Young people, Youth organisations and galleries: Working as allies for change. Guest Post by Mark Miller, Tate Modern

Young people, Youth organisations and galleries: Working as allies for change.

By Mark Miller, Circuit Programme Lead, and Convenor: Young People’s Programmes Tate Britain and Tate Modern

In this Guest Post, Mark Miller describes and outline The Circuit Programme, and asks critical questions of how young people engaged with Art within it over a four year period, and calls for youth organisations to develop further links with art through their practices.

The Circuit programme aimed to learn from, contribute to, and align with the good work being done across the country, through the youth and cultural sectors with and for young adults. At the heart of this, we wanted to improve access and opportunities for young adults with a drive for social, cultural and economic justice. This drive, and motivation, included establishing representation of the positive and complex dynamics of ‘difference’ in race, class, gender, sexuality and economic circumstance within our organisations. 

Ownership of the creation, the development and the delivery of cultural activity in galleries, from initiation to conclusion, with, for and by young adults, was set up to present us with the opportunity to investigate, evaluation and enact change. Many questions arose, such as:

  • How can we work in a deeper, balanced and shared way across the youth and cultural sectors?
  • How, and what, would organisations need to change to enable younger voices, ideas, and critique to be embedded?
  • How can we be transparent about our failures, challenges and success to enable us to learn, reflect and respond to what we have found?
  • Is this an unreachable ideology, or are we motivated personally and professionally to make any of this possible?

Some of the things for arts organisations to address that emerged from Circuit are: a demystified organisational structure, being targeted with long-term strategies, a diverse workforce, positive welcome into galleries, politically and socially relevant interdisciplinary artistic programme, better cultural representation, and working with youth organisations as allies. Some of these ideas are not new, but can still be addressed and influence organisational change. These themes and challenges are explored further in the Circuit report, Test, Risk, Change.

The Circuit programme enabled young people to present cultural production at varying levels of intensity, scale and content in each gallery. Over a four-year period, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate St Ives, Tate Liverpool and Plus Tate partners, namely The Whitworth in Manchester, Firstsite in Colchester, MOSTYN in Llandudno, Kettle’s Yard and Wysing Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire, and Nottingham Contemporary, worked to support young adults and contribute to their wider social, cultural and political experience by allowing them to be visible and impactful with the galleries. Core to this, was working with, and learning from youth organisations. We aimed to facilitate deeper alliances, mutual understanding, and co-design projects, to bring young adults with the least access to cultural activity in galleries to the centre of our organisations. Circuit demonstrated the role galleries can play in the wider ecology of young people’s lives. Make Your Place, a new documentary featuring four of the young people involved around the country looks into specific examples of this.

During Circuit, young people’s cultural productions have been richly represented at a wide range of events, accompanied by a wide selection of artists. They’ve included performance and glitch art, film and pop-up shops, residencies and installation art, socio-political debate, and ephemeral objects that symbolise and resonate with young people’s cultural experiences. The constant being, the use of multi-disciplinary art, and social, experiential and relevant programme content has attracted diverse audiences. Collaborative work between marketing and young people’s programmes teams has been central to communicating and understanding these diverse audiences. This has included utilising influencers, such as artists, collectives, cultural and political commentators and creatives who resonate with the values of Circuit, and maintaining the use of social media platforms in authentic ways.

Our public and cultural spaces should provide platforms which enable young adults to explore and understand the impact they can achieve. Art is not just a gateway to become a designer, artist, curator, or cultural commentator. Visual culture is experienced daily by many through digital platforms, online, and in advertising, with multiple languages which identify and represent many of our day to day experiences. Art is a unique space for learning, questioning and criticality. It’s a space where young adults can contemplate, change and open their perspectives to build or realise the ownership of their path into varied interests, skills, and professions and build a positive vision for their own fluid futures.

The complexity of diversity and difference, of identity politics, the relationship between analogue and digital visual culture, political and economic uncertainty, and the hierarchies of cultural representation within cultural organisations, all continue to require more work, motivation and energy to rethink our methods. As well as this, it is important to establish structures that will enable us all to become part of a wider ecology of ongoing change for social, economic, and cultural justice for young adults.

Now, we call for youth and arts organisations to reflect on collective expertise to provoke conversation, collaboration and action to champion work with young people and their cultural participation.

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Many Thanks to Mark for sharing this thought provoking piece, that challenges an ongoing development of cultural engagement with Art by young people. In a recent outdoor exhibition as part of the Sunderland illuminations. I discovered the following installation   It reads ART IS YOUR HUMAN RIGHT. I took the photo from behind a fence, as often many people, especially young people are not given, afforded this right. Young people might be creative geniuses, yet often can be cast aside as not engaging, or have their creativity quashed by the education system. It is great therefore to share this reflection from Mark Miller, on Art and young people. To send your post to me to share with others, please see the menu above. 

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