Introducing young people to the art world is AmuseeVous’ top priority. An increasing number of Flemish organisations offer youngsters the possibility to discover museums, art and our cultural heritage at their own pace, hoping to inspire their peers to follow suit. ‘Stating young people are a difficult target group when it comes to art is simply not true. All it requires to draw them in is a tailor-made offer.’
By Katrien Hertogs, translated by Astrid Vandendaele
For fifteen years now AmuseeVous have been wetting young people’s appetite for art and culture. However, they have been doing so out of necessity. ‘When we took a look at what was out there in terms of museums and cultural heritage institutions back in 2004, we noticed how Belgium was somewhat of a wasteland, especially when it came to art education aimed at youngsters,’ according to Silke Leenen, AmuseeVous’ communication and recruitment officer. ‘Children were gradually being catered for, whereas teenagers and students remained in the dark. For that reason AmuseeVous decided to dedicate themselves to this target group specifically.’
Nowadays, young people are regarded an important target group. So, fortunately, AmuseeVous do not need to take to the barricades anymore. Museums, cultural heritage institutions, and even music festivals – including Pukkelpop – are knocking at their door wondering how they can make their offerings more ‘youth-proof’. AmuseeVous are adamant young people are anything but a difficult group to target. ‘All they require is an offer that is made-to-measure.’ Being a ‘matchmaker between young people and the creative industries’ allows the organisation to set up a large variety of cultural activities, backed by their own expertise and experiences. Moreover, AmuseeVous assist a number of institutions in their efforts to reach young people. Silke Leenen admits many of those organisations get cold feet when it comes to allowing youngsters to really get involved. ‘Sometimes, we notice what they offer is more of a façade, rather than true the option to truly participate.’
© Isha Frateur
One of AmuseeVous’ projects is called Curating The Young. In essence, young people gain important work experience in the culture sector by helping budding artists find their feet. Once every six weeks, they take on the role of curator and set up their very own exhibition at the OPEK-café in Leuven. Each show should feature the work of an artist who is just starting out, as well as one additional act, e.g. a poet. ‘What makes us unique is our focus on budding artists. It is our goal to offer them a platform for their art, but we also want to give them the opportunity to build a network, and a resume. Afterwards, we let them go out into the world, in order for them to continue to experiment,’ according to Silke Leenen.
Curating The Young allows young people to gain experience in various fields. Three project coordinators and twelve volunteers join forces with a shared focus on three subjects: artistic coordination (organising exhibits, and scouting upcoming artists), communication and management (updating Facebook pages and Instagram profiles, as well as developing a web site), and finally, sponsoring and innovation (looking for ways to secure the project’s existence). ‘We learn how to collaborate in a constructive way, and zoom in on one specific part. It is a platform, which allows people to grow.’
Art Centre Buda in Kortrijk is also home to a few projects involving young people. For one, there is cinéMOATn, a film club that puts on screenings. In addition, there is YIP, Youngsters In Performance, a one-year trajectory aimed at youngsters between the ages of 16 and 21, who are looking to organise performance festivals themselves in a few years’ time. Last year, the group consisted of five young people, who learned all about performances, looked at shows, and engaged in conversations with artists. This year, the project takes things one step further: together with a few ‘active spectators’, who are involved with the European project Be SpectACTive, they decide which performances should be featured at the BUDA festival.
Youth crews at the museum
A few years ago, a couple of museums introduced a number of youth work programmes. The MAS, Museum aan de Stroom in Antwerp, has been focusing on young people from its very beginning in 2011. Back then, it introduced Jonge Handen, a project involving ten youngsters between the ages of 15 and 25. These young people are encouraged to give advice, help organise museum activities, and ore all appointed a godmother or godfather who works at het museum. Over the last couple of years, they have, for instance, developed an app that takes young people on a tour of the museum. In October 2018, the youngsters put on Masked, a masked ball. That same night saw the kick-off of Instinct, an exhibition inspired by young people.
The KMSKA, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, also pays attention to young people’s needs. The museum struggled to reach youngsters. For that reason, once the museum had closed for renovation in 2011, it was decided to start a youth crew called Jongbloed!. ‘Only young people themselves know what their peers like,’ according to Ine Vermeylen, who used to be involved with Jongbloed! herself. ‘Moreover, they are able to make use of their own networks.’
The KMSKA asked them to create an additional programme focusing on young people, linked to the museum’s exhibitions on location. Activities included drawing sessions, debates, themed parties et cetera. Next to this, the youth crew was used as a think tank, and was given an important say in the museum’s plans: ‘The Jongbloed crew actively participated in task forces that would eventually lead to the museum’s brand-new mission statement and vision.’ The youngsters themselves were allowed to gain valuable experience, and some of them even ended up working at the museum.
Top image © Liselore Vandeput