Creative Contemporary Collecting: Young People’s experiences of Coming of Age in Covid-19
by Niamh Kelly.
Read all about Coming of Age in Covid-19, an online exhibition showcasing young people's experiences of the pandemic through creative means.
29 Jun 2022
36 min read
Coming of Age in Covid-19 is a Future Screens funded project that provides a platform for young people’s experiences of the pandemic, expressed through their own creativity. I was inspired to start this project as I wanted to experiment with traditional forms of contemporary collecting, moving towards participatory and creative activity that achieved a more authentic and creative input through co-creation. When I was creating this project, I had seen many call outs from local museums for communities to donate their objects that tell the story of Covid-19 – like individual masks or NHS posters. I understand the important materiality of these objects, however, I also highly value creative co-curation, as it offers space for individuals to document their own experiences.
I work with young people as an audience on a youth engagement project called Reimagine Remake Replay, which connects 16-25 year olds across Northern Ireland with museums. Coming of Age in Covid-19 is motivated by my understanding of the positive impacts that creative engagement with museums & their collections can generate for this age group and my interest in furthering this. I created a less structured programme, one that is flexible to the group’s needs, that operates outside traditional museum spaces and where the virtual space for contemporary collection is influenced by the group participating.
This is all only possible because of an innovative stream of funding from Future Screens NI, a funding body that encouraged projects to respond to the impacts of the pandemic - “challenging them to explore, in a visionary manner, how the changes we have witnessed can be used as the catalyst for genuinely new and original thinking about how creative work could best be designed and delivered in the coming years”. I responded to the theme of time, as my project looks at how young people’s experience of coming of age was impacted; experiences of this already formative period of life were refracted through the many changes and uncertainty of the global health crisis and the knock on effect this had for young people. The impact on this generation was evidenced through statistics in news reports but it was also something I was aware of through my day job and our informal and formal evaluation processes.
The funding was inspiring in its ambitious and innovative nature, but also in very practical terms it enabled me to use my previous experience and current motivation to interest and test out other methods. I applied for this project as an individual practitioner (rather than a company/institution) with my own ideas and I was flexible in how I structured the programme in my application form, able to account for the unexpected ideas and decisions achieved through co-creation. For example, I wanted the participants to input to the design of the website, so I assigned elements of the budget to working with a website developer that would host a session for the group to discuss and develop opinions.
As opposed to a call out for objects to be donated, I kickstarted the project with a call out for young people, aged 16-25, to participate and ultimately contribute to an online exhibition with a contribution in a medium of their choice (for example, photography, writing, illustration, video). I created a social media campaign to recruit the group and promoted this to a broad audience - there was no previous experience or criteria required to participate and as the programme was mostly online, it was not restricted geographically.
The group met each other online and shared their ideas, participated in sessions regarding their work and took part in art and wellbeing sessions ran by art therapist Stephen Millar, which revolved around processing the impact of the pandemic. I interviewed several of the participants about their experiences and received insightful feedback: “I’ve enjoyed this whole process, and I think it’s been a really positive and uplifting thing to engage in. Something about sharing the negative experience of my lockdowns and pandemic experiences with other creative people, in a shared creative space has been so needed!”
I find that feedback touched on the benefits of having time to process and respond to the pandemic by participating in the project, a sense of focus and achievement. Participants also noted the value of having a group of peers to collaborate with, reflecting on commonalities and shared experiences in a time when they were isolated from others. They appreciated an opportunity to platform their work and access a small paid opportunity, something that was jeopardized for creatives during lockdowns.
The main thing I learned from this process was how I could work in co-curation with a group of young people over a long and flexible period of time, giving them time to develop their responses and shape the structure of the project with their ideas. It has given me a new appreciation of innovative funding schemes, of moving outside museum spaces or typical museum projects and returning with new learnings and perspectives on the cross section between contemporary collection, community engagement and co-curation.
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