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 made up 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 some kind of story 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 for families – designing activity packs, fun days and special projects for children. The larger institutions have begun to foster youth groups, and provide programmes for teenagers and young adults.
Even so, the fundamental design of the art institution seems to be at odds with how young people behave. To truly welcome young people, I would suggest a radical reform. Behold – the museum of the future:
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.
The text next to a painting is easy to read.
There is no shushing.
You can buy chips in the café.
You are welcome to sit on the floor.
The advantages for the institution lie in the inevitable progression this audience could make to the digital realm. Young people could form the museum’s digital advisory board, and embed online tools into every aspect of the gallery experience.
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.
Though the above are just ideas, there are some increasingly interesting things happening in the current sphere of youth and museums: a group of teenagers have opened their own gallery in New York (T.A.G), the Tate have designed a hangout space for young people in one of their exhibition rooms (Space),and the Photographers’ Gallery held an exhibition of GIFs (Born in 1987: the Animated GIF). These initiatives help to diversify audiences and include young people, and will hopefully accelerate the institutional changes that need to take place.
I’d start with 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. The impact of such changes would be huge, challenging negative representations of young people and empowering a new generation of cultural producers.