For most people, those awkward adolescent years still trigger a host of memories filled with embarrassing angst and uncertainty – not quite comfortable in our skin, not quite sure of the crowd we feel at home in.
Our parents no doubt felt equally challenged, trying to fill our free time with wholesome activities away from the television screen.
Cities lured us with a taste of the adult world.
But beyond the skate park and the mall, the food courts and the cinema, cities didn’t really offer much for the 13 to 17-year-old with only a handful of dollars and an unlimited reserve of boredom – or they didn’t in the 1980s, at least.
“I remember feeling as though I wanted a place to just be,“ says Lisa Slade, assistant director of the Art Gallery of South Australia.
“I remember wanting to be connected, and I remember feeling that shift away from the orientation of the family to wanting a peer-led experience.”
For years now, the Art Gallery of SA has run a hugely successful children’s program called START for those aged five to 10. It also holds regular “after dark” events catering for the 20 to 30-something crowd.
And as its heads into 2016, the gallery has set itself an ambitious new plan to crack the “nearly-adult” market.
“Cities play a really dynamic role – particularly cities the size of Adelaide, where it’s actually possible to make your way around the city in a relatively safe and easy way – to be platforms of engagement,” Slade says.
With the support of one of Australia’s largest philanthropic organisations, the Balnaves Foundation, the Art Gallery will be delivering a new Friday night program for teens called NEO.
“It’s very different to START and The Studio, where we tend to work with artists and performers to develop a program – this has to be teen-led,” says Slade.
Targeting those aged 13 to 17, NEO events will run six times a year in collaboration with a team of young ambassadors working as mentors and conversationalists on the night.
Slade says young audiences will have their own designated social space in the gallery, with food and beverages, music, film screenings, and peer-led conversations with and about artists.
The first NEO event will coincide with the 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, in March, exploring the theme of artists as magicians.
Circus skills workshops will be held in the gallery’s courtyard, as well as interactive classes in hairdressing, where participants will have the opportunity to create their own “hair sculptures”, says Slade.
“We’ve learnt that what we do has to come from the exhibitions, but it has to offer a whole experience; it has to take them somewhere else and it has to offer them something beyond the school experience.”
And while social media and a youth-led web platform will be part of the NEO communication strategy, “the old art of conversation and engagement will lead what we do in the space”, she says.
Slade admits that cracking the “nearly-adult” market isn’t easy.
“I think what we are actually doing is teaching teenagers and young people to be citizens who make their own culture, not just receive it – they are active players in making and forging a culture,” says Slade.
“In Europe, they issue under 18s a museum entry card and you see large groups of teens in galleries and it’s really become a home – a place for teens to be.
“We are far from the first but we are just hoping to do something that is well aligned with the scale of our city, and the way we see our young people as citizens in the making.”
This article was first published on The Lead.
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