Youth Councils in the time of COVID-19

March 30, 2021

Photo: Chris Snow

Text by Patricia Bérubé

As part of an internship at the OAG, I have been doing research on the Gallery’s youth programming. OAG has a Youth Council that meets regularly to discuss and organize events for their peers between the ages of 15 and 25. In advance of the planning for another Youth Arts Symposium (YAS!), I asked for feedback from participants in the last symposium organized by OAG in 2017. One of the partner institutions for the event was the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), so I spoke with Sarah Febbraro, the AGO’s Assistant Curator, Youth and Engagement in Public, Programs and Learning, about her involvement in YAS! and the AGO’s youth programming in general.

The evolution of youth programming

When I asked Sarah if youth programming had evolved in recent years at the AGO, she said there is no doubt that there has been a shift in the targeted audiences for public programming. To make their programming more accessible to a larger youth audience, AGO removed any financial barriers by offering, since May 2019, a free AGO Annual Pass to visitors aged 14 to 25 years old.

Towards the next Youth Art Symposium

When thinking back on her experience with YAS!, Sarah emphasized the importance for Youth Councils at galleries to be youth-led and the need for gallery staff members to give youth a space to share their ideas. She also insisted that collaborations with community partners should be central when developing youth programming.

Youth Programming and the COVID-19 pandemic

Sarah told me that the AGO has taken some time during the pandemic to revaluate their youth programming. Though they have missed meeting in the building, the AGO’s Youth Council members have nevertheless remained fully active with virtual programming. Online programming has also given them an opportunity to reach a much wider audience.

Sarah Febbraro thinks that it is unlikely that things will be able to return simply to the way they were before the pandemic, but there is a great potential for art galleries if they continue to adopt a hybrid approach that incorporates both online and on site programming.

Patricia Bérubé is currently a PhD candidate in Cultural Mediations at Carleton University. Interested in the subject of accessibility within museums, especially in light of the impact of COVID-19, she is evaluating the youth programming at OAG as part of her practicum. For more information on the Youth Council click here

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