Engage Scotland has secured Creative Scotland Targeted Youth Arts Funding to develop a collaborative and responsive programme to support both youth arts infrastructure and project delivery in the visual arts/gallery sector as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The programme will engage with young people aged 16 – 25, freelance artists, creative educators, and at least 2 partner galleries/visual arts organisations across Scotland.
In April 2021 Engage Scotland undertook a scoping and consultation exercise, to understand what support the visual arts sector needs to ensure inclusive engagement with young people, as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The scoping phase incorporated:
- a sector survey aimed at organisations and individual artists/creative educators whose work involves engaging young people in the visual arts in Scotland
- in-depth conversations with key staff from a range of visual arts, galleries and arts/heritage-based youth work organisations across Scotland
The survey was sent to all Engage Scotland organisational and freelance artist/educator members; as well as visual arts, multi-arts and youth arts organisations across the Creative Scotland Regularly Funded network and beyond. The survey was also shared through our existing partners (e.g. Scottish Contemporary Arts Network and Voluntary Arts Scotland); through new networks (e.g. Arts Culture Health and Wellbeing Scotland and Youth Theatre Arts Scotland); and via Engage social media channels and website.
Key questions we asked the sector
1. How has your visual arts engagement work with young people aged 16-25 been affected by Covid-19?
As we know, the first lockdown in March 2020 and the closure of diverse cultural and community spaces left the sector facing multiple challenges. Many arts engagement staff were furloughed; activities with young people came to an abrupt halt or were significantly disrupted; and freelance artist educators saw their regular work cease completely.
Since then, many respondents working for organisations in the gallery/visual arts sector report working hard to gradually re-establish some level of remote engagement activity with young people – despite many staff continuing on part-time or ‘flexi’ furlough. Most say that they have achieved this via resource/art packs distributed by post or through community contacts; use of online live or recorded delivery of workshops; or communicating with young people via social media. Artists and organisations working in areas of deprivation said they had provided friendship calls, free community take away meals and sometimes food vouchers instead of art packs. Others report a shift in their approach; working in a more responsive way and collaborating more with community partners to engage young people.
‘…many were facing extreme hunger – so we channelled that into making food together, rather than art materials being delivered… “The Art of Cooking” we called it’.
‘The situation forced us into changing the approach from holding events/workshops at the arts centre and asking people to come along, to instead working with the community and responding directly to their needs’.
‘In some areas, where young people were already online, we have been able to engage a wider audience of young people. Without the usual barriers of cost/transport we have been able to reach young people who we may not have otherwise’.
However, for some visual arts organisations/galleries it has been impossible to deliver any activity, for example where the nature of their engagement work is concerned with a specific space, collection or using specialist equipment/facilities.
Moreover, the vast majority of freelance artists/creative educators responding to our survey said that their engagement work with young people for visual arts organisations had stopped completely or was extremely sporadic. When opportunities did arise to deliver workshops online, whilst they found ways to adapt their practice, this was limiting or not always practicable. Some artists report more positive experiences than others:
‘Whilst the interactions lacked a lot of the excitement and collaborative aspects of most of my practices, as the projects were happening in their homes, we changed the work to be far more about their needs than about designing projects together’.
‘My practice and ethos is based around the power of physical making, so adjusting to online delivery has been challenging on a personal level’.
Two organisations we spoke to that deliver work with young people through care service referrals had continued to carry out some essential face to face activity throughout lockdown: for example, Artlink’s The Socialites. However, others who were developing creative projects in collaboration with children’s/youth work services reported challenges to remote communication with partners resulting from pandemic restrictions; resulting in projects being paused or sparse uptake by young people.
‘Contact with the carer group (and other carer groups involved in the overall project) was very difficult as worker was trying to adapt to pandemic restrictions and group not meeting’.
‘Producing collaborative projects from home and in relative isolation is tricky… in my local authority area there was an almost complete lack of youth services, particularly rural areas’.
A few respondents reported being able to deliver some limited in-person activity in late 2020, when restrictions eased, and they had been able to develop detailed safety guidelines. For example, The Fruitmarket Gallery’s Time Travel project moved workshops online, but culminated in a socially distanced film screening in Wester Hailes, Edinburgh; whilst Lyth Arts Centre were able to run socially distanced, outdoor film and drama workshops with youth club partners.
