By Nina Jean Berlingeri
Editor's Note: The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Trustees Emeritus Award for Historic Site Stewardship recognizes success and innovation in historic preservation, management, and programming at historic sites. Want to submit a nomination for this year’s award? Learn more about the criteria and nomination process here. Deadline for 2019 is July 1.
The Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center’s Nighthawks Teen Leadership Program (named after Hopper’s most famous painting) is a model for introducing young people to the worlds of art and museum work, and for integrating their perspectives into the institution’s public programming. Offered since 2016, the program provides leadership training and museum experience to about 25 students each year. This innovative and effective program was honored with the 2018 Trustees Emeritus Award for Historic Site Stewardship—providing the next generation with an inclusive understanding of site interpretation and the efforts of historic preservation.
Built in 1858 by his maternal grandfather, the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center was the birthplace and home of the renowned American artist Edward Hopper (1882–1967) until age 28.
The young artist would draw and work within the now historic house and its surrounding village—sketching portraits of his family and the active shipyard seen from his bedroom window. Eventually Hopper would teach local drawing classes within the house.
Located roughly one mile downhill from the high point of Nyack, New York, the house sits less than 500 feet from the Hudson River, with the high point of Nyack casting iconic Hopper shadows on the entire village in the afternoon and evening sun. By walking through the house in the artist’s footsteps, it becomes evident that the “Hopper light” used throughout his work, even applied strategically to the settings of his later paintings, is sourced directly from the geography of Nyack.
Through its permanent collection and site-specific contemporary installations, the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center helps visitors gain a deep and personal insight into the artist through the immersive, tactile experience of exploring his Nyack home. The museum’s Nighthawks Teen Leadership Program provides young people with an in-depth understanding of Hopper and his work, and in turn offers a contemporary interpretation of Hopper as a youth.
The Nighthawks Teen Leadership Program
The Nighthawks Teen Leadership Program engages and mentors teens by teaching them leadership skills to organize and present exhibitions, tours, and workshops for youth and families visiting the house. Students from Rockland County middle and high schools are invited to apply for the free program.
These teens are encouraged to explore arts, culture, and history within their first professional setting, one that is tailored to develop their confidence, dedication, and curiosity. After year-long training, they work on weekends as tour guides at the museum and, just like Hopper, create and lead art workshops there. They also take trips to other cultural art organizations, and participate in college prep activities.
The Nighthawks become ambassadors of the museum, drawing on their own interests and ideas as they interpret Edward Hopper’s experience in Nyack as a young artist and its effects on his work. They have a voice in the direction of the program activities. They are also solely responsible for conducting the museum's monthly, themed weekend family workshops—“Hop Into Art”—each Saturday and Sunday. They run these workshops collectively. The Nighthawks also have an active role in recruiting new Nighthawks into the program each year.
The nucleus of the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center Nighthawks Teen Leadership Program consists of cross-pollinating generations—introducing the young people to experienced practitioners in cultural fields, while enabling the museum to enliven its programming and outreach by incorporating the teens’ contemporary interpretations and creative input. Program participants gain a sense of belonging, purpose, and accomplishment that they take with them after they graduate.
For many of these teenagers, their time at the Edward Hopper House is a first experience in a museum setting, and a lasting one, offering a foundation for their future. Many go on to major in related fields at colleges across the country. Ten participants have graduated from high school so far, and seven of those have gone on to study studio art, art education, museum studies, and art history.
In the recent film on the Nighthawks Teen Leadership Program (by Beard & Bowler, made possible by Active International), one graduating senior claimed that the Nighthawks program “has led me to make a lot of important decisions...I didn’t really know what art history was before this program...It shaped my passions.”
The Edward Hopper House Nighthawks offer insight into the world of today and tomorrow by providing mature generations with an understanding of how today’s youth will shape culture. Earning The Trustees Emeritus Award for Historic Site Stewardship helped these young people recognize the connection between their own efforts in interpreting the life and work of Edward Hopper, and the bigger picture of historic preservation and museum work nationally. The Nighthawks Teen Leadership Program empowers the youth to make further contributions to these fields or others and to their communities.
Currently serving as the museum educator of the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center, Nina Jean Berlingeri began her work with the museum following her yearlong studio residence within the historic site during 2016. She currently paints and teaches from her studio in Nyack. NinaBerlingeri.com, Instagram: @ninajeanberlingeri For more on the Nighthawks program read this story on SavingPlaces.org.