Lately I’ve been thinking hard about how young people engage with art, culture and creativity.

As mother of a one year old, my life (and arts participation patterns) have changed dramatically in the past year.

Late nights at the theatre and gigs have been replaced with mornings at the museum, reading stories and pushing a pram through community festivals. 

Leo loved the immersive sound and animation in Ryoji Ikeda’s immersive exhibition Micro | Macro at Carriageworks. He enjoyed touching (and drooling all over) the art blanket at the MCA’s Art Baby class for mums and bubs. And the whole family enjoyed a trip to Mona Foma, the summertime festival of Tasmania’s excellent Museum of Old and New Art with food, drink and music aplenty.

What will engage the next generation?

It got me thinking about the kinds of experiences that kids of his generation will have access to. 

Will they be in theatres, shopping malls, schools or virtual worlds? Will he be a viewer, a player, a protagonist or a performer? 

What kinds of experiences will bring him to tears, send goosebumps down his spine and help him make sense of the worlds he inhabits?

New research in the UK with almost 2,000 young people suggests that today’s young people recognise quite different definitions to previous generations. 

Arts Connect, Morris Hargreaves McIntyre and We are Frilly found that young people associate 'art' with visual arts but arts also includes graffiti, fashion, animation, and tattooing/piercing - all of which were more widely defined as art than novels, poetry and opera.

Culture, they found, is a broader concept for them, which includes identity. They do relate to sector recognised forms such as festivals, historic sites, carnivals and museums, but also wider forms such as fashion and TV, learning a language and food.

The Australia Council's arts participation research indicates one of the biggest trends is the rise of creative participation, relative to receptive participation as an audience member. 

More and more, young people want to express their own creativity, learn new skills and access immersive experiences, and the trajectory is not slowing down. 

Are we ready?

So how are our artists, organisations and major institutions adapting to these changes? 

I suspect we could be doing more.

Research is one of the best ways for us to identify trends and anticipate the changes that will be needed. But we also need to be testing new concepts and experimenting with new forms of engagement.

One great creative industries example I saw recently is PlayingField, a 'game jam' where teams of professional game developers are paired with young people aged 10 to 13 and tasked with realising their game idea.

The two-day experience has been designed to educate young people about the wide variety of roles available in the industry, whilst giving the young participants a chance to devise a game idea and see it brought to life in the hands of inspiring role models.

The impact of programs like this could be profound. 

Research with young people

This year we are lucky to be working with The MCA to evaluate their GENEXT program for 12-18 year olds, working with the MCAs youth committee to design & deliver the a methodology that will trace what ideas past participants have taken into their adult lives. 

We are working with Barking Gecko Theatre Company to explore the impact of their Ensembles program for 5 to 17 year olds on things like confidence, empathy and relationships. 

We are also lucky to be again working with UTS, Australia’s #1 young university to explore the role of art on campus, and how it can support reflection, knowledge sharing and debate among students, researchers and the public. 

I can’t wait to see what we find out about how young people want to engage with the arts now, and where things are headed next. 

Maybe now I've got a vested interest!

If you have an idea about how research and evaluation can help unearth new possibilities for young people and the arts, get in touch with the team at



About the Author

Tandi Williams
Managing Director

Patternmakers’ Founder and Managing Director Tandi Williams is an experienced consultant and arts and culture research specialist.