Teenage kicks

Sharon Heal, 04.06.2014
Young people want social spaces
Teenagers must be one of the most elusive audience groups to get into museums. Unless you’re a cool contemporary art gallery, your chances of attracting teenagers, especially the disaffected ones, are slim.

Some museums do better than others in getting teenagers across the threshold and the Kids in Museums campaign has resources on its website that can help museums that want to engage with this age group.

A trip to Worcester this week reminded me about this missing demographic and made me wonder if there are lessons to be learnt from other public institutions.

I was in the city at the invite of the Infirmary museum, which is part of the University of Worcester.

This small museum is working hard to build new audiences, have an impact in the local community and form partnerships with other cultural organisations.

It has worked with Age Concern on dementia awareness and with teenagers on projects about sexual health. Not bad for a museum with a very specific medical collection located on a campus of the city’s university.

One of the organisations it is working with is the Hive, an interesting combination of public library, university library, archive and council service one-stop shop. It is just metres away from the Infirmary but seems worlds apart.

The Feilden Clegg designed building literally glows inside and out – the exterior is clad in copper alloy and the beautiful wood-panelled interior is filled with natural light.

The £60m building has done a rather clever thing by bringing the academic world and the local population into the same space. This has not been without its teething troubles; some young people have been excluded but have been able to earn the right to re-enter the space through taking part in artist-led courses.

The overall effect is a well-used and accessible public space that locals feel a sense of ownership of.

One of the best thing about the Hive is its shared learning space. Recognising that young people like to study together, the basement of the building has been turned over to them as a social space.

The space is carefully designed to cater for young people: free Wi-Fi, plenty of terminals and sockets to plug in laptops, a range of different types of seating and huge windows that let you see who’s hanging around outside.

It was teeming with teenagers when I visited, studying, chatting, playing online games and just hanging out. Apparently the main difficulty the Hive has encountered so far is too many young people wanting to use it – what a nice problem to have.


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05.06.2014, 08:04
Manchester's recently reopened Central Library has achieved the same thing. I popped in at about 6.30pm recently and it was packed with teenagers hanging out and revising for exams. Seems like the wave of new public libraries might have lessons to teach museums?