Policy brief: Cultural outreach work promotes the cultural participation of children and young people - Artsequal
null Policy brief: Cultural outreach work promotes the cultural participation of children and young people
Photo: Kai Lehikoinen
Cultural outreach work is an investment for the future. Cultural outreach work promotes the cultural participation of children and young people and thereby supports their wellbeing and prevents marginalisation.
This policy recommendation is aimed at municipal service providers, such as institutions of basic art education, primary and lower secondary schools, congregations, day-care centres, children’s cultural centres, and other third-sector agents. It is also intended to help political decision-making and to facilitate the work carried out in different ministries and agencies.
Concern for people’s wellbeing and the ever-growing social inequality make it necessary for municipalities to work proactively towards identifying the negative developments and downward spirals that can take place in the lives of individual residents, to make timely interventions, and to change the direction of the lives of those facing hardship. In this policy recommendation, we propose that municipalities should engage in cultural outreach work, which aims at promoting the active participation of children and young people in artistic and cultural activities. The goal of cultural outreach work is to improve people’s standard of living, to foster their sense of communality, to promote their wellbeing, and in this way to prevent marginalisation. Cultural outreach work also includes joint activities for parents and children, and it thus provides a way to promote a family-friendly culture as discussed in the National Child Strategy.1 By engaging in cultural outreach work, the local authorities can implement their mission to promote equal accessibility to culture and the arts, and to encourage the residents’ participation in diverse cultural and artistic activities as defined in the Municipal Cultural Activities Act. This way, the municipalities can promote equal opportunities for all demographic groups to take part in cultural, artistic, and general educational activities. Collaboration across institutional sectors forms an essential part of the implementation of this endeavour. It is important to bring the different municipal services close together in order to work proactively on people’s problems and to support their wellbeing.2
Cultural outreach work is a concept and a working method that is still being developed.3 It is based on the principles of existing cultural and youth outreach work, as well as on experimental projects and programmes. Cultural outreach work helps promote the accessibility of cultural services by customising the services according to the end users’ interests and needs, for example, and by taking the services directly to the potential target groups.4
We propose that the following action should be taken in the implementation of cultural outreach work for children and young people:
1. An expert in cultural outreach work. In order to carry out cultural outreach work, the municipality should have a designated person whose responsibilities include:
- to chart the need, accessibility and production of cultural services in the municipality, and to assess how well the principle of equal cultural participation is realised and what kinds of challenges there may exist within the municipality from the perspective of children and young people
- to identify reasons that prevent or discourage participation and think about how the situation could be remedied through the collaboration of the authorities and cultural agents
- to recognise opportunities for the collaboration of the authorities and cultural agents
- to create, coordinate and support the collaboration between the authorities and cultural agents and to monitor the progress of the collaborative efforts.
2. Collaboration across sectors. The cultural participation of children and young people can be improved and promoted through collaborative efforts that cross the existing boundaries between different institutional sectors (e.g. culture, sports, social care, education).5
Launched in 2013, the Floora project is an example of cultural outreach work across sectors. The project supports pupils who are at risk of becoming marginalised, or who for some reason have not received basic education in the arts, by encouraging them to start taking music lessons. The Floora project is based on a collaboration between schools and pupil welfare services, music schools, social services, third-sector participants and immigration services.6 As a result of the collaborative efforts, c. 170 children and young people have started to learn to play a musical instrument, and some of them have later become students at music schools or conservatories through regular student intake. The project has produced a variety of potential models for collaboration based on the principle of equal accessibility to basic education in the arts.
3. Creating activities together with children and young people
We propose that the guidance system and activities for the youth should be produced and developed together with the children and the youth in the framework of cultural youth work. The work should be based on the principles of critical pedagogy, and it should adopt customer-oriented and demand-based perspectives across different sectors.7
The City of Lahti has developed their youth guidance activities together with young adults in an art-educational project, which resulted in the creation of The Agency Video. The video includes a performative statement by the young adults, which is based on their own experiences with the youth guidance system. The video has allowed professionals working in the youth education and guidance sector to evaluate their own roles more critically, and they have even started to question some aspects of the existing education and guidance services.
