City of Dreams at the Engage Conference 2019

The Engage Conference took place in NewcastleGateshead in November 2019.

Inspired by City of Dreams mission, the conference explored the theme of “unlocking culture: an entitlement for all children and young people”

Established in 1989, Engage represents gallery and visual art professional across the UK and in 20 countries around the world. They bring organisations, artists, educators and freelancers together to learn from each other and develop the arts sector. They also help to make a strong case for access to resources for the arts, and for access to the arts by children and young people.

City of Dreams was delighted that Engage chose to hold their national conference in NewcastleGateshead in 2019, especially because they chose to do so because of the work we are doing in the city.

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engage 1 barriersUnlocking Culture brought together people from across the United Kingdom to discuss important issues in the field of culture, arts and engagement with children and young people. Conference organisers believe that the arts and culture provide a lens though which under25s can develop and understanding of themselves and the wider world.

The conference programme explored the idea that creative engagement is a human right, providing a space for children and young people to shape thoughts, feelings and futures. It also considered how access is denied to some, with the most marginalised having the least opportunities. 

Conference contributors included Alison Bower (Executive Director of Kids in Museums), Sharna Jackson (Artistic Director of Site Gallery), Professor Tom Lawson (Pro Vice Chancellor of Northumbria University), consultant and broadcaster Andrew Miller, Nicky Morgan (Director of Special Projects at Arts Council England, Dikshana Turakhia Pering (London Borough of Culture producer), Julie Ward (MEP) and Iain Watson (Director, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums). And many many more.

City of Dreams Young Champion Nick Hind, and Executive Producer Ben Dickenson, took part in the opening session.engage solutions

Ben gave an overview of City of Dreams, showed the newly released Our City Our Story online collection and the film made at the City of Dreams official launch in 2018. Nick talked through findings of two year’s of Big Culture Conversations, drawing out the main lessons from dialogue with over 2000 5-25year olds. Nick is an expert in these results, having been on of the team of young people who designed and led the consultations in 2019.

Among other things, Nick highlighted the major barriers standing between children and young people in NewcastleGateshead and cultural engagement – money, travel and adults who actively discourage them from getting involved. He also shared their proposed solutions to these challenges.

One other challenge, expressed by many Big Culture Conversation participants, was that cultural institutions didn’t belong to them. Or that they didn’t belong in cultural spaces. This often stemmed from misperceptions about venues and their social norms, however Nick demonstrated that nearly two-thirds of under25s in NewcastleGateshead see their day-to-day creative and digital making practices as completely separate from the activity of cultural organisations. Indeed, they thought their interests and experiences would not bquestions engagee represented in the programming and participation offers of most.

Another theme of Nick’s presentation was the strong desire of young people to do more making activity, with 32% also expressing interest in a creative industry career. This contrasted with an equally loud call for help with basic skills for employment, with the skills for freelance work and help to make creative connections. There was also a clear message that maintaining good mental wellbeing was an increasing problem for many young people and, worse, they expected creative engagement and creative careers to require a kind of person toughness that other industries might not.

Nick concluded his presentation by posing 3 questions to conference delgates. They can be seen on the slide above, and offer a good starting point for any venue, organisation or city that wants to get serious about engaging young people.

The first day of Unlocking Culture came to a conclusion with an “in coversation” ENGAGE CONFERENCEsession featuring Kema Kay talking about his creative career with Ben Dickenson posing the questions. Kema revealed the full story of his journey from a troubled childhood and youth, to being a successful and sustainable artist, throwing in a little rap for good measure. Asked what his top 3 tips would be for unlocking culture and engaging young people he said:

  1.  “put yourself in their shoes”
  2.  “give a shit”
  3.  “be patient”

They sound like good starting points to us. 

Find out more by reading Ben’s presentation here and look our for our seminars, events and conferences in 2020.

We’re always keen to talk so feel free to contact us anytime.



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