We talk to museums and galleries quite a bit. Put simply, they have a lot of the cool stuff.
And yet they often struggle in getting people – especially younger people – to come in and see said cool stuff.
Last year the Tate wrapped up a four-year project researching why that was, and what galleries specifically could do to help. We had a little look through the report on Circuit – which saw ten galleries across the country work with youth organisations to create opportunities for a more diverse range of young people (15 - 25-years old) to engage with art in galleries – and pulled out some top tips.
(If you’ve got time/work in a gallery, you can read the full report here)
In no specific order:
1. Young People are no more of a group than People Called Dave, or People Who Dislike Kiwi Fruits.
Okay so this may run slightly against the gist of this particular hotlist – but the project found that the less you think of Young People of one big, homogenous group who all think the same and listen to Drake, the better your chances of getting through to them.
That means that getting a young person on the board of your gallery is great, but don’t assume that they speak for everyone born after 1994.
“Young people’s motivations for engaging with galleries range across personal, social and vocational, and vary with age and background.
“It is important for galleries to understand these motivations and offer a wide range of opportunities to accommodate these interests.”
2. Just. Ask. Them.
Data is great. Collect it. Knowing who comes to your gallery, or knows about your events, helps you understand who you are (and by extension who you are not) reaching. But if you want to understand why you might not be reaching those people – ask them.
“[Use] focus groups to understand the interests of target audiences; and audience surveys to find out how people hear about events.
“Knowledge gained from young people in the core groups and through evaluation, gave marketing staff the confidence to try out new ideas and ways of working.”
3. Beanbags in the lobby.
Okay, not necessarily beanbags, but the project found that the galleries that worked best with young people thought about how to make a space for them. That might be as simple as somewhere for them to hang out after – or during – one of your exhibitions, or it could go further. It might be a space at your gallery where you run drink and draw classes (for over 18s) to coincide with an illustration exhibition, or somewhere to host a discussion on Fast Fashion the social responsibility of designers - anything that gives them somewhere to engage with what you’re doing.
“To maximise levels of engagement and benefits for young people, it is important for galleries to provide informal, communal space for young people and activities that are culturally, politically and socially relevant.”
4. Diversity isn’t just what goes on the walls.
The project found that many galleries talk about diversity, most of them set targets, and some have a really broad programme of exhibitions. Which is far, far better than not doing all those things.
But the ones that were actually able to engage with young people from under-represented groups were galleries that had a mix of different voices – not just in the exhibitions themselves, but in everything from the people that work there to the language of their website.
“In pursuance of diversity, galleries need to develop inclusive practices.
“Galleries identified diversity targets but only when young people from underrepresented groups found ‘people like me’ in the core groups, did they feel truly welcomed.
"Galleries also recognised that to maintain such engagement, this diversity needs to extend to the staff, the artwork and the language of the gallery.”
5. Pop the bubble.
This was one of the project’s major takeaways: as a gallery, make some of what you do relevant to some of what they do. Every day.
This doesn’t mean Goggleboxing you entire Autumn programme, but including art that links to young people’s lived experience, or running fun things alongside your exhibitions that can connect with them on that level, will help you reach more young people – and just more people generally. It’s also a really valuable tool in taking away the stigma of going to a gallery.
“Relevance and reconnection to lived experiences: linking arts programmes to people’s wider experiences can demystify galleries and create more relevant connections for people. Creating social, multi-disciplinary and thematic programmes can support this.”
6. If you want to get younger people through the door, put younger people on the walls.
A bit like #5 (and also a bit like #4), this is another big step towards “demystifying” galleries as an exclusive, cardigan-heavy space.
If you’ve got young people producing artwork in your area, get them involved. If you haven’t, you probably have, just look harder.
Again this isn’t about turning your gallery space in to the equivalent of a five-year-old’s fridge, but including work from, or at least working with, younger artists might open up your gallery to a new audience, and one far more likely to engage because its seen a little bit of itself reflected on the walls.
“When young people produce cultural activity in galleries it can have significant value and impact that positively disrupts institutional hierarchies.”