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Black font on white background reading 21 Minus

Call for Proposals

About 21Minus

Three individuals adjust electronics and laptops in a darkened room in front of a projected image.

Artists from Yollocalli perform at 21Minus, Jun 17, 2017.

Photo: Mikayla Delson.

The MCA’s Teen Creative Agency—a collective of teenagers from all over the Chicagoland area—presents 21Minus. This annual showcase of teen creativity and passion fills the museum with exciting projects that invite visitors to engage with the museum and each other in unexpected ways.

Check out the FAQs for more information about 21Minus and making a great proposal. If you have additional questions about the process or have questions about 21Minus in general, contact us at [email protected].

21Minus by the numbers:

In 2023, there were almost 600 visitors, 38 projects, and over 75 collaborators working with 15 TCA youth curators, 2 adult lead artists, 1 TCA apprentice, and countless other MCA staff.

21Minus is curated and produced by TCA with support from Lead Artists Olive Stefanski and Miguel Limon, and Ahmad Bracey, Manager of Youth and Schools. It is free for people age 21 and under and their families.

Project Details

Types of Projects

While we can’t accept art that hangs on the walls, we can accept:

  • Unframed 2D creations such as paintings, photos, and drawings (Must fit within a 16”x20” envelope)
  • 3D creations such as sculptures, pottery, and glasswork (Must fit within a 16”x16”x20” box)
  • Workshops/Skill-shares: Share a skill. Facilitate a drop-in activity or a 20–40-minute workshop.
  • Conversations: Start a conversation about something important; sit down with a group, create a polling station, make an online comment board or something else.
  • Performances: Create a piece of performance art, host an open mic, do an improv act, dance, put on a fashion show, play live music, or DJ a set.
  • Printed materials: Pass out zines, comic books, stickers, posters, or other printed materials.
  • Installations: Build an environment visitors can step into, make a giant sculpture, create an interactive prompt.


21Minus is a showcase of young artists curated and executed by the MCA Teen Creative Agency. Proposals cannot disrupt or directly affect the exhibitions that are already on view, but all the public areas of the building are made available for live performances, interactive experiences, workshops, and installations.

It is an often loud, sometimes crazy, and always exciting day!

Young people who are:

We are looking for people who have something to say, no matter if you express yourself through music, dance, drawing, social justice work, science, philosophy, economics, religion, math, and more. Everyone is welcome.
All 21Minus projects directly engage audiences. We are looking for people who are open to interacting directly with museum visitors.
Because of the complex systems that make the museum run, all 21Minus project artists will need to work closely with museum staff and TCA members to shape their projects so that they best respond to the spaces in the museum.

TCA works to make 21Minus a platform for people of all identities and backgrounds. We work to ensure the equity of our process by prioritizing applications from people who have traditionally been underrepresented at the museum including black, indigenous, brown, femme, queer, and immigrant artists as well as artists from Chicago’s South and West sides.

Yes, as long as you are still under 21.

Anyone who is:

  • 21 years old or under on June 15, 2024.1
  • Living in the Chicagoland area.
  • Available all day on June 15, 2024.
  • Flexible and committed to working with others to develop a project.
  • People over 21, including adult leaders of youth organizations, can propose a project if the majority (more than half) of all artists working on the project are under 21.

If your application is accepted, you must commit to:

  • Being available all day (10 am–6 pm) during 21Minus on Saturday, June 15.
  • Attending the all-contributor meeting at the MCA on a Saturday in May.
  • Being able to drop off finished product(s) (art, video files, zines, etc.) at the MCA on June 1, 2024.
  • Being flexible and adapting your project according to museum guidelines and restrictions.

Previous participants have . . .

  • led a workshop about microaggression.
  • invited visitors to interact with a giant baby made of tape.
  • performed an original sand-art performance piece.
  • danced inside of giant balloons.
  • played poetry games with visitors.
  • live-mixed video and audio on multiple screens with a fog machine.
  • invited visitors to print their darkest secrets on dirty laundry.

All projects are reviewed and voted on by the 25 current TCA members. They use the following rubric for all projects:

  • Clarity—Can we understand from your description and image what this is about and what's going to happen?
  • Urgency—How important is the topic?
  • Uniqueness—How does this add something special to a bigger conversation?
  • Feasibility—Can this project happen at the museum, on our timeline, and in our budget?

Because the museum is full of other visitors and delicate artwork, we have to be flexible and compromise. Some things to keep in mind:

  • 2D art can be no larger than 16”x20”x2”. 3D art can be no larger than 16”x16”x20”.
  • There are only a few places where any liquids or messy materials (like paint) are allowed.
  • We need to approve all materials that come in and out of the museum but some things are off-limits for sure: nothing wet, nothing that omits a strong smell, and absolutely no glitter!

If you have questions about this process, want to talk through your ideas, or have questions about 21Minus in general, contact us at [email protected].

Project Submission

Ready to be a part of the takeover?

Submit your proposal today!

The form closes on March 1, at 10:30 pm.

A young person's back is to us as they lift a cluster of pink balloons over their head in the MCA's atrium. Surrounding them are a sea of balloons and people doing similar playful motions.

TCA members and 21Minus attendees participate in popping pink balloons in the MCA atrium

Photo: Mikayla Delson