SONGLAB is a new low-threshold model for the organisation of songwriting workshops. It is arranged in collaboration between the basic art education sector, youth work, adult education centres, and libraries. The goal of the project is to make education in the arts more accessible to the youth. SONGLAB provides the necessary infrastructure for the youth who are interested in writing their own music or lyrics, or in producing and publishing their own music together with other young people. The operational model promotes cultural diversity by actively encouraging the youth with a multi-cultural background to take part in the project’s activities. Working together in a music-related project gives the youth an opportunity to meet other young people who are interested in making music, while simultaneously supporting the social integration of those with an immigrant background. SONGLAB was launched in Helsinki in the March of 2019. The collaborating partners of the project include the City of Helsinki Youth Department, Tiuku Association, the West Helsinki School of Music, and the University of the Arts Helsinki. The City of Helsinki supported the piloting stage of the model in 2019.
4. Action plans for the wellbeing of the residents. The municipality should make inter-sector action plans for its cultural wellbeing and education services in order to support their teaching and education activities and the realisation of cultural rights. The action plans should pay particular attention to the development of services for children and young people in the municipality. The goal is to obtain a resolute collaborative culture which proactively prevents problems, creates human, cultural and social capital, and supports the active participation of the residents.
What is cultural outreach work?
Cultural outreach work is work that supports cultural equality and non-discrimination with the aim of promoting the realisation of people’s basic cultural rights and improving people’s possibilities to participate regardless of their background.
Cultural outreach work refers to collaborative, focused and goal-oriented activities by the local authorities and cultural agents, which are continuously monitored.8 Cultural outreach work can be included in the school’s or municipality’s cultural education and welfare plan, which is made in order to implement the Municipal Cultural Activities Act.9
The focus of the outreach work is on proactive and anticipatory activities, which are performed before the marginalisation process can even begin and/or before corrective measures become necessary. Basic education in the arts, as well as culture and youth services, should especially be offered to children and young people who are at risk of becoming excluded from the existing cultural services because of socio-economic or cultural reasons, gender-related issues or difficulties related to the acquisition/understanding of the available information.
The work is based on low-threshold artistic activities and education in the arts, which will encourage the children and youth to engage in long-lasting and wide-ranging leisure activities. The common objective of the long-term collaboration is to ensure that the cultural activities that are offered are as comprehensive and as accessible as possible.
A low-threshold dance workshop for 9-year-old boys: Twelve boys, who had applied to a dance-oriented class in primary school but were not selected after taking an aptitude test, took part in a dance workshop. The workshop was inspired by the principles of cultural outreach work, and it was organised by a dance instructor and researcher working in the ArtsEqual initiative, who had received requests to lead a workshop from the boys’ parents. The goal of the workshop was to support the boys in their pursuit of dance as a hobby, and the instruction was organised from a learner-centred perspective. The workshop lasted for a total of 10 weeks, and it was arranged free of charge in collaboration with Free Dance School, a dance school that provides basic art education. Some of the students continued to study in the dance school immediately after the workshop concluded.
Cultural participation prevents marginalisation and promotes wellbeing
The Finnish welfare society is currently facing many challenges: socio-economic inequality is increasing, and people who are already underprivileged are burdened with new disadvantages. Social problems that stand out include loneliness experienced by the elderly and the marginalisation of young men, for example.10 Furthermore, it has been found that pupils already adopt a somewhat cynical attitude towards studying in primary school. It is alarming to find that 15 per cent of these pupils think that school is completely irrelevant to their future.11
According to previous research, people born in 1987 and 1997 have enjoyed a positive and secure childhood.12 However, part of this demographic group has had substantial long-term difficulties in finding their place in society, which is a cause for concern. For instance, 14 per cent of people born in 1987 had not completed an educational degree nine years after finishing lower secondary school. The lack of education and social participation can lead to marginalisation and exclusion from the labour market. Moreover, those born in 1987 suffer from challenges pertaining to their health and wellbeing: one third of them have either been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition or have taken psychiatric medication. The situation has not improved for those born in 1997.13
Several studies show that art education and artistic activities are connected to learning, wellbeing and the development of social skills.14 The are also a number of studies that have established a connection between cultural capital and learning outcomes, academic ability, and education choices.15 As people enter adulthood, their cultural capital also becomes connected to social participation, wellbeing, and their sense of worth and meaningfulness of life.16
At present, the effects generated through art education that prevent marginalisation and increase wellbeing are only accomplished in part. Artistic activities and art education do not presently reach everyone, which reduces their potential effect. It has been suggested that the current situation could in part be explained by structural exclusion.
