access and the cultural broker

A common concern about projects such as ours is who gets access to them. It is often assumed that it is only white middle class young people for example who attend youth oriented art gallery events and programmes. This is not actually the case. The vast majority of museums and galleries are concerned about who attends their programmes, and most have ways of trying to ensure that they do cater for a diversity of young people. So for example the Tate Schools and Teachers team have just completed a series of activities focused on Tourettes, working with young people, advocacy organisations and artists.

We were particularly concerned that a live art choreography research project would be quite exclusive and so we were pleased when among our volunteer participants there were young people who didn’t ‘fit’ the white middle class description. When we enquired how they had come to attend the workshop, we were told by three people that they found out about the project from a teacher. In one case this was a former teacher, and in the other two, a current teacher. These teachers had spotted the advertisement for our project in the Tate mail-outs, and had deliberately encouraged these young people to register. They knew the young people well enough to judge that they could benefit from participation in the programme.

We might think of these teachers as cultural brokers. Cultural brokers play an interesting part in the production and reproduction of cultural value. In order to engage with a cultural activity, a participant has to attribute some kind of potential value to it. They go to the event with an expectation that something interesting/exciting/unexpected/worthwhile will result. They are perhaps already disposed to take up what is on offer, or perhaps are going with a degree of skepticism, waiting to be convinced.

In the case of the particular young people in our project, it was the cultural brokers who saw the potential value in our project. And it was, we assume, the trust that the young people had in their teachers/cultural broker’s judgment that made them consider what we had to offer. It was then up to us to provide something that chimed with the expectations of the cultural brokers, as they had been told to, and understood and accepted by, the young people.

Thinking methodologically, this kind of information is one of the very many things that can only be discovered through conversation/interview.

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