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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Art Fund

All arts organisations speak about the need to engage the next generation in culture. Sarah Kaye and Robert Dingle reflect on what works.

art night
Art Night

Since 2017 Art Fund has been providing its Student Art Pass members with paid opportunities in the cultural sector – connecting young people with museums, with real benefits for both.

In times of financial and staff constraints, museums are all being asked to do more and to secure their future by creating real relevance for everyone within the communities they serve. This leads to management teams across the UK asking themselves: ‘How can we engage more young people and what will happen if young people don’t come?’ 

These have never been easy questions to answer. The drive for relevance becomes more acute with every funding round and with every grant application. Organisations under pressure can struggle to answer the fundamental question of why should young people engage? 

The pandemic has taught us that cultural organisations live beyond four walls. The new generation has always curated its own life online – a life that spans geographic boundaries and allows access to the whole range of human art, experience and history – so how can we compete? How can organisations get to the why?

Student perspectives give new insights

At Art Fund we believe we can start by encouraging more voices to take part, and that solutions come from the source. 

We listened and we learned that two thirds of students want to engage more with cultural organisations as fantastic resources to support their studies, personal wellbeing and leisure time, but that the cost of visiting is a significant barrier. Furthermore, they want to be involved – they want to go beyond visiting and become active collaborators and participants in the world of art and culture, now and in their future careers.  

In response, to harness this passion and to match the needs of the sector, we created our Student Opportunities grants, born from Art Fund’s popular Student Art Pass programme. Since 2017 the Student Art Pass has been available to all full-time UK students in higher education, offering students admission benefits to museums, galleries and historic houses in Art Fund’s network alongside regular paid opportunities funded by Student Opportunities grants. Art Fund’s student membership has grown to over 25,000 members in just four years. 

Not shorthand for a free internship

These paid opportunities with cultural organisations have fast become the most popular part of the Student Art Pass programme – with over 20,000 students clicking on an email featuring an opportunity. 

The grants are not shorthand for a free internship. Rather, Art Fund will fund organisations up to £10,000 to be able to offer students paid opportunities, so that they can get real benefit from the energetic and skilled resource that students bring. The Student Opportunities grant programme allows for a transformative relationship for both parties and the funding ensures that all responsibilities are taken seriously and that there is accountability. 

As Sophie Habour from Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (RAMM) says: ‘’Working with this group of young people has benefited the museum enormously. Having a range of fresh perspectives and new ideas has enriched both the team and museum output.’’

Student-led initiatives

In 2019 RAMM was awarded a Student Opportunities grant to recruit its first ever youth panel. By working with the students and giving them the trust and responsibility of effecting real change within the organisation the outcomes were real and had had long-term benefits. 

The panel worked with archaeology curator Tom Cadbury to choose objects to be displayed in RAMM's Viewpoint Gallery and worked with local photographer Brendan Barry to produce their own body of photographic work, 'Books, Bars and Beyond', for an exhibition in RAMM’s café and digital exhibition space. 

There was also the development of RAMM after-hours Lates that, achieved the highest number of attendees to a Lates event 
Not only did RAMM benefit from the students’ energy and connections, but the opportunity opened pathways for the students to find more paid work in the arts as well as build their own peer network. 

Sophie Harbour commented: “Happily, two of our panel members have secured jobs in the creative industries, and both fed back that their time at RAMM was invaluable in terms of securing this employment.”

And student panel member Laura Fagan commented: “My initial motivation for applying was to gain some practical marketing experience alongside my academic study within the non-profit sector. However, I didn’t expect that I would value the experience more because of the genuine friendships, enjoyment and connection to the city that I found throughout the year.” 

Do digital better

As part of their opportunity, the students also undertook a review of RAMM’s social media presence. The review identified that more audience interaction was needed and there was an opportunity use video more often. 

After the March 2020 lockdown, the panel ran several social media campaigns including ‘choose a RAMM object’, ‘what do you collect?’ and ‘ask a member of staff a question’. Engagement rose and the valuable learnings gained from this project influenced RAMM’s social media strategy going forwards. 

New applications welcomed

Art Fund has helped to place over 230 students into 14 cultural organisations since 2019, and the Student Opportunities grant has seen Student Art Pass members become assistant curators, festival organisers, social media advocates and influencers, events co-ordinators, artist assistants, youth panel members and more.  

We want more organisations to take this chance to open their doors, invite different voices into their organisations and seek solutions from the source, so that young people ask themselves what they have been missing out on.

Art Fund is now accepting applications for Student Opportunities grants for 2022. Find out more here and see how your organisation can harness the power of young people.

Art Fund’s Student Art Pass programme has been made possible by private funders including the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust and the 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust. 

Sarah Kaye is Senior Marketing Manager, Students, at Art Fund.
Robert Dingle is Programme Partnerships Manager at Art Fund.

This article, sponsored and contributed by Art Fund, is part of a series sharing information and expertise to support museums and galleries to recover from the pandemic and develop audiences for the future.

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