“World in a Box” project led by Templar Arts and Leisure Centre (one box detail by Siri, 13 years old and window exhibition view night-time)
2. How have the young people with whom you work been affected by Covid-19?
Those respondents who had been able to deliver youth engagement work during the pandemic highlighted, above all else, the extent to which young people’s mental health had been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 crisis; whatever their background.
Lack of daily routine, closure of community centres and youth clubs, reduced contact with key workers, lack of contact with peers, anxiety about Covid-19, uncertainty about the future and lack of employment for older young people are all reported as contributing to social isolation and deteriorating mental health. Moreover, many of those young people who were already living with disabilities and mental health issues have been particularly badly affected. Barriers that already existed for some young people have been further exacerbated by the pandemic:
‘Deteriorating mental health, overcrowding, poverty, isolation’.
‘For young people with anxiety, depression, OCD and ADHD, the restrictions caused by Covid-19 have been extremely challenging’.
‘The young people [with disabilities] are at school and college and their participation in education has been severely hampered by Covid. Many are shielding as they have health complications and are vulnerable’.
Another key barrier for many young people highlighted through our scoping was access to digital content. Many reported how the young people they work with had no device or were sharing devices with family members. Even when youth workers or the respondents themselves managed to provide digital devices for young people, broadband connection was often poor, particularly for those in rural areas, or access to data was limited; or difficult family situations, lack of space, or reduced contact with youth workers resulted in sporadic uptake of or engagement in online workshops. Other barriers to accessing digital content highlighted were literacy and language, since much online engagement relied more heavily on text-based information/worksheets etc.
It’s been difficult to encourage sign up and retain engagement to online workshops.
‘It was more difficult to stay in touch with young people, especially across a large rural area with poor broadband. Young people needed longer and more encouragement to work… It was more difficult to get them to take risks, to experiment and to take the lead in projects’.
‘The younger people I work with struggled with online delivery – many were sharing laptops or phones with family members’.
‘Without the artist being there in person to support and encourage with practical tasks the confidence was lost during the online sessions. In situations where additional support is needed, being online rather than face to face is a huge barrier to engagement’.
Even for those young people who were able to access online content, ‘Zoom fatigue’ and ‘screen anxiety/fear of online bullying’ were also raised as recurrent barriers to engagement; with many reporting young people switching off their cameras or microphones. Also, some visual arts activity requiring specific materials or equipment was not easy to replicate online. Similarly, it was harder for workshop leaders to recreate the responsive, collaborative and more personal nature of face-to-face working.
‘Young people are overwhelmed with online content and material. It is hard to engage and sustain attention in a meaningful way and create person-centred programming. Online group sessions feel 1-sided and have eliminated the opportunity for young people to socialise freely, chat with each other and get along organically.’
‘…screen anxiety is a growing problem, and not being able to connect to people in person can mean it takes longer for them to communicate issues they may be experiencing’.
‘Access to equipment is a challenge for online work including applying to art college – tricky to do an online portfolio from an iPad’.
Nevertheless, there is evidence from our scoping exercise that the shift to online delivery of activities has brought some benefits to some young people’s engagement with visual arts. For example, Lyth Arts Centre reported that delivering projects in new ways has enabled them to engage a much wider audience of young people. Artlink, The Socialites’ online work has engaged some young people who would never leave their homes to attend a group. Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art report that whilst members of their Youth Group feel ‘Zoom fatigued’, they still feel that the social contact that the group’s online activities have provided has been a lifeline for them. The V&A Dundee report that some new members had joined their Young People’s Collective who may not have felt comfortable to join previously due to the in-person nature of the group.
However, despite online delivery bringing some benefits, it is clear from respondents that face-to-face creative activities play a vital role in breaking down barriers that young people face to engaging in and with the visual arts.
A sculpture made by young people as part of a project led by Templar Arts and Leisure Centre.
3. What support does the sector need to ensure inclusive youth engagement in the visual arts, in response to and as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic?
