Getting teenagers into galleries is like herding cats into the bath

“Getting teenagers into galleries is like herding cats into the bath, why do you do it?” a friend asked me, on hearing about my work. And they have a point.           [caption id="attachment_1886" align="alignnone" width="355"]Photograph of an unidentified man surrounded by cats [c 1951-1952] Nigel Henderson Photograph of an unidentified man surrounded by cats
[c 1951-1952]
Nigel Henderson[/caption]   

Recently I have been asking colleagues what success looks like, what a high-impact youth arts programme means. More young people in galleries is the response I hear most often, followed by professional development including opening up entry routes into the arts. So would running an apprenticeship programme, for example, and offering free entry to under 25’s achieve what we are hoping for? Is that why we work with such commitment and zeal?

Increasing audience numbers and diversity, supporting young people’s skills development, showcasing young people’s cultural production, even influencing the way an organisation thinks about itself, are benefits with undeniable value. But when I think of young people and the arts – all arts – what I am most passionate about is enabling a relationship between an individual and a piece of work. A relationship that has the potential to open up a conversation, the beginning of a journey, that may otherwise remain silent or unexplored.

Bringing young people and galleries together is about realising the responsibility a gallery has in hosting work, by sharing it in different ways. It is about discovering a painting, sculpture, thinking process or arts practice and providing the space and tools, to pause and consider. To be provoked, comforted, discomforted, angered, exasperated, wowed. My friends who went to see the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern this year, came out saying, ‘that was a really good exhibition because it was so simple, it was so life affirming, it was so joyful. That is what I have been missing from visiting galleries and didn’t realise until now. It just makes you feel good.’

And whether it makes you feel good, or whether through a deeper programme of engagement it makes you begin to question what good is, that surely is the ultimate aim of bringing galleries and young people together, so that both find different connections and new conversations can be heard.

Leave a comment