By improving people’s possibilities to engage in art-related leisure activities, it is possible to promote e.g. collaborative social activities for young people with diverse backgrounds, to encourage them to become acquainted with each other, and to teach them how to react to divergence and otherness.17 According to previous studies, youth outreach work and the active provision of activities reinforce the existing service networks, lower the threshold for the youth to engage in leisure activities, and increase their participation in cultural youth work.18 Cultural participation improves the individual’s experience of their sense of worth and meaningfulness of life, and it encourages them to be active agents in society.19
Documents advocating cultural outreach work
- The Constitution of Finland (731/1999) provides an account of the basic cultural rights, which include the right to participate in artistic and cultural activities, the right to engage in communal development and personal growth, and the right to self-expression. These basic rights have also been listed in several human rights agreements that have been ratified by Finland, as well as in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- The Municipal Cultural Activities Act (166/2019) obligates local governments to promote the residents’ equal opportunity to participate in cultural, artistic, and educational activities.
- The Strategy for Leisure Activities formulated by the Ministry of Education and Culture includes measures intended to ensure that every child and young person has the possibility to engage in a leisure activity that is connected to a meaningful life, participation and wellbeing.20
- The objectives of the Association of Finnish Municipalities concerning the Government Programme (2019–2023) aim at acknowledging the significance of cultural, library, sports and youth services in promoting the vitality of the municipality and fostering the wellbeing and health of the local residents.21
- The final report of the Expansion of the Per Cent for Art Scheme key project (2016–2018) states that art and culture should be part of the municipality’s organisational structure for increasing the residents’ social wellbeing and health. The final report proposes that municipalities should promote high-quality artistic and cultural activities within the municipality, which would help improve the wellbeing and increase the participation of the residents.22
Isto Turpeinen, Doctor of Arts (Dance), works as Art Advisor at Arts Promotion Centre Finland. He is also a visiting Postdoctoral Researcher at the Performing Arts Research Centre (Tutke) at the University of the Arts Helsinki. Turpeinen was a researcher in two research groups in the ArtsEqual initiative: Basic Arts Education for All and Arts@School. He organises father/son dance workshops and leads dance groups for boys in basic dance education.
Marja-Leena Juntunen, PhD, is Professor of Music Education at the University of the Arts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy. She is Director of the Basic Arts Education for All research group in the ArtsEqual initiative and a researcher in Arts@School and Visions – Systems Analysis and Policy Recommendations groups.
Hanna Kamensky, Master of Music, is a doctoral researcher at the University of the Arts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy. She works in the Basic Arts Education for All research group, which is part of the ArtsEqual initiative. Kamensky completed her master’s degree in the study programme of Classical Music Performance at Sibelius Academy with piano as her main instrument. She has also worked as a piano teacher in a music institution of basic art education in 1997–2015.
1. OKM 2019a
2. THL 2016
3. See Niskavirta 2006; Susi 2012; 2014
4. Kangas & Sokka 2015; Mikkonen, Kauppinen, Huovinen & Aalto 2007; see also Culture for All Service 2019
5. See Jakonen & Lahtinen 2019; Senge 2006
6. Väkevä, Westerlund & Ilmola-Sheppard 2017; Westerlund, Väkevä & Ilmola-Sheppard 2019
7. Pässilä & Vince 2017
8. HE 195/2018 (Government Proposal); STM 2019; OECD 2019
9. The Municipal Cultural Activities Act 2019; see also POPS 2014
10. Laihiala 2018; OECD 2019; Salonen & Joutsenvirta 2018
11. Salmela-Aro et al. 2015; 2018; Tuominen-Soini & Salmela-Aro 2014
12. THL 2016; 2018
13. THL 2016, 2018; see also OECD 2019; Salonen & Joutsenvirta 2018
14. E.g. Anttila 2013; Catterall, Dumais & Hampden-Thompson 2012; Cultural Learning Alliance 2017; Nikkanen 2014; Turpeinen 2015
15. E.g. Carbonaro 1998; Israel et al. 2001; Schlee et al. 2009; see also Vettenranta 2015
16. Putnam 200; 2015; Bojner Horwitz 2013; Hyyppä 2011; Lehikoinen & Vanhanen 2017; Salonen & Konkka 2018
17. Ijdens 2018; Kivijärvi 2015
18. Anttila, A. 2017
19. E.g. Salonen & Konkka 2018; Turpeinen & Buck 2019; Värri 2004; Weil 2007
20. OKM 2019b
21. See also Pekola-Sjöblom 2017
22. OKM 2019c
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