Young people are increasingly creating and consuming culture through YouTube and other digital platforms, and museums, theatres and galleries failing to provide content and experiences through these spaces are at risk of losing future audiences.
This is just one of the findings from an extensive two-year research project commissioned by Arts Connect. The research was undertaken by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, the largest cultural strategy agency in the UK, and We are Frilly, one of the UK’s most creative participatory art organisations. The project included in-depth research with 207 young people and a survey of 1,607 young people (age 11 – 19) in the West Midlands.
The resulting report, shared today at a seminar in Birmingham, gives a rich and robust insight into the lives of digitally-native young people, their journeys and attitudes to arts and culture, as they define it, and its place in their lives. The report includes some radical recommendations for organisations within the arts sector, so that they can remain relevant to young people, and cultivate young audiences.
Young people are creating and sharing their own culture online.
Over a third of those interviewed post creative or cultural content online. When asked if they ever posted anything related to arts, culture or creative activities on social media, 35% of claimed they did. YouTube was the most referenced platform for consuming culture. The boundaries have been blurred between categories, particularly of watching TV and films, listening to music and interacting with both peers and celebrities, with many of these things done on the same platforms with little recognised difference between them.
Sector definitions of culture don’t resonate
There is a disconnect between funded sector definitions of arts and culture and those of young people. In the research, ‘Arts’ was associated strongly with visual arts but also included graffiti, fashion, animation, and tattooing/piercing. These were more widely defined as ‘art’ than novels, poetry and opera. Young people consider culture in much broader terms, not just sector recognised forms such as festivals, historic sites, carnivals and museums but also wider forms such as fashion and TV, learning a language and food.
Young people want to get out and about, and their objective for engaging with culture is often social.
When looking at cultural consumption and participation and creation combined, the most sought outcomes are social. This is dominated by a desire to have fun with 78% of young people citing this and 39% chose it as their main sought outcome from their favourite activity. But other intellectual, emotional and spiritual outcomes are also important, including particularly a desire for relaxation and escapism.
Young people’s attitudes are driven by cultural offer of schools in all areas
Young people who attend a school with a low cultural offer are significantly more likely than average to say there are barriers deterring them from consuming, participating in and creating culture. This is true for both areas of higher deprivation where 40% say there is no cultural provision near them, but also for areas of lower deprivation (35%), compared to an average of 29%. A great cultural offer in schools encourages greater cultural engagement in all areas of life.
Access to arts and culture in early years influences participation later in life.
For all age groups interviewed, the starting age for their favourite cultural activity takes place before the age of 7. This reinforces the need of rich and varied arts provision from early years onwards.
The research also looked at how young people identify themselves and their aspirations for life and work in a digitally integrated world.
Young people have fluid identities and interconnected lives.
The idea of ‘Tribes’ has been replaced by individual interests and identities and young people’s social circles exist both locally and online. Art and culture still has a place in this group. When asked to describe their ‘passions’, consuming and creating culture accounted for 43% of all answers, followed only by sport at 22% of all answers.
The idea of ‘Universal Influencer’ is redundant.
The accessibility of media and the volume of choice in content through online and streaming services means that there is no longer a trend for universal influencers. A total of 283 different celebrity influencers were cited by 207 respondents, reflecting the diversity of reference points that digital connectivity enables.
Simultaneously aspirational and realistic
Young people want their lives to be fulfilling in a range of ways, and they are reluctant to limit their options. The range of subcultures, styles and interests with which the young people identified feeds into the ongoing ‘slashies’ trend: an approach to careers based on multiple roles, so that they work simultaneously (e.g. as “Manga creator / engineer”) which requires flexible skills development, as identified in wider societal trends.
Digital Technology is interwoven into their lives.
But the use of social media platforms is not universal. Young people from different socio-demographic backgrounds engage differently with digital media. There is higher use of WhatsApp amongst those from less affluent backgrounds, but lower use of Snapchat and Instagram. Gender differences also exist – with girls more likely to use Snapchat and Instagram and boys more likely to use YouTube.
Arts Connect will present the results of the research to education professionals and directors of cultural organisations at a seminar event hosted at Midlands Arts Centre.
Susan Goodwin, Associate Director, Cultural Sector Partnerships at Arts Connect said; “This research provides us with a rich and insightful snapshot into the lives of digitally native young people in the West Midlands, and their attitudes to culture - as they define it. We will be working along-side creative and cultural organisations keen to engage young people, supporting them to challenge their existing programming and engagement strategies, enabling a more responsive and agile sector that remains relevant for future audiences.”
Recommendations for the cultural and education sectors
The report includes 16 recommendations for the cultural and education sectors to increase and broaden young people’s engagement with arts, culture and creative activities;
- Engage young people in the context of their own world-views, needs, motivations, expectations and desired outcome
- Embrace young people’s wider perceptions of arts and culture
- Engage with young people as young as possible and appropriate for the activities
- Engage family who remain influential throughout young people’s lives
- Engage through schools to broaden perceptions of arts and culture and increase engagement
- Provide and signpost young people to high-quality resources which reflect their interests
- Provide for the range of social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual outcomes desired at different ages and from both programming and the wider wrap-around experience.
- Ensure that venues are welcoming to young people in their ambience, social spaces, provision of affordable food and drink and free wifi
- Create an embedded digital approach recognising that (most) young people are constantly connected but acknowledge pockets of lower digital engagement
- Utilise YouTube as a core content provider for high quality cultural content
- Provide comprehensive digital content
- Address multiple and interlocking barriers around price, awareness and perception of provision which constrain greater consumption of arts and culture
- Increase cultural offer local to young people
- Provide young people with opportunities to pursue their desired development of creative practice and skills in digital and fashion, including computer game design, vlogging, design / making fashion and films and website / app design
- Offer advice and provide training for creative futures and careers
- Provide creative skills development opportunities and opportunities to showcase work
The full report is now available to download at www.artsconnect.co.uk