The Big Culture Conversation – “a beacon of good practice”

BCC full hall

By Valerie Ender

Coordinator Gateshead Youth Council, and Gateshead Youth Assembly

When we were asked to be a part of City of Dreams, my first thought was ‘hmmm, it’s a bit arty isn’t it?’

‘Arty’ isn’t what Gateshead Youth Council has been about but, over the past few years we have been dipping our collective toes in the water by getting involved in the Juice Festival. This led to eight of our Gateshead Youth Assembly young people gaining Bronze Arts Awards, and another group of our Asylum Seeking young people starting their Arts Award journeys.

What this showed us, is that you don’t need to be typically arty to get involved in the arts. It has been a bit of a departure for us, but, it turns out, a very welcome one.

City of Dreams has proven to be a beacon of good practice when it comes to engaging young people in conversations about what they want and need.

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It was a refreshing change to find that Ben Dickenson (City of Dreams, Executive Producer) was calling us, and speaking to hundreds of other young people across Newcastle and Gateshead before anything more than the general City of Dreams ambition was written. This is real youth engagement. This is also really quite rare.

The first Big Culture Conversation ran November 2017 to February 2018, engaging 982 children and young people, between 5 and 25years of age, from across Newcastle and Gateshead.  Gateshead Youth Assembly were part of the “dream team” who made this happen, and co-hosted the closing event on 21st February, attended by 300 young people.

The first City of Dreams Big Conversation, which ran from November to February with a large event in The Great Hall in the Discovery Museum at the end, was the very start of a process to find out what young people what and need from cultural organisations. Also, crucially, what the barriers are to young people taking part and venturing over the doorsteps of the big ten cultural venues.

We all know that getting involved in cultural activities enhances lives, we know that broadening horizons enables people to see new possibilities and raise their aspirations and ambitions. We know that arty stuff is good for us! What we need to know is why young people are sometimes hesitant to get involved.

What Ben and the City of Dreams ‘dream team’ did was ask those questions. What’s good? What’s rubbish? Where do you go? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? What makes that happen? What stops you?

The answers, at least so far, have been clear. Young people often feel that the cultural venues are too posh for them, too vague, too far away, too scary, too expensive. These views are often not borne out of fact, but perception is a powerful barrier and one which City of Dreams is tasked with overcoming.

I’ve been a youth worker in Gateshead for thirty years, most of that time I’ve been a Youth Engagement specialist and I can tell you, it’s really unusual to have an initiative like City of Dreams, done properly, from the get go. It’s refreshing to be able to trust that the premise is flexible enough to enable young people to get involved in ways that are safe and comfortable for them, and that are real.

Young people are at the very heart of City of Dreams, affecting and effecting change in the culture sector in real, tangible ways.

The next step, is the City of Dreams launch in September 2018 and then another round of the Big Culture Conversation starting this November, and I can’t wait!

Follow Valerie Ender, Gateshead Youth Council, and Gateshead Youth Assembly.

The Big Culture Conversation “dream team” – bringing together cultural, voluntary, and children and young people’s organisations to amplify the voices of under25s in Newcastle and Gateshead.

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