Young People and Museums

A number of research projects have been undertaken into young people (12-24) and museums. This page details findings from these various studies.

Youth audiences have quite particular interests and expectations when it comes to museums. This age group tend to be seeking involvement in relevant arenas; gaining awareness of cutting edge developments and look to build upon their identity and role in society. Traditional museum exhibitions do not facilitate dialogue and social interaction relying for the most part on text panels and display cases to convey the message to visitors. This age group appear to want to share and compare experiences rather than read and view. The following is a brief description of key findings drawn from a literature search and various reports on youth and museums.

Why should museums be interested in this market?

  • they are a substantial audience
  • they are the next generation of museum visitors: majority will be adult visitors/parents of future
  • they are interested in issues and ideas: they vote
  • they have $$s - but not too much!
  • they have poor perceptions of museums - a chance to change this
  • new opportunities to use and engage visitors with museum collections and research

Who are these "young people"?

  • defined as aged 12-24 years
  • make up 18% of total population
  • three quarters live in Capital cities/metropolitan areas
  • 15% overseas born
  • majority of those aged 15-19 live with their parents and three quarters of these study
  • of those aged 20-24 half live with their parents, three quarters of them work
  • recreation and leisure account for the largest proportion of their time: 4-5.5 hours/week

What are they about?

  • "Youth" not just featureless block - there are sub groups and variety of individuals. What appeals to one group may not to another (e.g. Sydney youth more involved in contemporary culture while Canberra youth more embedded in mainstream)
  • Many in this age group are already engaged in study (secondary or tertiary) so overly educational approaches are an additional burden and so less appealing
  • Preoccupied with three main things:
  1. developing their sense of personal identity (not so much understanding the nations' identity)
  2. developing their relationships (sharing views with friends and partners)
  3. building on skills and talents (current works, techniques, advances and designs)

They feel museums are not very relevant to them:

  • They want to know about the "now" and look forward to the future and see that museums are retrospective
  • They are looking for a social and enjoyable venue, a personal experience with the opportunity to meet and learn from like minded people, ask questions of interesting people, and share ideas
  • They see museums as boring, exhibitions seem didactic, unapproachable and protective
  • Past experiences strongly influence their decisions, especially memories are of enforced school visits doing boring worksheets that prevented them from pursuing their own interests
  • Family visits remembered more favourably but relegated to distant nostalgic past
  • Don't feel a part of museums and feel that programs are done to them not with them
  • Want opportunity to test skills and engage with interactives, but they see them as unappealing as usually aimed at children
  • Interested in issues that explore personal identity in relation to more global issues

Their movements

  • Restricted by expendable cash
  • Make spontaneous choices on what to do on the day with visits triggered by other factors such as friends or relatives
  • Socialise with peers and sometimes family - some won't go if they don't have anyone to go with, others will
  • 18-19yrs more likely to do things in same sex groups
  • 22-24yrs more likely to socialise as couples
  • Men often visit museums and galleries to accompany their girlfriend/partner

What are they interested in?

  • More interested in ideas linked to objects, than the objects alone
  • Three main areas of interest: identity; talents and skills; contemporary and forward looking
1. Identity
  • Markers to cultural sub-groups e.g. shoes, body art
  • Can relate to occupational or leisure interests especially those relating to personal skill
  • Couples and peers may build on relationships through interaction in exhibitions and through programs
  • Personal identity is the process of being defined, therefore influencing topics of interest could be dress, fashion, film, language, and values
2. Talents and skills
  • Interested in achievements of their generation in fields such as art, design, science, literature, food, etc...
  • Are self-conscious, therefore need programs that have clear expectations and positive outcomes
3. Contemporary and forward looking
  • Interested in the here and now and possible futures rather than retrospectives
  • Interested in ideas
  • Opportunities to explore widening world and reflect on meaning of experiences

Other descriptives...

  • Self-conscious and desire to do something well and receive admiration for it
  • Hunger for chances to prove themselves (devastated if fail)
  • Need to know that what they do is valued by others whom they respect
  • Once young people felt assured that their views were respected they did not hesitate to share their thoughts

How to reach them...

  • Magazines
  • Noticed high profile mainstream only and paid special attention to youth media (street press)
  • Internet and new media, including television
  • Word of mouth important as they don't want to waste money on crap

What does this mean?

  • Programs targeting youth needs institutional commitment to meeting the needs of this audience (special department or institutional wide?), such as, staff liaison, collaborations and partnerships, program support, time, resources
  • Greater interest in meanings and experiences on offer than the material used to convey it
  • We need to think about why we want to attract this group - what is the aim:
    one off day admissions or awareness and involvement through a range of programs?
  • This audience need to be involved in the decision making process and in the project - they need to feel a part of it but this requires museums to be accommodating
  • Successful events are planned with, not for, young adolescents
  • Specific needs which revolve around identity formation and so will respond strongly to programs which appear to be tailored specifically for them
  • Changing programs of events and exhibitions - museum as a place to be seen
  • Action based interactivity where visitors look, touch and explore without being 'childlike'
  • Young audiences showed relatively low levels of interest in website, broadcast media or resource centre as means to access collections - their desire for a social venue and opportunity to meet and talk with people could be the reason for this. They also have access to this technology in other places - home, school, uni
  • Need opportunities to explore widening world and reflect on new experiences:
    ⇒ so they begin to consider themselves as participants in society, not just observers
    ⇒ involve them in the museum rather than anticipate passive consumers
    ⇒ moving them from child museum experiences to adult ones are interested in exhibitions that include personal stories, national history, indigenous and environmental issues that are interactive, changing and aesthetically attractive

Lynda Kelly
Allison Bartlett
Last Updated: