s special about DonorsChoose.org – teachers can tailor the projects to their schools and students’ top needs. “At my previous school, it was very high needs and had very few resources. I did a lot of fundraisers for furniture we didn’t have that helped my classroom feel homier,” Maiolo explains. “It really makes a difference when you have things that are new and nice, and the kids see that learning is valued.”

Volkswagen agrees that education should be cherished and is donating a total of $1 million to DonorsChoose.org to help teachers by funding classroom projects across America. Volkswagen dealers will receive DonorsChoose.org donation cards pre-loaded with funds from Volkswagen that they can share with customers during the “Drive Bigger” Summer Event.

Volkswagen is donating a total of $1 million to DonorsChoose.org.

Maiolo, a volunteer teacher ambassador for DonorsChoose.org who drives a Volkswagen GTI and Tiguan, has encouraged several teachers on her campus to develop their own pages and helped jumpstart several new school-wide programs, including a program that provides positive male role models for at-risk fifth-grade boys.

Through the DonorsChoose.org platform, the school was able to buy the male students dress shirts and ties. “They would wear the outfits on the days they had meetings,” says Maiolo. The program was so popular and successful that the school plans to expand it to additional students this upcoming year.

With the first day of school on the horizon, there’s no time like the present to create a classroom project. Here are Maiolo’s top 10 tips for getting your classroom project funded.

  1. Do your research. Poke around DonorsChoose.org and look at other projects that have been successfully funded by users. Get a feel for what others are doing and tailor your project accordingly.
  2. Start simple and small. Maiolo recommends keeping project costs low, especially early on. “I usually recommend keeping projects between $200-$300,” Maiolo says. “If you start small, your projects will fund a lot easier.”
  3. Create a catchy title. “Anything that draws people to your project is good,” says Maiolo. If you can come up with a play on words, or a catchy title, that’s best. Also, be as descriptive as possible. Instead of writing “tablets needed,” write “tablets needed for hands-on, STEM-based learning and activities.”
  4. Let your students shine. The project description is a great avenue for teachers to demonstrate how much they enjoy their job, students and classroom. “Describe what the demographics are like at your school, as far as free and reduced lunch levels, but also how your students have overcome difficult challenges and circumstances,” she says. “Make sure to demonstrate how these items can best benefit your students’ lives in the long-run.”
  5. Be strategic with your categories. Be sure to pick two categories that best apply to your specific project to help drive traffic to your page.
  6. Don’t feel limited. As noted above, Maiolo has requested a variety of classroom enhancements, ranging from basic school resources to technology and furniture. Teachers can also repeat projects every school year. “I always write a snack project at the beginning of the year so every day every child in my class gets a snack, no matter if they brought one from home or not,” Maiolo explains.
  7. Think beyond your community. “For the most part, my projects have been funded by strangers and random people on the internet,” Maiolo says. “You want to make sure your project is written in a way that’s going to speak to any donor who finds your page.”
  8. Be patient. Remember, you have four months to get your project funded, so don’t worry if the response isn’t immediate. “You can’t expect your project to be funded overnight,” says Maiolo.
  9. Research match offers. Your project may qualify for a match offer or funding, so make sure to scope out any offers currently available and tailor your project to their criteria. “At least half of my projects, if not more, have qualified for match offers,” says Maiolo. “It’s a great and easy way to get funding for your project.”
  10. Send thank-you notes. “Every time someone donates – even if it’s only a $1 donation – you have an opportunity to say thank you and it’s really important to do that,” says Maiolo. She always suggests taking photos of your students using the items you requested. “You want to make sure that you’re demonstrating the impact of those items so the donors understand the difference they have made and will be encouraged to donate in the future,” says Maiolo.
Public school teachers across America call on DonorsChoose.org to help supply their classrooms.

 

 

Cribs, highchairs and more: Why the Volkswagen Atlas is the best car for this mompreneur

August 6, 2019
Alex Calicchio and her daughter sit in Calicchio’s Deep Black Pearl Atlas.

