Gracie Holtzclaw made national news in 2014 when her South Carolina high school banned a self-portrait that addressed themes of sexual assault from the school’s art show. When Charlotte Lee ’18, then-director of the Teen Art Gallery (T.A.G.), heard the story, she reacted immediately.
“I just reached out to her and was like, ‘Can we exhibit your piece if your school isn’t?’” Lee said.
With a team of 11 other teenagers, Lee spent her senior year of high school directing T.A.G., an organization that, according to their website, aims to “create opportunities for young people to share their art with wider audiences.”
During that time, the gallery grew from a stage for young artists to a platform for high schoolers to express deeply personal experiences that their schools’ art programs censored.
Lee was raised with a vocabulary for art and a respect for freedom of artistic expression. Her parents, John Lee and Karin Bravin, opened and ran BravinLee Programs, an art gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.
Lee grew up around their gallery exhibitions and public art showings. “They never censored what I saw,” Lee said of her parents. “There was nothing like, ‘Oh, Charlotte can’t see that, she’s too young.’ This was art. Art doesn’t have any restrictions.”
With that in mind, Lee contacted Aubrey Banks, who founded T.A.G. in 2011. Lee wanted to help facilitate a stage where young artists could gain recognition in the same way high school athletes or actors could.
“Actors have the stage and the audience, and athletes had the stands, and artists kind of sat quietly and painted and it was kind of this unnoticed talent,” Lee said. “There wasn’t, at the time, that we know of, an organization that gave teen artists a chance to exhibit their work.”
As a high school senior, Lee put on five shows in New York City galleries and open spaces, in which she featured submissions from teens across the world. At the end of that year, T.A.G. made her director of the organization.
“It ended up being really rewarding because people would sometimes visit from wherever they were from and bring their families,” Lee said. “Before this gallery, there was no way for young artists to have that kind of voice.”
Since she and other members of the T.A.G. team graduated from high school, the gallery’s shows have been stalled.
Lee, however, remains active in the Kenyon art scene. As an art history major and studio art minor, she is spending this semester abroad in Rome with the Kenyon art department. On campus, she is a Gund Gallery Associate; she was part of the curatorial team for Color II, a Gund Gallery exhibit that was on display in the summer of 2015, and she participates in the gallery’s education and events team.
Still, Lee hopes to use T.A.G. as inspiration for her future career.
“Why is art censored to begin with?” Lee said, with frustration. “I don’t understand.”
Article by Anna Libertin