CAPA students in Warhol museum program share interests with teen from Southeast Asia

| Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, 9:25 p.m.

Singapore teenagers may live in a culture very different from that in the United States, but they surprised a group of Pittsburgh teens with their unexpected similarities.

The kids in Singapore — who were communicating and exchanging time capsules with students from Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school this year — listen to American pop singers like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus and classic bands like The Beatles. They talk about President Obama and Justin Bieber. They like to sing along to music. They use Twitter, Facebook and iPhones. And, though the Asian teens' rules may be stricter — chewing gum is banned, for instance — the Singapore teens still love a good joke.

“I was surprised by how funny they are,” says Samara McGraw, 17, of Homewood. She is a senior at CAPA, an arts-magnet school that is part of Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Agatha Monasterios-Ramirez, 17, a senior from Shadyside, says that the teens in English-speaking Singapore showed better, neater handwriting skills than many of her peers. “You look at us, and it's sloppy, not straight,” she says.

The Pittsburgh kids are participating in an international program facilitated by the Andy Warhol Museum in the North Side. The “Collecting Youth Culture: 15 Minutes Eternal” program, which started earlier this year and goes through 2014, seeks to gather ideas from youths around the world on timeless themes like love, beauty, work, time, art and fame, Warhol officials say.

While the traveling exhibit “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal” — a retrospective on the Pittsburgh artist's life and art — spends time at museums in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Japan, students in these countries from arts schools similar to CAPA will learn about each other.

Each group communicates through assembling and sending each other time capsules, stuffed with handmade “zines” — colored paper booklets with biographical questions and answers for each student — along with items such as CDs, pocket art and videos of themselves.

“This is like pen pals times 10,” says senior Adam MacDonald, 18, of Greenfield. His class leads the project, and members of each grade participate. Of the nearly 1,000 students who attend the Downtown school, about 400 already are contributing to the capsules.

Nicole Dezelon, associate curator of education at the Warhol, says that the purpose of the project is to “begin youth dialogue between our students and students in Southeast Asia.”

“15 Minutes Eternal” is the Warhol's biggest show to date to go to that region of the world, she says. The teens learn a lot through this experience, Dezelon says.

“It's about expressing themselves through music and art,” she says. “That's the framework we give them.”

In March, leaders of the project, but not the students, traveled to Singapore School of the Arts to visit and deliver the time capsule made by the Pittsburgh students. The visitors returned with the time capsule from the Singapore students. Now, the Pittsburgh students are finishing their time capsule for Hong Kong. On Friday, the project moves to Hong Kong where student from the Hong Kong School of Creativity and Hong Kong International School will open the time capsules.

Mara Cregan, literary arts chairwoman at CAPA, says that the project gives kids a hands-on opportunity.

“It's very organic in nature to the kids,” she says. “They're the ones really doing the project.”

A big goal is to let students gain an understanding of different cultures, and the surprising, underlying similarities, Cregan says.

“Being a teenager is the same no matter where you are ... and no matter where you're from,” she says.

Still, though: “When you look at Asian culture compared to American culture, our students have so much ... freedom of expression,” Cregan says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7824.

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