A voice for the MoPOP

Shorewood Students on being a part of the Museum’s Youth Advisory Board

by Darby O'Neill, Art Director

The Museum of Pop Culture, formerly the Experience Music Project, has been a Seattle staple for over two decades. With its range of whimsical exhibits, its existence is well-known, but people may not know about the exciting opportunities it provides for the city’s teenagers. 

Since 2004, The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) has been receiving youth input on its programming through the Youth Advisory Board. The Board serves as a way for high school students who are passionate about music and pop culture to make friends and give input that shapes how the museum runs its youth-directed events. 

After two years volunteering on the Board, junior Sylvia London now works as an intern coordinating meetings, receiving pay, and having an overall greater responsibility within the YAB. “The leader is an adult, and I bridge the adults to the youths in the program,” they said.

London had been closely intertwined with the museum before they became a YAB member. “My dad used to work at MoPOP when it started, so, a long time ago,” explained London. “We always knew about the YAB, but you had to be high-school-age, so it was kind of in the back of my head. When I was a freshman, I applied to it and I’ve been doing it ever since.” 

Junior Ellen Hume is enjoying her first year on the board after getting involved because of London. “[London] mentioned it a couple of times and I did some research into it,” she said. “I myself am a musician and an aspiring artist and so I thought it would be a really cool opportunity to meet other people who enjoy music and pop culture in general.”

The Board starts up in the fall holding meetings every other Tuesday. Meetings usually occur online, but they hope to move to hybrid soon. Their agenda is often dependent on the YAB’s bigger focus at the time. “Right now, we’re kind of working on separate group things, so we’ll split up into small groups and then come back and share all of our ideas to the main group and brainstorm some more,” said London. 

Hume said that the smaller group titles are really more of a formality since the result is always more collaborative. “I’m part of the social media team,” said Hume, stating that she and London help run YAB’s Instagram account.


Soundoff, the 21 and under artist showcase

One of the biggest draws to YAB is the ability to choose the artists that perform at MoPOP’s annual event, Soundoff, a 21 and under artist showcase. “It used to be a competition, but we’re moving away from that,” said London. “[They] submit music, then all of YAB listens to it as well as employees at MoPOP. We choose our favorites and then they get to perform,” they continued. Hume explained that it’s a great chance for the musicians to launch their careers. “They get access to a bunch of these really awesome opportunities, they get mentorship from some pretty big names, professional photoshoots, interviews, plus their name just in a lot of important industry spaces,” she said. Both Hume and London agree that meeting the artists is one of their favorite parts of the job. They also help judge the contestants. 

“We show up and all sit down in a circle… our adult leader plays the music and we listen to a preset amount of two songs that each person sent in. They send in three and then we’re allowed to listen to more if we want to,” she explained. “We take notes on what about the music specifically drew us in; originality, how well they know music theory, stuff like that.”

Hume continued: “I think our first tenant of judging is we are not supposed to pick music that we personally like the most. It’s about quality of creation, not quality of recording or anything because this is about elevating young artists who don’t have all of the tools that people who come from wealthy backgrounds often do,” she said. Hume said that she has her own strategy to enact if she’s not too familiar with a particular genre of music submitted. “I’ll go and listen to some artists that are staples of that genre and that take that into account when listening to their music just so I have an idea of what the greats are doing,” she said.

Another big project that the YAB is responsible for is Voicebox, an exhibit that showcases young artists. “They’re updating right now, but what’s there right now is youth songwriters and musicians, but also visual artists and poets. They got interviewed and those screens just show the interviews over and over again,” said London. They explained the current interview footage is several years old, waiting to be remodeled. “In terms of Voicebox, I think we’re all going to contribute at some point or another,” said Hume.

Working at the MoPOP has given the two some unique chances for fun stories. “In the past before I worked there, we got to have a private screening of the spoken word album “Catalyst” by Scarlett Sibett, who is the girlfriend of Jimmy Page, the guitarist from Led Zeppelin. They were both there because he produced the album, said London. “So we just got to hang out with Jimmy Page. It was pretty cool.” Hume reminisced on the time she ran into “Umbrella Academy” actor Aiden Gallagher at Soundoff. “One of my friends posted a picture with him on her story and got attacked by a bunch of Aiden Gallagher groupies. She had to shut off her Instagram cause she got like 200+ follow requests,” she laughed.


How to get involved with MoPOP and the Youth Advisory Board

The application process is very simple, released in the summer, and available to anyone between the ages of 15-18. “You go to the MoPOP page and you look up the YAB section,” said Hume. “It’s a Google form and it asks you what you love about MoPOP, what pieces of pop culture really inspire you, what music has shaped your life, and essentially just asks you about who you are and why this is interesting to you.” After filling out the form, applicants will be reached out to for an interview.

“If you think this sounds cool, then you are a cool person, because it is cool,” said London. “It’s a very Seattle-y program for kids to do. Fun, nerdy stuff- very Seattle. I’d say if you haven’t been to MoPOP and you’re interested in applying, you should go just to get a feel of what it’s like,” they advised, stating that the YAB encompasses a wide range of interests.  “[YAB is] a great way to get connected with the industry in Seattle as a young person, especially if you want to do social media management or work with the museum or an art collective thing when you’re older, then it’s a great idea to get that experience,” said Hume.

Hume expressed her surprise at how much she had in common with the rest of the Board upon joining. “I wanted to find a really good community of like-minded people- others who inspire me who are my age, that’s a little difficult to find sometimes,” she said. “Especially if you’re a musician yourself on MoPOP’s YAB, you meet young musicians your age… it’s really inspiring to see people succeeding at what they love to do.”


Check out the Artists from this year’s Soundoff!

The Sleepy Haunts

Emma Wang

Sam Ashkenazy

Trevor Eulau

Kiddus Fecto

Sam Clement

Gavon Leo

Instant Crush

Lexi Lalauni

Maceo Sky