Teen Portrait Competition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC

Friday, July 20, 2012 at 10:59 am

Allen Chiu’s “Untitled 412″ was taken on a deserted street in Providence, R.I.

The Teen Portrait Competition (TPC), a collaboration between the New Learning Institute and the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, was created by and for young people.

Inspired by the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and by the IMAGINE=IMAGE workshop in the Summer 2011, the TPC invites young people to appreciate and explore identity through portraiture.

Ten local DC/VA/MD teens were chosen to be part of a teen design team that worked together to plan and implement the first annual Teen Portrait Competition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Starting in December of 2011, the team met regularly at the National Portrait Gallery to design each part of the competition. They divided into teams (Management, Design, and Marketing) and took on roles to address different aspects of the competition. The teens launched the competition through a website they designed on February 1st, 2012, and by the closing time of the competition on April 29th, 2012 there had been 362 total entries.


The first meeting focused on establishing teams and roles within the Teen Design Team. They began their first meeting by setting up their own expectations for the team:

  • Respect
  • Have a lot of fun
  • Energy
  • Be productive & meet deadlines
  • Have clear goals
  • Cooperation
  • Good, quality work
  • Be a good listener
  • Be openminded
  • Include everyone
  • Be bold: Share your ideas
  • Constructive criticism - build on ideas, don't destroy them

They then spent time in the museum looking at portraiture and creating criteria for what makes something a portrait. Armed with this list of criteria, NPG staff, and the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition rules, they began creating their own rules for the competition.


During the second meeting the teen design team focused on identifying strengths and weaknesses of social media platforms to use for marketing the Teen Portrait Competition, identifying the platform that will best suit their needs for hosting the competition, drafting a working description of the competition, finding potential professional judges, and continuing to work on the rules for the competition.


The third meeting focused on finalizing details of the competition including the title, rules, and descriptions. The group then divided into their teams: the design team created a design for the website along with a plan for getting it built; the marketing team developed a marketing strategy and began implementing it; and the management team designed a plan for communicating with the team before the launch of the competition.


The fourth meeting was the final meeting before the launch of the competition. The team spent time reviewing the website before it went live, finalized marketing materials including an official press release from the National Portrait Gallery, and they developed a plan for managing submissions and other aspects of the competition over the next six weeks.


We also held a last minute strategy session once the competition was launched with the goal to get more submissions from across the country. As a team, the teens developed a marketing and outreach strategy in order to get more visibility and submissions. They also set up a plan for how the portraits would be judged and the process for accessing and displaying the images. For the judging day they prepared guidelines, procedure and determined roles.


The goal of the last meeting of the teen design team was to judge all of the entries. Here is a description of the judging process written by Gabrielle, one the the teens from the design team:

“The first round of the judging was done by the teen design team. We decided which pictures should go and which should stay using majority rules. During the next round, we had 2 professionals (Andrea Dixon, assistant director of exhibitions at MICA and Dorothy Moss, a curator from the Portrait Gallery) help us with the judging. They determined which pictures were going to be cut out, and the teen design team voted during disagreements. Finally, for our last round the adults rated each picture on a scale of 1 to 10 after listening to the artist descriptions. The design team either voted a one for yes we should keep the picture, or zero for no we should take out the picture. When the final round was completed, the scores for each portrait were added up. A first place winner and honorable mentions were picked for each age group based on their scores.”

For more information about the winners and participants of the Teen Portrait Competition at the National Portrait Gallery, check out the following: