Everywhere I get the feeling that science, technology and natural history museums are more accessible to families and young people than those of art. In the former you are guaranteed to be able to touch things; it is allowed and it is necessary in order to learn. The latter, despite offering increasingly varied educational activities, maintain a certain elitist air which often relegates them to being the compulsory school trip or even the occasional family workshop. Despite the fact that Barcelona’s art museums are free for under-16s and the education departments have done a good job, they are still not seen as a recurrent family leisure alternative. The lack of permanent spaces in which to experiment with (and reflect on) art whenever the museum is open could be one of the reasons.
Museums lack permanent spaces in which to experiment
The LACMA in Los Angeles, with its Arts for NexGen programme, has established itself as the ideal place for experimentation and reflection in which young people and their families are live actors. NexGen opens up the museum to a socially more diverse community and highlights the creation of personal connections with art starting from three pillars: looking, speaking and making art. From the outset, they created a free museum membership category for under-17s and for one accompanying adult (the key to its success!), and focused on providing unique and significant creative experiences, such as a permanently open workshop space, in which young people and adults can paint on communal tables, and which receives over 100,000 visits a year. NexGen ended 2016 with 234,016 members.
NexGen has established itself as the ideal place for reflection
Culture is learnt first hand, enjoying heritage, creating, experimenting, reflecting and sharing knowledge, and museums are very powerful educational agents. One of the concerns of the cultural sector continues to be how to attract young people and families to art museums. This should be a concern of cities and could be addressed by effectively removing the financial barrier for children, also offering free entry to the adults who have to accompany them. On devoting more resources to offering high-quality creative leisure which creates emotional links to art, we could see museums – ideal places for experiential learning – having an impact on the transformation of the social fabric for the benefit of everyone. The results of the LACMA are encouraging.
More resources need to be devoted to offering high-quality creative leisure
This article was originally write for La Vanguardia and published on May 1st, 2017 (download PDF).