What can cultural organisations do for Generation Z?

Those born from 2000 onwards are labelled Generation Z.

It’s not a great label…it’s as if you are the last of your kind.

As a member of so-called Generation X (born in 1969) I admire the two generations that have followed after – Y born from early 80s and Z born from 2000 onwards.

Generations Y and Z seem to me to be more resourceful, more socially at ease and liberal-minded than many in my generation.

This is especially remarkable when you consider these same generations are loaded with student debt, experience high levels of unemployment and are due to be the first generations, in a very long time, to be poorer than their parents.

Generations Y and Z could, understandably, be very narked.

So why aren’t they?

And why aren’t we spending more of our energy and time asking them about the kind of future they want to create, given that they will be around longest to enjoy that future?

We still don’t offer 16 year olds the chance to vote. We rarely involve young people in conversations about the future of our towns and cities. When’s the last time you saw someone under 25 on Question Time? Or being consulted as an expert on the news?

Our country often seems to get stuck in an industrial way of thinking that sees young people as empty vessels who need to be filled with information and knowledge, prepared for their future by being tested on the retention of facts.

In 2017 those facts are available at the swipe of a screen. It’s no longer simply a matter of what you know, it’s how you use knowledge that really counts.

At a time of rapid change we need innovative ideas to think differently about our future. We need new forms of leadership. We need to bring people together to make change?

So why not turn to young people to help us make change? Rather than expect them to wait in the wings until it’s their turn?

I have been thinking more about what we could be doing to involve young people in the running of cultural organisations. We do not do enough at Battersea Arts Centre, that’s for sure.

As we prepare for the Homegrown Festival this week I asked some of the young people who have led this festival or previous festivals what they think we should be doing differently.

Arizona talked about creating a dedicated space for young people who feel vulnerable, offering mentoring support to help provide a helpful framework. Chimna and Germaine talked about more partnerships with schools to give more young people an introduction to Battersea Arts Centre. Germaine talked about us needing to change who is seen as an artist and what is seen as art because this has an impact on who art is for. Kyronne talked about having a youth forum, allowing young people who are involved with Battersea Arts Centre to contribute more so that young people who are not connected begin to see us as a venue that supports the voices of young people therefore making it more approachable.

Space, support, access, representation. These requests are well reasoned and very reasonable.

Yet Battersea Arts Centre, with an extensive programme with, by, for and about young people, still falls short of what young people want and need.

I think that’s because we need a more radical shake-up.

We need a societal shift, that values the opinion of a 16 year old at the ballot box, that values young people’s opinions in planning our collective future, that values th thoughts and approach of young people on mainstream programmes like Question Time!

I think cultural organisations must play a leading role in enabling young people to play a valuable and valued role.

In Battersea we are consistently inspired by Contact in Manchester. We love working with them on The Agency which I know has profoundly impacted on the thinking of both organisations.

I will be thinking more about Arizona’s, Germaine’s and Kyronne’s suggestions, keen to hear more ideas and see what Battersea Arts Centre can achieve over the coming year.

In this week’s Homegrown Festival there will be young people tackling many of the big issues of today with their creativity:

  • a show about migration – Company Three
  • our current model of education – Homegrown
  • politics and the responsibility of having a voice and using it – Junction 25
  • Chimna – youth homelessness; Henri – support for young care leavers; Stevanie – support for young people with mental health; as part of The Agency
  • And our young producers are putting on a party inspired by revolution

And much more. Do come to Battersea this week to talk about their future and your future.

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