Circuit longitudinal research – some emerging results

Becky Coles and Pat Thomson report some emerging research results.

What did Circuit mean to the young people who engaged with it most deeply? We set out to answer this question by following twenty-one young people from Circuit’s ‘core’ or ‘peer’ groups in four galleries. We asked about their everyday lives and their experiences of work, education the gallery and art practice, through five ‘waves’ of interviews over two years.

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One of the exhibitions some of our participants were involved in at First Site.

As might be expected, our participants came from relatively well educated and well-off backgrounds: seventeen had a parent who was doing at least skilled manual work, administrative work or running a family business and seven of these had a parent doing highly paid work; thirteen had a parent with a degree and four had a parent with an Art degree; seventeen participants were themselves studying or had studied an arts subject at college or university. Yet there was considerable variation in how privileged these young people were.

It is generally agreed among those who research employment in the cultural and creative industries that getting jobs is hard, so it is not surprising that six of the young people in our study had been unsuccessful in getting the work they aspired to on graduating from University. For those who had families they could live with, this was less of a problem than for those who did not and who became reliant on gruelling regimes of badly paid work and insecure housing.

A majority (16) participants wanted careers in the creative and cultural industries and nine wanted them specifically in the art world. But while three were doing vocationally oriented degrees and six were planning how to negotiate career paths while still in education, others had been blocked from doing so by a lack of financial resources or a lack of awareness or knowledge. An equal number – six – were not following a plan but working their way up into paid positions, starting with voluntary work. Achieving financial security in the future was a significant concern for some participants (six), all of whom came from less well-off backgrounds or lacked a family they could live with. While four expected professional work in the arts to provide security, two hesitated to fully commit to the precarious and competitive work structures of the art world.

Participants who did not aspire to careers in the arts or creative industries either felt no need to plan because of the family support they could rely on – two, for example, felt free to become totally absorbed in their art degree for its own sake – or they saw professional roles as incompatible with their independent art practice or entrepreneurial ambition. Two quit education, favouring the informal support structures of the art world and creative industries. While twelve participants had their own ongoing art practice, two also said they could not call themselves artists because they did not make a living from their work. Although four had used their art practice in paid work at the gallery, no participants expected to make a living from making art.

It was a pleasure and a thrill for participants to do something for other people and to feel part of large and powerful institution. Circuit made up for the lack of professional work available to them. Eight found Circuit a comfortable place to socialise, particularly when they were going through difficult social experiences elsewhere. All but one however, had also felt obliged to do some Circuit voluntary work they didn’t enjoy or weren’t sure about because they felt committed or indebted to Circuit.

Circuit also helped our participants find out about career pathways, learn workplace skills and integrate into art-world sub-cultures. Seven had made decisions about their education based at least in part on discussions with people at the gallery. Circuit also helped participants work their way into jobs. Five went on to get professionally paid work in a gallery on the basis of their work with Circuit. Two, however, had tried to do this and failed. And six others had found regular non-professional paid work at the gallery, or occasional work as they were needed, which provided them with income and a continued connection with the art world.

 We are following up the participants in a few months to see what they are doing ‘post Circuit’. 

circuit longitudinal research

Pat Thomson and Becky Coles have just been awarded funding from the Tate Circuit programme.

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Mostyn Gallery:Circuit Victorian extravaganza

Circuit is a four-year national programme connecting 15-25 year olds to the arts in galleries and museums working in partnership with the youth and cultural sector. Led by Tate and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, it provides opportunities for young people to steer their own learning and create cultural activity across art disciplines.

Our research focuses on fifteen to twenty young people who are involved in the Circuit programme. We will work with them to document their lives over the next two years. We hope to show the multitude of decisions these young people make about themselves, their lives and their present and future lives and the ways in which their contemporary arts engagement is implicated.

tale – new research

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Tate Summer School 2015

Chris Hall and Pat Thomson have been awarded an Arts Council research grant. We are the university partners to Royal Shakespeare Company Education and Tate Learning. Our research will address the current gap in knowledge about what teachers do during and after they have been involved in high quality professional development in the performing and visual arts. We will also see how students experience and benefit (or not) from their teacher’s enhanced pedagogic content knowledge.

This is a longitudinal study, currently three years in duration. We will follow young people at three year levels – GSCE, and the two years of A levels – as they make decisions about subject choices and careers. We will work with thirty schools and sixty teachers – and a lot of young people!

We are currently setting this project up, choosing schools to contact, employing a researcher, getting ethical approvals sorted. The project has its own website and blog which can be found here.