Young people in a cultural city

We commissioned TNS to find out how much young Londoners are engaging with the city’s arts and culture.

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(Image credit: Left - Ed Stone for the Roundhouse)

We recently moved in to a new office – on the corner of Old Street roundabout. Much as I loved seeing the Orbit poking out between the train tracks at Stratford it has been a good summer to be in central London.

From our roof you can see St Pauls and the Barbican and on my walk to work I pass the graveyard where William Blake is buried, the Bank of England and that weird new skyscraper that looks like a 1980’s mobile phone.

London is not the easiest place to live but the reward for being here is the excitement that comes from feeling part of its energy and opportunity.

Cultural engagement by young Londoners

At A New Direction we are constantly trying to understand how children and young people experience the city and the extent to which they are able to get involved in arts and culture. Our research and intelligence tells us that there are serious disparities in terms of which young people access arts and culture and no simple answers as to why this is the case.

To try and establish an overview of the drivers and trends in engagement – and to provide a basic benchmark for norms of behaviour - we commissioned TNS to survey over 1600 11-25 year olds. Certain key themes emerged:

  • Engagement levels are high across the board but the figures are skewed by certain art forms (cinema – 85% compared to 45% for attending a live dance event)
  • Schools are crucial to introducing young people to arts and cultural engagement – and this is especially the case for less well off young people
  • Young people from Outer London are less likely to take part in all forms of arts engagement apart from cinema
  • Young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) are less likely to attend cultural events than young people in any kind of employment or education (e.g. 44% have been to the theatre in the past year compared to 66%)

At a macro level the survey reinforces what common sense tells us; social grade - generally linked to family spending power - is a significant determinate of engagement, proximity and the ability to easily get to things is a factor (an issue when most arts organisations are in central London and most children live in Outer London). And teachers remain crucial players in catalysing and nurturing arts engagement – a role that could be undermined if schools focus solely on reading, writing and arithmetic.

These general assessments are really helpful in enabling us to think strategically about how we plan to support children and young people’s cultural engagement across the city but they mask much greater disparities for particular groups.

We know that it is likely certain young people will face more barriers to engagement. These might be young people who have other responsibilities such as carers and young parents or young people with access and/or language requirements or young people experiencing multiple forms of exclusion as a result of extreme poverty.

All of these children and young people have distinct and particular needs. And taken as a whole a very large number of young people may fall in to one or other of these categories.

To find the full report go here

Giving young people access to arts and culture

In order to understand the particular ways of supporting young people that don’t access arts and culture through traditional routes we are partnering with London Youth and a number of youth clubs across London. This is part of a national programme called Strong Voices which is funded by the Department for Education.

The programme in London is a great chance for us to learn from youth clubs who are often expert at engaging some of the hardest to reach young people and to support them in understanding better what is on offer from London based arts organisations.

Over the next six months we will be digging deeper into the dynamics of young people’s engagement with arts and culture in London with a view to using this information to share with our partners and think about city-wide planning issues.

Fundamentally in London we have one of the largest concentrations of creative, arts, media and culture anywhere in the world so we should be able to aim high and say that all young people – regardless of their financial, physical or intangible pressures – can get involved.