June 26 2008

The role of new media in facilitating the relationship between young people and the arts

Posted by matt in Culture, Rambles

In April, I attended ‘Culture Trip’, Channel 4’s education debate. At this event, C4 said they would be stepping up in their public service role following the Government’s recently announced plans to offer young people in England five hours of access to arts and ‘high culture’ per week as part of a new scheme. The moves are part of the Government’s drive to unlock the creative talent of all young people. Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham makes the comment,

“All children have creative talents and we want to ensure that they have the opportunity to develop them. Theatre, film, music, museums and other art forms can be life-changing for young people, broadening their horizons and raising self-confidence and aspirations.”

Is it really the role of the Government to prescribe how much and the types of culture children are exposed to? What should a cultural education programme include in the 21st century? These were some of the discussion topics that the debate aimed to explore. On the one hand these ideals seem to be just that – idealistic in the face of such an already saturated school week. Indeed, the Culture Secretary acknowledges that this is bound to bring about practical challenges, but ultimately, it’s about building ‘on what they already do’. Such aspirations can, in fact, only really be realised by tapping into the pre-existing channels in the lives of these young people.

This is an area C4 are already investing in, as they’ve recognized digital media as a means of connecting with young people. Consequently, they’ve invested in a £10 million pilot fund for projects aimed at 10-15 year olds. In terms of ideals and practices, this age bracket is much wider than it first appears. This hits on a point that advertisers are all too familiar with, which is that when aiming to attract a 10 year old, you produce something that’s aimed at a 15 year old. Similarly, when aiming to attract a 15 year old – you’d produce something that’ll be suited to an even higher age bracket.

It’s interesting to see what’s already out there for the younger market with regards to what you’d term as ‘high culture’. One site I stumbled upon, called ‘Mr Picasso Head’, is great: Within an interactive forum, users are able to ‘paint’ their own masterpiece by clicking and dropping features from a pallet, enabling users to construct their own take on the styles iconic in Picasso’s paintings.

Yes, you too can become ‘artists’ and have your work of art displayed within the online gallery on the site. Something like this would be great if used to emulate different artists, perhaps, where the young visitors are presented with a little background information on the artist and then have the chance of producing their own work in that artist’s style.

The National Gallery has a feature as part of their Education site which allows you to zoom into a selected picture. Taking this a step further, I think it would be great to have a feature on the site which is a virtual gallery, allowing you to move virtually through the gallery not just as part of a pre-recorded reel, but is a tour you are in control of – you choose which rooms you want to enter and what pieces you’d like to find out more about and the pace at which this all happens.

First and foremost, this would help neutralize any anxieties users may hold of past gallery visits, allowing them to explore from the comfort of their own computer and change their perceptions of what to expect on their next visit.

San Francisco Symphony Kids
site is a fun site where users can truly immerse themselves in the world of classical music, where they learn about the instruments that make up an orchestra, familiarise themselves with the works of great classical composers, and are introduced to more complex musical concepts and terminology. The site also has fun elements whereby the users can compose their own classical pieces and have them played back.

So what’s the point in all of this? Ultimately it’s to engage young people and stir up enthusiasm for the seemingly boring notion of ‘high-culture’, changing their attitude and perceptions with the end result of having a next generation of well cultured people.

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