Debate at Tate

Debates around arts, politics and young people are everywhere…

Campaigns encouraging young people to vote have been grabbing my attention. At the same time as politicians are making statements devaluing the role of the arts in educationan artist stands for education secretary. On top of this, cuts are forcing longstanding organisations working with young people and the arts to close.

Standing within the safety net of a four-year funded project, looking out onto the uncertain future for arts programmes for young people, I want to use the arts to talk about these issues. The standard language of politics is heavy on facts and logic, whereas the language of art is fluid, personal and centred around understanding. How can these two modes of communication interact?


Debate at Tate was the pilot of a series of alternative private views for 15-25 year olds. Although my role working on Circuit doesn’t usually involve programming, as I’ve been working towards a qualification – a Gold Arts Award – the second unit of which involves leading an arts event, I was offered the opportunity to curate an event with support from Young People’s Programmes alongside our peer-led group Tate Collective London. This created an opening for me to put into practice research I’ve been conducting into art and politics as part of my Arts Award, and design an event with the potential to inform future programme as part of this new series of private views for young people at Tate Britain and Tate Modern. 

My intention in curating this event using the format of a debate, was to invite young people to consider works in the exhibition Conflict Time Photography, exchange views, draw out questions they raise and relate this back to current issues. The question under debate ‘Does the artist have a responsibility when representing conflict?’ is of significance to me, as I watch the current debates in our sector and question my position and responsibility when engaging in these issues.

I enjoyed disrupting the format of a private view to increase its accessibility and relevance to young people by subverting the stereotype of the exclusive and reserved gallery opening by encouraging noise and criticism, inviting artists to lead the debate – telling the stories of the artworks within the exhibition and pulling out questions for discussion. I also feel that as an employee of an institution with considerable influence which must maintain a neutral stance, it’s not often that there is space to join our visitors in discussions of ethics, personal values and institutional critique.


In enacting Circuit‘s core values through an event, linking art to politics seemed pertinent. If we are to support young people’s agency and authenticity, let’s take this beyond the walls of the institution, and provide meaningful experiences which relate to the everyday, and allow space for the development of new ideas and perceptions. Let’s use art to reflect, question, and talk about issues that concern us. Let’s use the social, cultural and creative diversity that art brings together to share views and debate issues. Let’s make a positive difference for young people by showing that art can have power, and harnessing that power can initiate real change.

We asked participants for feedback, for use in our evaluation.

“I enjoyed the overall experience of the debate within the gallery space. Also how the other attendees were also young people. Makes a change from other debates (not that I have been to many) where most attendees have MA’s, careers or are just more advanced professionally – making this experience much less intimidating and valuable to young peoples’ opinions and sayings.”

“I enjoyed listening and I liked the fact that the issue, which could become too serious, was debated in an engaging, fun way… It made me realise that as long as there’s a free discourse things are OK… and especially if that kind of a debate takes place in such a high-rank institution. I left with a good feeling… I wish I attended more discussions like this one.”

Debate at Tate questioned the artists responsibility when representing conflict. In asking this, we found more questions… does the institution have a responsibility? What is that responsibility? Where’s the line between artist and activist? If you have any thoughts, please join the debate in the comments below!