Galleries for young people

Teenage takeover of Rodin's 'The Thinker' by Ruth Stewart

Teenage takeover of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ by Ruth Stewart

When I was a kid, my mum used to drag me around art galleries. She and my elder sister are both art historians and my childhood memories are of standing around for what felt like hours in white-walled buildings with incomprehensible scribbles mounted importantly onto walls. I was convinced modern art was written in a secret language for adults and didn’t visit a gallery of my own accord until I was twenty.

Now, galleries are increasingly welcoming to teenagers and young adults. Institutions foster youth groups and provide programmes for 15-25s. Artist-run workshops and gallery ‘lates’ provide entry points for young people to explore the gallery and connect with art. Now we’ve got the attention of this group, how can we ensure they feel a sustained invitation to the gallery outside of such special events?

Young people are welcome in the Museum of the Future.

Gallery attendants do not follow them around.

It does not cost £17 for a ticket to see a show.

You are welcome to sit on the floor.

The text next to a painting is easy to read.

You can buy chips for cheap in the café.

There is no shushing.

You can leave a virtual comment in the physical space surrounding the artwork.

You can Bluetooth your own cultural production into the space.

You can connect to an expert via Skype and get a real-time response to your question.

My feeling is that the fundamental design of the art institution is at odds with how young people behave. Based on my own experience as a young gallery visitor, I’ve compiled a manifesto for change, to truly welcome young people into art institutions: the Museum of the Future.

The advantages for the institution, in welcoming young people,  lie in the inevitable progression this audience would push in the gallery’s digital realm. There are seemingly limitless possibilities for using the internet and digital tools to engage audiences with a gallery’s art collection, and art institutions have some catching up to do. With a dedicated audience of young people, this could change drastically. In this situation, young people would form the museum’s digital advisory board, and embed online tools into every aspect of the gallery experience.

Through simple changes, like allowing young people to form organic hangout spots in museums, providing tools for them to share their ideas and interpretations, and acknowledging their homemade pop culture as worthy of exhibition, galleries can make a huge impact.

As a product of Circuit some real changes are happening in the sphere of youth and museums, accelerating the institutional changes that need to take place.  This work goes a long way towards challenging negative representations of young people and empowering a new generation of cultural producers.

Illustration by Ruth Stewart