Hope Streets: Assembling Expertise

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Our Hope Streets Project Coordinator, Saul Argent blogs about his experience in the last few months, putting together multi-sector teams from different walks of life to rethink the way we engage young people with heritage.

“This country has had enough of experts”, then-Justice Secretary Michael Gove infamously declared in 2016. He argued that in the current age of post-truth politics, a wealth of experience and knowledge about a subject is inferior to a gut feeling, or an emotional response.

So, at the start of a distinctly exciting project seeking to get young people excited about, and engaging with, museums across the North West, should we follow our instincts, hoping that our gut will point us in the right direction?

Of course not. We called in the experts.

Our project, Hope Streets, will see us working with five heritage partners over five years to rethink the ways in which they work with young people, creating exciting opportunities for them to work within the sector and engage with it as an active audience. The Partners are: The Atkinson in Southport, Bolton Museum, Tullie House in Carlisle, Lancashire Museums and West Cheshire Museums.
Why are we doing this? There’s a clear disconnect between museums and young audiences. The number of young people going to museums is falling; and if they don’t go when they are young, why would they go later in life? Museums are constantly addressing the question of their own relevance: what stories are they telling? Who are they telling them for? How are they best told? If these stories aren’t drawing a young audience in, who will be their audience in 10 years’ time? Or 20 years? Or 50? Who will want to work with them in the future, and preserve these stories for new audiences?

These are the questions we need to address through Hope Streets – working with young people to find out both why aren’t they going to museums and what can museums do to change this. But first we need to get groups of young people who want to help us with this. We know we can’t do this alone. So we created a new role, Youth Engagement Expert.
Over the past few weeks I’ve interviewed 23 people (and a colleague interviewed a further 6) for five Youth Engagement Expert positions: one for each site involved in the project. A lead representative from each site was on the panel, plus a young person in most cases. And from those interviews we have pieced together our dream team. Our youth-engaging Avengers. Our Famous Five. Our One Direction (towards greater youth engagement with the heritage sector).

We found that expertise comes in all shapes and sizes. In some cases, we found it in experience: people with decades of youth work, who know the sector and how to get young people involved in projects like the back of their hands. In other cases, our experts had cross-sector knowledge, being themselves artists or theatre practitioners. One of our experts is a young person, so is incredibly well-placed to understand what young people want from a revitalised heritage sector. Across all five experts was a common theme: an understanding that this project can benefit not only museums, but also young people across the North West, seeking a greater connectivity to the areas in which they live through a new understanding of heritage.

Over the next six months, our five Youth Engagement Experts will work with groups of young people across the five partner museum sites, researching their local ‘Hope Street’, and then passing their findings on to a team of young artists, who will respond with a creation, to be revealed in Spring 2019. The teams of experts and young people will also be responsible for marketing, installing, and evaluating the artists’ creation.

This is a truly youth-led project; but to make it work we need experts. Now we’ve got our Youth Engagement Avengers and we can’t wait to get started!
 

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