Traveling with a baby or toddler is no easy task. Beyond naps, feedings and diaper changes, parents are often forced to lug loads bulky child equipment, like car seats and cribs, to faraway places.

Enter Alex Calicchio, an entrepreneur in the Palm Beach, Fla., area who uses her Volkswagen Atlas to deliver essential baby gear to vacationers in need.

Here’s the concept:  Visitors reserve the desired equipment on rental site BabyQuip.com. When it’s time for their trip, Calicchio, a company representative, delivers the goods and sets everything up. Calicchio appreciates the flexibility her part-time gig offers, and attributes part of her success to one important component—her Atlas. She even refers to her car as her “sidekick.”

Cargo space was crucial when Calicchio was selecting a new car for her entrepreneurial venture—she needed to be able to easily transport full-size cribs, highchairs and strollers 1. Other priorities included sleek design, a comfortable interior and, most importantly, peace-of-mind.

Both her husband and stepdaughter drive Volkswagen vehicles, so Calicchio’s husband suggested checking out the Atlas. Without even test driving the SUV, Calicchio took one look at the Deep Black Pearl Atlas and returned the next day to drive it off the lot.

“I am truly amazed at the amount of things I can fit in this car,” said Calicchio. “I can pack the car full of equipment and still have room to fit my kids” she jokes.

Alex Calicchio and her daughter pose with their pups in front of Calicchio’s Deep Black Pearl.

In fact, Calicchio can pack her Atlas with items placed for order – as well as a  car seat in the second-row captain’s chair for her youngest daughter23.

“Not only does the Atlas let me do my job every day, but it also allows me time to spend with my four-year-old daughter,” Calcchio says. “When I make deliveries, my daughter comes along on what we call road trips.”

When not using her Atlas for work, Calicchio’s favorite part of the 2018 2.0T SEL vehicle is the panoramic sunroof. She and her daughter enjoy evening stargazing when the weather is nice. “The Atlas helps me in my business, but it really is a family car,” she says.

 

Volkswagen of America (“VWoA”) is not affiliated with BabyQuip.com and this story should not be viewed as an endorsement by VWoA of the safety and quality of the products or services provided by Alex’s business.

How one Wyoming science lab uses a Tiguan to put education within reach

August 2, 2019

When many schools in Casper, Wyo., started to struggle with funding and field trips became limited, many students weren’t able to visit nearby attractions. One of these attractions was a science museum, The Science Zone, a locally owned business for almost 21 years. So, community members decided to come up with an alternative plan. Now, instead of all children coming to the museum for the usual 45-minute lesson and tour, The Science Zone staff is able to bring science education directly to students in a specially equipped Volkswagen1.

Since March 2018, the spacious SUV – dubbed the “Science Mobile” – has traveled to a dozen schools, offering a variety of science workshops, activities and demonstrations. Students can make slime, participate in electricity presentations, learn about plants and chemistry, view reptiles and even make mini explosions with liquid nitrogen – a popular favorite.

“The Tiguan has been essential in the schools we visit,” said Steven Schnell, executive director of The Science Zone. “Once we learned the kids couldn’t come to us, we decided we would take the science to the kids.

The Science Mobile on display at one of the many fairs The Science Zone frequents. Graphic package shown is not available.

Ahead of school visits, teachers can choose a curriculum and a series of lesson topics that are best suited for their classroom. Subject areas range from engineering to animal science to space science. All the topics align with the Wyoming State Science Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. After the lessons, teachers can download supplemental information from The Science Zone website to further extend the lesson program.

Set up in the basement of a furniture store, The Science Zone relies heavily on outreach programs to engage the local community. Schnell and his team have traveled throughout the state of Wyoming, attending as many fairs and exhibits as possible. To date, the team has interacted with over 10,000 people. At the events, the Science Mobile is on display at The Science Zone booths which offer science demonstrations for children preschool aged through high school.

Due to the obscure location of The Science Zone, the Science Mobile has acted as signage and publicity for the business, as many people don’t know its exact location.

“I get a lot of calls from people saying they are in a furniture store parking lot and think they are in the wrong place,” Schnell says. “We don’t have signage outside the building, [so] the Tiguan has been a big part of our marketing efforts and our identity. We’ve been able to generate awareness through the car.”

The Science Zone team is currently made up of 10 staff members who are always looking for new ways to bring the Science Mobile to more students.

And thanks to their Tiguan, “We’ve been able to say yes to any type of opportunity that comes our way,” Schnell says.

 

Volkswagen developing mobility solutions for people with disabilities

July 30, 2019

Volkswagen Group of America has a big mission: offering mobility solutions for people with disabilities. The Inclusive Mobility initiative is more than just a name; it’s a program that directly engages with disability groups in the early stages of designing vehicle technologies, user experience and mobility services.

The initiative, led by the Inclusive Mobility team at the Innovation and Engineering Center California (IECC) in Belmont, Calif., is an industry first. While there have been patents and designs developed within the automotive industry for years related to accessible mobility solutions, Volkswagen is the first original equipment automotive manufacturer to directly engage with groups that represent people with a range of disabilities early on in the design and development process of advanced vehicles.

The program began last year through outreach and collaboration with groups including the National Federation of the Blind, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund and the National Association of the Deaf.

“We are not just designing and then asking people to validate our ideas. We’re bringing people to the table to share their voice and input from the beginning,” said Shani Jayant, a principal user experience designer at the IECC. “We have to make sure we design things with an informed view.”

Jayant expressed the importance of engaging everyone from the beginning in order to make changes happen. “The team is small, but is really networking with other parts of the company. This isn’t just a couple of people working in a silo,” Jayant said. “We work closely with government affairs professionals, engineers in Germany, lawyers and others.”

Initial research efforts have included a series of expert and user interviews on disabilities related to mobility, vision, hearing and cognition. One of the first goals that the Inclusive Mobility team hopes to address is wheelchair securement. With the introduction of varying levels of autonomous technologies in future vehicles, there are new variables that need to be considered when designing this feature, including automatic securement.

“The biggest hurdle is ensuring we have all of the appropriate stakeholders at the table and coming up with best practices together. It’s possible, but no small feat. It’s an intensive process,” Jayant explained.

Helping design new solutions for those who are deaf, blind or face other mobility challenges will take time but is a top priority for the Inclusive Mobility team. Read more about the program and other upcoming projects at inclusivemobility.com.

Concept vehicle shown. Not available for sale. Specifications may change.

How Pedestrian Monitoring helps improve your view ahead

July 25, 2019

With millions of drivers and pedestrians sharing the road, it’s more important than ever to help them do so safely. That’s why Volkswagen developed its Pedestrian Monitoring technology as part of its Front Assist system to help drivers stay aware of other road users.

The applied technology that makes Pedestrian Monitoring possible is a small radar, a narrow square a few inches on each side that discreetly fits behind the Volkswagen emblem on the front of the vehicle. Able to work in daylight or darkness, the radar sweeps points located in an area within about 35 degrees and up to about 400 feet ahead of the vehicle hundreds of times per minute. The system then analyzes the data from the radar for the specific “signature” of pedestrians that are about to cross in front of the vehicle or walking away from the vehicle inside the vehicle’s path.

European model shown. Specifications may vary. Driver Assistance features are not substitutes for attentive driving. See Owner’s Manual for further details, and important limitations.

If the car is traveling at a speed between about 4 and 18.6 mph, and the Pedestrian Monitoring detects movement in front of the vehicle, the system applies automatic braking to slow or stop itself to help avoid a collision, using a precise amount of braking force. At speeds between 18.6 and 40 mph, the Pedestrian Monitoring system sends both audible and visual alerts to the driver – and if the driver does not respond, then automatic braking engages. The system does not operate at speeds above 40 mph.

It is important to note that Pedestrian Monitoring may not work in all conditions and environments, for example when the radar sensor’s vision is blocked by dirt or snow; it can only function within the laws of physics. But the radar technology can offer improved awareness of pedestrians in fog or harsh sun glare where a driver’s vision might be hindered.

Currently, Front Assist with Pedestrian Monitoring is available on all 2019 Volkswagen models except the Beetle, Jetta and Passat ; it’s standard on the Arteon, Atlas, Golf, Golf R and Golf Alltrack and included on all but the base trim levels of other models. By 2022, Front Assist and autonomous emergency breaking (AEB) are expected be standard on nearly all Volkswagen models – an important step toward accident prevention.

Come as you are: Creating a free, safe space for LGBTQ students and allies

July 23, 2019

Since its partnership with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2011, Volkswagen has been committed to supporting educational programs that foster learning opportunities and connections between art and life.

One of the programs made possible by Volkswagen’s partnership with MoMA is Open Art Space, a relaxed weekly drop-in program for LGBTQ high school students and allies who are interested in thinking about, and making, art in a creative and welcoming environment. The program is facilitated by two artists but is shaped largely by each individual’s interests.

Free food, drinks and MetroCards are provided each week and no previous art-making experience is necessary. This past session, which ran from October through April, focused on creating zines, which are handmade booklets filled with drawings, collages, stories and other forms of expression. While the program centers on art and art making, that often takes a back seat to hanging out and listening to music in a space where the teens are free to be and express themselves.

In celebration of World Pride, MoMA Magazine stopped by Open Art Space to talk with participating teens and program facilitators during the last session of the season.

Open Art Space participant Theo Haegele photographed by Néstor Pérez-Molière

What role does art play in creating a safe space?

Theo Haegele: “I mean art can be whatever! It’s great that it can be whatever. Because you’re the artist and all art is part of the artist. So, if art is able to be whatever, then you’re allowed to be whatever within the space of art.

I love MoMA and I’ve done a ton of programs here, like Open Art Space. It’s a sort of exchange, not just with your fellow peers, like within the group, but also with all the artists on the walls and the history. What makes a safe space? Exchange.”

Open Art Space participant Nicholas Amiama-Gomez photographed by Néstor Pérez-Molière

What is your favorite part about Open Art Space?

Nicholas Amiama-Gomez: “My favorite part about Open Art Space is the freedom that it gives people when they come here. It’s a type of freedom that they can’t even get at home especially if the home isn’t as accepting. It allows people to express themselves through different mediums of art, and the different people that students can relate to when they come and visit. We’re allowed to have such a great time because of the type of freedom we get here.”

Open Art Space participant Maya Jacob photographed by Néstor Pérez-Molièr

What are your tips for fostering a community for LGBTQ+ teens and allies?

Maya Jacob: “I think education and having a one-on-one conversation with people. And showing people that we can talk about whatever you have questions about and make it not scary, something that has to be stigmatized.”

What does art mean to you?

Open Art Space participant Kelly Williams photographed by Néstor Pérez-Molièr

Kelly Williams: “Art means a lot of different things to me. I think it means just being able to express yourself verbally, physically, emotionally, with a lot of different aspects—meaning it could be in person, paper to pen, it could mean just being yourself around people.”

What is it like to co-create a space for teens?

Kerry Downey: “Because it is drop-in, the dynamic is really changeable and unpredictable. I find I have to go with the flow. When the energy is low and I try too hard to direct it, I’m letting my own anxieties run the ship. It’s different than a classroom, where you’re trying to guide students to achieve specific learning goals. Our goals are that participants should feel good and want to return. Our space should feel markedly different than school. If you want to talk about queer issues you can, or you don’t have to. Many of us don’t want to be solely defined as queer; we just want to just be because everywhere else we can’t.”

How does art function as a facilitator for this group?

Tali Petschek: “I don’t think that it has to be art to tell you the truth. It’s more about the activity of doing something together than it is about necessarily making art. I think art just happens to be something that is really fun to do as a group—together but separate. People can work together and collaborate, or just sit next to somebody and do their own thing. So, I think that can apply to other types of work, mediums, as well, and art just happens to be one of many that works particularly well for this age group and with the goal of creating community.”

MoMA teaching artists and program facilitators Tali Petschek (left) and Kerry Downey photographed by Néstor Pérez-Molière.
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