I find this question of Millennials in museums especially interesting and relevant considering I am one who both visits and works in them. Also, when you think about it, a large number of young people make up a museum’s workforce. Probably most of the people I know in museums are under 35.
Now, I don’t think this is a new ‘phenomenon’, but young people are working in museums probably more than perhaps three or four decades ago. But how do we encourage young visitors to fully engage with museums? Firstly we need to get rid of any preconceptions about millennials, just as Time Magazine wanted to do in 2013. Despite what the media loves to report as a growing tidal wave of narcissistic and idle youths, a recent survey highlighted the fact that out of a choice of valuing a good career trajectory against a good social life, most chose the first. Perhaps this is because of a deep dissatisfaction with the movement of careers, many of us feel as though its near impossible to graduate and get a job in your desired sector within a few months. Just as people believe money will equal happiness, many believe the same for a good job.
So, who can blame us for wanting to relax? There is perhaps a misconception for many young people, especially those who didn’t grow up with trips to cultural venues, that museums require serious thinking and a lot of spare time. With this train of thought, it isn’t purely because millennials don’t care enough about their heritage, its a question of accessibility.
But many museums are hosting late night arts and culture events to cater for those millennials who work during the day, and do indeed like a party in the evening. Much of these events are proving extremely popular, even if they are only feasible for larger museums.
There is a lot more to late night events than just keeping the doors open for an extra few hours, and music, DJ sets, poetry readings and film screenings regularly feature.
Julie Nightingale wrote a great article for MA about millennials in museums, who points out that a huge variety of events need to be offered if a museum is providing late nights, not all young people enjoy loud music and dance, and the same can be said about interactive workshops. She also points out that if museums are to take on this task then it should be vital to communicate with local universities, youth clubs, colleges, employers etc not only to get the word out, but to learn what those young people in their area are looking for. In other words, setting up Youth Panels should be a given. But evening events aren’t the only option we should be considering, a regular timetable of classes, workshops, lectures, and temporary exhibitions at various hours of the day should be on the card; not all millennials enjoy late nights.
What I believe to be the most effective answer for the future, is to encourage the next generation of 18-35 year olds by engaging them now as a family. Kids in Museums commissioned a review entitled ‘Hurdles to the participation of children, families and young people in museums.’ which, in short, showed that if parents had not regularly taken their children to cultural venues, then these children grew up with a “negative view of museums as remote and inaccessible, and not relevant to their everyday lives.”¹ And I truly believe that is this idea that museums do not fit into the ‘everyday’ that stops many millennials from engaging. The defining features of our generation, arguably, is our interest in diversity, culture, technology, self-expression, and everything unique. Therefore ensuring that all museums try to host events and put on exhibitions that are relevant to the shared experience of young people is the tool to unpick the issue.
Here is a list of exhibitions that are accessible for all but particularly young people:
- Harry Potter Graphics at House of MinaLima
- Being Punk at the Museum of London
- Drawing on Childhood at the Foundling Museum
- The Great British Graphic Novel at the Cartoon Museum
- Undressed: A brief history of Underwear at V&A
(Of course these are all subjective to personal interests)
¹ Whitaker, Sally. Hurdles to the participation of children, families and young people in museums: a literature review. Kids in Museums. p.2