"Having an open mind to what young people feel is an art and cultural experience might not be what you expected,"- Audience member.
On Wednesday 13th June 2018, we held a celebration of five years of Reading Hack at the ICA in London, welcoming guests from the arts and cultural, youth and library sector. As well as sharing the story of Reading Hack, we invited speakers from the youth and arts sector to share their experiences of working with Reading Hack and using co-production to engage young people in arts and culture.
The event was introduced by Sue Wilkinson and Claire Styles of The Reading Agency, who shared the aims and the story of Reading Hack, followed by a word from our funder, Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Catherine Sutton, Senior Grants Manager with Paul Hamlyn Foundation, said:
"The numbers of libraries and of young people who have engaged with Reading Hack are impressive, as are the number of modes of engagement that have been developed. We are delighted that library staff have increased in confidence with Reading Hack and have developed a better understanding of co-producing with young people."
We then heard a few inspiring words from author and advocate for reducing the stigma of mental health, Holly Bourne, who spoke about the importance of reading for pleasure. Holly said "the story that speaks to you is the story you should be reading". It was an important reminder that there is no such thing as 'good' or 'bad' reading.
Andy Hodgkinson from Gateshead Libraries and Julie Bell from Lancashire Libraries shared their experiences of working with Reading Hack. Julie also spoke about how she has worked with The Reading Agency to develop a Reading Hack badge for Girlguiding North West.
The highlight of the event saw Louise Barnell from A New Direction chairing a discussion from a panel of young people talking about what co-production means to them and why it matters. Ben, Aileen, Rachel, Rose, Amy, Lucy and Mhari, aged between 13 to 18 and from various locations across the UK, shared their thoughts and experiences of co-production in the arts. Their express their desire for teamwork and compromise, calling it a vital part of feeling part of the arts world. They talked about the importance of different people coming together and what it means to work towards a shared goal.
"Leadership of youth is essential for engagement of youth," - Audience member
When also asked the audience to reflect on what co-production means to them and what it looks like when implemented effectively. When asked 'In what ways do you think the wider art world benefits from the full and collaborative participation of young people?' our audience talked about young people bringing exciting and fresh ideas to the art world which adults might shoot down too early for being over ambitious. They stated that they believed having young people at the forefront of the arts attracts more young people to the arts. The audience felt that teamwork and having access to real practising artists played a vital role in building a rich art and culture experience for young people.
When asked about the barriers to using co-production our audience suggested that limited access to young people could be a problem along with assumptions that young people were too busy with exams to engage in the arts. It seemed that everyone attending agreed that a democratic approach was vital when implementing co-production and that young people were given the chance to speak directly and not through an adult mediator.
"Young people often approach things from a different angle and come up with brilliant ideas that the rest of us might rule out if they're too ambitious," - Audience member
All photographs taken by Erefua Boakye https://erefuaboakye.com/