Guest post: Liha Okunniwa on The Wilson’s outreach to young people

Ever thought about setting up a Young People Group at your museum or gallery to help you diversify your audiences? Today’s guest blog post comes from Liha Okunniwa, who did just that at The Wilson, Cheltenham’s Art Gallery & Museum.  

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Museums often find working with young people challenging and see them as a ‘hard to reach audience.’ The idea of setting up a young persons group is something that is seen by many as a daunting prospect. However, once you take the leap, the benefits in terms of audience development and young people acting as ambassadors are myriad.

Here are three simple tips if your institution is thinking about setting up a Young Persons Group:

1. Realise that you are hard to reach for them and not the other way round. Once you start seeing things from a different perspective you may find that there are things you have missed.

What can you do to make them young people feel more comfortable and reassure them that they are welcome? How can you make them realise they don’t need to know lots about art to enjoy your building?

2. Go where they are: When I was recruiting members for The Wilson Collective, I found events where young people were, and planned tailor-made activities for those events rather than waiting for them to come to me. I designed a “design a deck skate” activity / contest for the local skate park and a sleeve-face activity for a local music festival.

3. Diversify: Think of other events that you could hold in your Museum spaces.

Are there local groups of young people who need to rehearse for drama, music or a play? Do you have a space they could use? If so, somewhere_to from the Arts council is a great initiative. All you have to do is sign up at http://somewhereto.com/ and wait for the enquiries to come in. Once the young people have had fun and discovered your building, get them to sign up!

Two teenagers playing a guitar

Musicians Shaquille Douglas, aka @Alluzeion, and
Shawn Wheatley aka Chiggy, at the Wilson
(c) Simon de Knock

For Museums at Night, our young people’s group the Wilson Collective are planning an open mic evening that will fill a gap in Gloucestershire’s arts provision for young upcoming musicians.

This event will give them a platform and a chance to meet other local musicians to jam with. It will also be recorded and broadcast on YouTube, providing a vital resource for the young musicians to further their careers. The event will be marketed by The Wilson Collective ambassadors, word of mouth and social media.

We’re also part of the Museums at Night Connect10 competition: we’re hoping to win Fred Deakin from Lemon Jelly to bring in a wider audience and kickstart what we hope will be the first of many music events at The Wilson.

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A woman in a denim jacket smilingLiha Okunniwa has been Outreach Officer at The Wilson for four years. She is focusing on Audience Development and programming for The Wilson’s dedicated young person’s space, 51. Follow them on Twitter: @thewilsonchelt

Liha is also Creative Director of Bookish Design, an art publishing business that promotes classic literature.

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