We deliberately kept this question open-ended; but suggested that support might include, but was not limited to; specific training needs, sharing/networking opportunities, examples of best practice, etc. We also asked the sector to consider how, if they could try something different in their approach to engaging young people in the visual arts in the light of what they had learned during Covid-19, what that would be.
Our analysis identified recurring areas of support that we have grouped as follows:
- Mental health awareness
- Safe face to face working
- Trauma informed working for artists
- Breaking down barriers to online engagement
- Introduction to youth work theory for artists
- Opportunities for partnerships beyond own local area
- Interconnected/strategic approach to engagement
- Platform/means to share/support one another
- Models of blended engagement
- Models of safe in-person working
- The potential of high-quality tailored resource materials/art packs
- Micro-grants for freelancers to pilot new engagement projects
- Paid sector sharing opportunities
- Directory detailing artists with experience working with specialist groups
- Strategic approach to tackling online exclusion
- Large/safe/cheap spaces for delivery of in-person activity
- Outdoor working opportunities
- Local authority service-wide youth arts partnership approach
- Funding for longer term projects
We also identified some recurring interconnected themes around approaches to engaging young people in the visual arts, that we have grouped as follows:
- Mindfulness, positive mental health and wellbeing
- 1:1 working, smaller groups and longer projects
- Intergenerational working to foster support networks
- Youth traineeships/employment and/or progression routes
- Walking as art, land art, slow looking
- Street arts, urban park arts, ‘taking things beyond the gallery’
- Nature, climate and the environment as a focus for art
- New possibilities in using digital tools to make and share art inclusively
- Strong 3rd sector partnerships to engage young people from priority groups
- Collaboration between rural and city-based organisations
Engage Scotland wants to support the sector to build on the monumental work it has done, as highlighted in this scoping report, to re-establish, adapt and evolve its approach to engaging young people in the visual arts in Scotland, as we emerge from Covid-19.
We want to support organisations to deliver arts activity that is accessible and inclusive to all young people, particularly those who were already facing barriers to engagement that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
We are interested in supporting innovative projects that draw on some of the issues, challenges and ideas around ensuring inclusive youth engagement with the visual arts that are highlighted in this report. For example, projects that:
- Foster positive mental health and wellbeing
- Engage and support young people who face barriers to participation that have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic
- Use a person-centred/youth-led approach to project design
- Explore the outdoors and/or the natural environment as a way of tackling barriers to young people’s engagement with visual art
- Explore high-quality, innovative and inclusive approaches to ‘blended engagement’ (i.e. a combination of remote and in-person)
- Explore solutions for safe in-person working
- Reinforce models of partnership or collaboration with other organisations, e.g. 3rd sector, local authority or other cultural partners
We will use the approaches highlighted above to inform a call out for proposals from galleries/visual arts organisations across Scotland, for innovative, exemplar youth-led visual arts engagement projects that take place in community/informal learning settings.
Given the diverse challenges faced by the sector that are highlighted in this report, we believe it would be beneficial to provide support for 3 gallery/visual arts partners. This would, in turn, enable us to offer 3 paid traineeships (one aligned to each project) – for a young person aged 16 – 25 to develop skills, aptitude and experience to secure future employment. In addition, this approach will also generate a robust associated programme of networking/sharing and training opportunities for the benefit of the wider sector.
1. Summary of sector survey respondents
2. Sector organisations with whom we spoke directly
Kara Christine, Project Coordinator ‘The Socialites’; Artlink Edinburgh and the Lothians.
Richie Cumming, Outreach Officer; National Galleries of Scotland.
Alan Forrester, Project Coordinator; Canal College (Falkirk, West of Scotland, Highland).
Nicole Heidtke, Lead Artist Creative Arts, Technology and Education, Templar Arts & Leisure Centre, Argyll.
Jennifer Keenan, Learning and Access Curator (talk focused on Kelvingrove ‘My Stories’ programme); Glasgow Life.
Catherine Anne MacNeil – WASPS Inverness / Social Impact Worker; The Libertie Project Ltd. Inverness.
Angela Massafra, Learning and Access Curator, Gallery of Modern Art (specifically Young GoMA Group); Glasgow Life.
Alison McMenemy, Director; Highland Print Studio.
Clair Nicols, Chief Officer; Youth Highland.
Tom Smith, Director; Lateral North.