‘Youth arts engagement is a journey, not a destination’
By Grace Crogan
We in the arts community already know the benefits to children, young people, and wider communities by expanding engagement. As a 19-year-old split between Kalbarri (in WA’s Midwest region) and Perth, I know that our sector currently has a problem with reaching and engaging youth, particularly in the regions. I see this as stemming from two points:
- lack of opportunities and events targeted and provided for youth in the regions;
- failure to involve children at a young age to spark interest.
I think we can all agree that you cannot expect to introduce someone to something and expect that person to pick it up and run with it straight away. There will always be a delay between introducing a topic and having that turn into a passion. I feel like we have forgotten the importance of the process of inspiring interest.
If we don’t nurture environments and opportunities for children to be exposed to the arts, to experiment and develop their own interest, how can we expect to be successful in engaging 15-25year old’s?
For me, a wide scope and long-term approach to youth involvement makes complete sense…
I have found myself in the past few months making some of the biggest steps in my ‘career’ so far.
I put career in quotations because it’s only just starting to feel that way. And as a 19-year-old, I’m not even sure if I can say that. Recently there have been opportunities for growth and work popping up faster than I can take them all on. At the same time, I’ve received a lot of feedback, particularly from peers my age, that I seem to have gotten to this point ‘really fast’.
“Grace, you’re already in it, how do you have all of these connections?”
“Why are you even here?” [studying my degree]
It has occurred to me how much I’ve really achieved in the past few years, particularly as a young person. Now, I’m getting a bit of recognition for it, but people generally seem to think that I’ve gotten to this place very quickly. And for that, I’ve even received a bit of notoriety.
What they forget – my peers, my lecturers, even some of my employers – is that I’ve been doing this, working towards this, for the past 7 years. Honestly. Relative to the number of years I’ve been on this earth, that’s a lot of years.
Now, as an ‘up and coming’ (not quite) 20-year-old, my primary work in the arts includes advocating for youth and regionally isolated communities. Then again, I’ve been calling myself a “youth and regional arts worker” since I was about 15.
The other day I was in conversation about this exact thing – regional youth involvement and engagement with the arts. I’d presented a paper, and quite frankly had asked the committee and organisation how serious they were about committing to bettering accessibility to regional youth. A comment was made around the idea of “if our organisation wants to be engaging youth in 5-10 years, then we need to be looking at the 10-year-old’s now”.
And so I’m sitting here writing today, reflecting on all of this, on myself and my work, the millions of conversations I’ve had recently and trying to organise all of my thoughts into something logical format.
Youth was the thing I set out to write about. Instead, I can’t help but find it incredibly ironic how in all of our focus around our own personal or even organisational goals, we so often forget about the journey itself. About the sheer amount of time it takes to turn motion into action, and action then into outcomes. I think we spend a lot of time attempting to rush things, only to be disheartened by what we’re seeing short term, and we give up (I know I’m guilty here).
Stick with me! I promise it’s not entirely unrelated!
As a child, I was lucky enough to have an incredibly rich childhood, absolutely full of artistic involvement. My nan was an artist, I was home-schooled, I was taken to see theatre, my family travelled. I was 13 when I stumbled into this industry of ‘arts’ that wasn’t only paintbrushes and theatre performances. Now, seven years later I am in this position, writing this blog. It took that long. There is absolutely no way I could have stepped into this area of work now, with no prior engagement, and be in the same spot.
My point in all of this – I think we tend to forget sometimes the value of the journey, and the effort of the journey. I mean this both from a planning standpoint and a reflection standpoint, personal or organisational. How can you expect to be effective in your planning and goal setting if you’re not taking time to evaluate how (or even if) these goals work as stepping stones for your growth?
I feel we are forgetting about the need to sometimes take a step backwards, and look at the issue from a wider perspective in order to fully comprehend it. So, I say again: If we don’t nurture environments and opportunities for children to be exposed to the arts, to experiment and develop their own interest, how can we expect to be successful in engaging 15-25year old’s? (they certainly don’t have the same levels of curiosity). I know the intrinsic value of the arts with my entire being – because I was lucky enough to grow up with it. If you’ve never been given the chance to experience it, how can you know the value of what you’re missing?
I’m hoping now, that in my work going forward, I can start more discussions and thinking around this long-term idea of engagement, and the facilitation of a journey. The more I’m thinking and writing, the wider this idea gets…
Here’s to more big steps!
Grace Crogan is a young creative from Kalbarri, currently residing in Fremantle and studying Arts Management at WAAPA/ECU. Grace has recently been engaged by Element WA as part of the Arts and Culture Team, and currently sits on the Board and Youth Sub-Committee for Regional Arts WA. Grace is passionate about the public arts sector and making it more accessible and available to the wider community. She has previously lent her skills at the Kalbarri Zest Festival, Propel Youth Arts and their KickstART Festival, Art Gallery of WA, Foundation for the WA Museum, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Perth Festival and John Curtin College of the Arts.