Fear Itself

Updated: Mar 23

Visit mocatpopup.org for more info.

By Juliana Capizzi and Courtney Wilks

MoCAT, the Museum of Contemporary American Teenagers, is a popup museum run by student leaders from the Montgomery County area each year. In previous years, it’s been held at store front locations, old banks, and will now be held at a home in Bethesda. Opening this month, the museum surrounds the idea of fear and the role that it plays in teenagers’ lives.

Anna Hoover, one of the directors of the museum, said that although they “got the space in early December”, they “really started working at the end of December” because they had to clean the location. Since they’re working in a house, the artists have to be conscious about what gets done because the house will be given to a homeless family after the museum closes. Hoover said “It’s cool to transform the entire house. [The artists] are painting the walls and creating interesting sculptures.”

The museum isn’t like a stereotypical museum with each piece perfectly placed along a wall, but it is more of an interactive museum with pieces scattered all throughout the space. Exhibits range from beautifully painted murals to live speakers. Since it is student organized, Hoover said “There’s not really a sense of hierarchy or authority.” What comes from this environment is “a really unique space where students can express themselves without boundaries” and, at the end of the day, everyone working on the museum has the “same goal to explore each other’s fears.” Audrey Pechilis, another director of MoCAT, said, “It’s not often that you’re free to fully express your fears in an uncensored environment.” Pechilis believes the theme of fear is important “because many teenagers are forced to deal with a ton of pressure and still often get overlooked by adults.”

There are a number of artists working on making the museum what it is. They’re not only from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, but also from Blair, Whitman, Einstein, and other Montgomery County schools.

One of the artists from B-CC is Kelsea Petersen, a junior, who is painting a mural that depicts her fear of not being able to influence the future. As a student activist, she hopes that she will make an impact on today’s world, but she’s afraid that “no matter how hard student activists fight, there’s a distinct possibility that nothing will change.” She’s been to multiple gun control marches, women’s marches and climate change marches. The piece that she is creating came from two different ideas. Most of her work involves typography, but she also wanted to make “a massive collage of things [she] saw as facets of modern activism.” Using these two concepts, she came up with the idea to create a mural that reads “I’m terrified that we may not save the world.” Kelsea said that inside each individual letter, she’s “painting images of what [she] thinks encompass the experience of being a student activist in the modern political climate.” In addition to school work, tests, and other events in her life, she’s dedicating “2-3 hours for each letter,” which she predicts will have her spending a total of 64 hours on the mural.

Another junior from B-CC, Tilly Sandmeyer, is creating a “map of fear” as she calls it. As a photographer and activist, she has taken countless photos from the protest and marches she has attended. Her art will contain photos with captions from the people pictured and there will be red string all along the photos connecting each one.

Senior Camilo Montoya, also from B-CC, has created an audio installation that depicts how children can be affected by war. Montoya stated, “We blocked off a very small area in the attic and are turning it into a child’s bunker. The idea is that a small group of people will sit down inside the bunker and listen together to the track.” Camilo’s track will contain “real sound recordings from wars” making the experience even more moving for the audience.

As beautiful as MoCAT is, it symbolizes something so much bigger. All of the students participating are sharing and collaborating with others over their shared fears. MoCAT has always been impactful and so different from other museums, but this year the theme will speak to the attendees. The fears presented may not always be felt with the viewers but the need for change in the environment, gun control, and anxieties as a student are all shared but not spoken of too often. The museum can cause realizations for viewers who may not have thought about a certain perspective on fear before. The fears expressed by teenagers need to be shared because change is necessary, and even the simple acknowledgment that these issues are truly occurring in teens’s everyday lives is important.

The Museum will be open from March 27th to the 29nd all day. At the museum, there will be a number of paintings, murals, sculptures, and other visual and audio presentations. Steffi Lewis, a senior, is organizing guest speakers to come and talk at the event. The directors want to do the most for this museum, allowing for people to leave with a new perspective on fear. Everyone working on the museum has put in time, dedication, and effort and are hoping for a good turn out of people to view the amazing pieces in the museum. Pechilis hopes that the event will “show people that they are not alone in how they feel as well as foster an atmosphere of understanding and respect rather than intolerance within the community.”

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