New research into the cultural consumption habits of teenagers finds tattoos and Netflix are part of their understanding of culture.

Photo of tattoo

Arts organisations serious about engaging with young people should widen their definition of arts and culture to encompass tattoos, fashion and watching Netflix, a new report has advised.

It found that most young people are constantly connected digitally, and suggests arts organisations use YouTube and other social platforms to engage them.

The research conducted with 11 to 19 year olds found that young people have a flexible relationship with arts and culture, but one that remains most influenced by their family.

It found consuming or creating art was a ‘passion’ for almost half of young people, but that definitions of arts and culture used by the funded cultural sector fail to resonate with young people who have “much wider perceptions”.

New research

The report Young People’s Cultural Journeys, produced by cultural strategy agency Morris Hargreaves McIntyre and arts organisation We are Frilly on behalf of Arts Council England’s Bridge organisation Arts Connect, gathered data through qualitative research with more than 200 young people and a survey of 1,600.
It aims to challenge existing programming and engagement strategies at cultural organisations, providing young people with the “most meaningful and highest quality arts and cultural engagement”.

The research findings include:

  • A third of young people spend their free time doing creative activities
  • The most common activities for young people to engage in are watching TV, Netflix and YouTube, playing computer games, and reading, which the report notes are all activities that can be done on the move via smartphones
  • Participation in performance-based creative activities reduces as young people approach their twenties
  • Young people no longer identify themselves as belonging to ‘tribes’, but define themselves through personality traits, interests and positive personal attributes
  • 35% of young people post about arts and culture online, with Instagram and Snapchat the most popular platforms.

In addition, despite only being “part of a huge range of voices that young people have access to”, the report reveals family members remain influential in shaping young people’s cultural consumption. Young people are four times more likely to consume culture with family members than through school.

Despite this, schools are seen as key to engaging young people and helping to “broaden perceptions of arts and culture”. It recommends engaging children from as young an age as possible.

Other recommendations include embracing young people’s wider definitions of culture, and creating more opportunities for them to be creative digitally.

The report also suggests ensuring venues “create a space and balance between stimulating activities and programming, alongside relaxing and welcoming spaces,” so they appeal to young people on a social level.


Correction 02/07/2018: A previous version stated the research had been carried out by the University of Wolverhampton. This has been corrected.



I am chuckling as I read this "new research" because there appears to be nothing *new* about it. I am 53 years old. I, too, was part of a generation that engaged in creative activities in youth, spent a degree of time watching electronic media, watched my contemporaries' participation in performance-based creative activities decline as we got older, and defined ourselves through personality traits, interests and positive personal attributes. (By the way, those attributes make up what we call "tribes.") I, for one, have grown quite cynical about this never-ending quest to "engage" young people in the arts. Oh, they're nice to have around for casting, but give me a group of middle-aged adults-- ones who have learned from the school of hard knocks that they don't have all the answers and then introduce them to Euripides and Shakespeare and Ibsen and August Wilson and let them discover that these voices from the past wrestled with the very same questions that torment men and women today. When "engagement" isn't foisted on someone, when it naturally occurs-- to a, yes-- gasp-- smaller percentage of the human population who willingly reaches out to it-- when it's genuine. That's what makes arts magic. Not when it's commodified and is the surface result of some half-baked, market-researched ad campaign.