Bill English's recent-ish unverified, careless and actually just incorrect claim that unemployed young New Zealanders are unable to find and hold down a job because the can't pass a drug test has been weighing on me. Every now and again, the memory of it pops back into my mind and a seething anger rises from within that our grey-flannel Prime Minister could be so dismissive, careless, and so damn ready to throw young people under the bus.
So this Fast Five is dedicated to our youth. Those people who give me hope, who are our future, who are smart and accepting and hell of a lot more woke than I could ever claim to be as a youngster. Those people who have human foibles (just like the rest of us), whose voices should be heard....
1. A few days ago I had the happy fortune to discover Howard Hwang. In 2001, Howard found some notoriety for his piece in the publication LA Youth entitled Why museums suck. And I have to say it's pretty freakin amazing and well worth a read. An exert:
The Getty has art of naked people all over the place; naked people on horses, naked men wearing helmets, naked women on rocks, a naked woman with a piece of cloth across her lap—they were pretty graphic sculptures. I don’t get it, why would a naked man wear a protective helmet when he should be protecting something more important? I wouldn’t say it’s bad art, because those artists sculpted pretty good—it’s just boring. Actually, that’s the whole problem with museums—who cares? How many times have you seen a bunch of teens decide to hang out at a museum? Never, unless they’re nerds.
He did make some allowances for the LA Natural History Museum, saying "Overall, I have to say that I still think most museums suck. Every single one should be improved, even the Skirball. You have to make it hands-on and interactive. All you museum people should go over to the Natural History Museum. This is a great museum because it covers so many time periods."
11 years later in 2012, MIKE MURAWSKI from Art Museum Teaching tracked down the then 26 Howard to discuss his 2001 piece in Epilogue: why museums don't suck - connecting with Howard Hwang. It's safe to say that Howard had a much more positive and healthy relationship with museums in his adulthood but he reflected on the difficulty he had paying attention as a teenager. This isn't a unique conundrum - we've all seen (and been) the glazed eyes, the wandering mind, the fidgety hands and feet. Lets not ignore the Howards out there. And while it may offend our museumy sensibilities, we need to care deeply about the people who ask "who cares?"
2. So yes, teens. I feel like teens are often a forgotten or ignored demographic. We care a lot about families, as we should. We care a lot about the young children, as we should. But the way teens interact with our spaces is different and important and potentially a great untapped resource. I have an un-researched and uninformed belief, but a belief nonetheless, that this younger generation have brains that we need. I believe that the internet creates and fosters minds that inherently see interconnection. Innovations in that wonderful thing known as *linked open data* riffs on this idea - that the world and everything that exists in it is connected in a great web of relationships, inter-dependencies and cause and effect. Those who live in and on the web know this inherently - it's the YouTube black hole, the Reddit rabbit hole. One thing naturally leads to the other.
3. So what are some of our organisations doing with this underappreciated group? For one, the Wolverhampton Arts and Culture have something called the Bronze Arts Award which presents young people with "opportunity to further develop [their] art skills and to share [their] personal responses to our collections and exhibitions. Students have the chance to work alongside the gallery’s Learning Team Facilitators and gain experience in working in an alternative education setting."
4. The Whitney Museum's report Room to Rise: The lasting impact of intensive teen programs in art museums opens with Michelle Obama's reflections of the role cultural organisations played in her upbringing and how education programs helped her understand how to exist in that space. A space, she observed, that did not always feel open to all: “There are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.” The question is can art (and museums) change lives? The Whitney says YES.
5. Kids in museums and their Mini Manifesto which includes "challenge your staff to never say ‘No’" which I like. I think for some young people, museum's have 'NO' written all over them - don't touch, no photos, be quiet, no running, no loitering etc etc. Some of these are for good reason but some I see more as a hangover from a more closed-off, elitist time in our history. We are trying but we have a legacy that we must contend with and grapple into submission. I guess the questions always is - what kind of space are we? Who are we here for? Who are our future citizens, researchers, visitors, makers, producers, providers, vendors, collaborators...?
And now for a song that reminds me of my youth...