Why Art? The results are in…

What do young people think about the value of art and how do they articulate these experiences? Some findings from our research...

As a national programme connecting young people and galleries, we spend a lot of time talking about the impact of contact with the arts in young people’ lives. But what do young people think about the value of art and how do they articulate these experiences? Over the summer, we asked a thousand young people to share their thoughts with us through an online campaign.

Circuit has reached a large number of young people through targeted programmes, engaging them in activity across partner galleries and in off-site spaces. However, as a national programme, we were keen to collect some data from a wider range of young people, and on a mass scale. Considering the fact that to a greater extent arts websites seek to influence and inform rather than listen and learn, we launched a large scale, open, online consultation with young people, inviting them to contribute to our action research, seeking to discover what young people believe the value of art is in their respective lives. Our primary aim was to collect responses on a national and international scale to extend the reach of our research into improving access and opportunities to the arts for young people from diverse backgrounds.

Taking inspiration from business models, rather than existing strategies employed by the arts sector, we contracted a social media agency that work with brands to target young audiences. Social Life have extensive experience of creating mass campaigns reaching young people, and we worked closely with them to develop a strategy to invite responses from young people to our question.

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Social Life suggested working with key digital influencers with mass followings of young people, to tap into these audience bases, which are not necessarily connected to arts organisations and frequenters of arts spaces. These digital influencers created social media content designed to generate responses from young people, pushing them out through their existing channels. Social Life then aggregated these responses both as quantitative data and examples of key statements submitted by young people.

Ensuring that the chosen influencers covered a range of interest topics and fandoms, had primary audiences of 15-25s, and reached diverse audiences, we contracted 12 influencers and briefed them on the project aims. Deciding not to proscribe the wording of the question, as this was likely to appear inauthentic to the influencers’ audiences and potentially skew the results, we asked influencers to put our research question into their own words, and gave them freedom to create content as they saw fit.

The campaign was live for a month, and we engaged 74,995 young people with our question, and analysed the 1,171 in-depth responses – looking for patterns that could help us understand what it is that pulls young people to, or away from, the arts.

Findings of particular interest, were the disparity between genders – where a far higher percentage of women engaged with and responded to the research question than men. In over a thousand responses, key themes were clear, and we pulled 5 major topics out, that young people mentioned again and again in their responses.

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A key word analysis of all responses showed the below words to be the most used:

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Here’s some examples of the influencer posts:

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…and the responses we received from young people:

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As a research methodology, such an approach cannot claim to be scientific. Arguably, young people who have access to internet, follow influencers online, and are confident enough to respond to such a question, already have a degree of privilege, insight and potentially are critically or culturally engaged. However, as the results are on a mass scale, and through channels unconnected to institutions, we feel we have learnt something new by listening to young people’s voice in an organic space, without intruding through the promotion of our brand or breaching the confidence shared with us through data collection of individual responders.

Interestingly, not one of the 1,171 deeper responses to the question mention art galleries, organisations or spaces, indicating that young people generally see art as something outside of this context. Social Life commented that through all their work to date, they had not seen an audience open up to the extent to which they contributed meaningful and personal responses to this question. The decision to not impose our branding, not use the institutional voice and speak through a third party has given us new insight into the autonomous views of young people.

We’d be interested to hear back from youth programmers – do you recognise any of the findings as overlapping or linking to those you have uncovered through your work with young people and the arts? How could these findings be useful when considering and developing future programme? Could this methodology be re-purposed for other areas of audience research? If this is a starting point, what would we ask next? Would it be an effective way to ask young people specifically about their experience of galleries, or crowd-source ideas for programme?

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