“20 in 2018” comes to NU, asks 20-year-olds about their experiences


Photos by Brenna Lipset

20 in 2018, Brenna Lipset, FMO, NU Quest Scholars, Christian Reyes, Mari Tibebu Gashaw

Irene Chang, Reporter

Who will you be in five years? New York City-based artist Brenna Lipset posed the question to 20-year-old Northwestern students for her multimedia project, “20 in 2018,” on Nov. 12 and Nov. 14.

The name “20 in 2018” speaks for itself: Lipset interviews and takes photos of 20-year-old volunteers who answer questions about their teenage years, opinion of politics in the country, their future plans and more. Lipset, who is also 20 years old, said participants are told to treat the interview like a “video diary to your future self” rather than a professional interview, since Lipset plans to follow up with them in five years.

The project began in March after Lipset gathered inspiration from her friends’ experiences and from “Seven Up,” a British documentary that recorded the lives of English kids every year for seven years.

“The goal of the project is to document people’s voices and to allow some sort of documentation of youth during this time,” Lipset said. “I hope that in the future, when people are looking at… what the youth voice was like, hopefully these interviews, they exist so that people understand that this was what it was like.”

Lipset began her project in her hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and later continued in New York City. Since then, she has traveled all around the country for the project and has spoken to over 450 20-year-olds through pop-up events, like the two at Northwestern.

NU Quest Scholars, an organization for low-income and first-generation college students, and For Members Only, Northwestern’s black student alliance, helped promote the “20 in 2018” pop-ups. Mari Tibebu Gashaw, SESP sophomore and director of communication for FMO, knew Lipset from high school and said the two previously talked to her about coming to Northwestern for the project.

“We really value the power of storytelling, and she’s a really phenomenal individual,” Tibebu Gashaw said. “Brenna and her artwork speak for themselves. Being able to have her be here and do her storytelling here … is really cool.”

Christian Reyes, SESP senior and co-president of Quest Scholars, said both Quest Scholars and FMO found Lipset’s project as an opportunity to tell their student’s stories.

“Our students don’t get as much visibility as other students on campus, so (20 in 2018) is a good chance for them to get that,” he said.

Lipset said she noticed that “20 in 2018” attracted people with marginalized identities, such as low-income people and women of color.

Women took up a vast majority of her interviewees, she said.

“At first I was like, I need more guys, but then I was like that’s fine, because I’m super big about not forcing anyone to do the project who doesn’t want to do it,” she said. “But it’s not super surprising to me that these people are the ones whose voices are not heard and want them to be.”

Lipset acknowledged that “20 in 2018” wasn’t “anything revolutionary,” but instead a creative way to talk to people from various backgrounds. While the project covered a vast array of 20-year-olds in Cambridge and New York City — from students to artists to strangers on the subway — elsewhere, Lipset is limited to only university students for her pop-ups. She said that she failed to represent the demographic of 20-year-olds in those cities, but hoped to use social media as a way to legitimize the project and spread it beyond college campuses.

She plans to finish the project in early December after reaching her goal of 500 interviews.

And although Lipset spearheaded “20 in 2018,” she wants to remain as dissociated from the project as possible.

“I really don’t want people to think about this project and think about me,” she said. “I want them to think about this project and think about someone that they might’ve read about and who resonates with them.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @_irenechang_