Christian Poirier: Dialogues on public engagement in the arts

Christian Poirier, professor, Institut national de la recherche scientifique – Centre Urbanisation Culture Société
Christian Poirier, professor, Institut national de la recherche scientifique – Centre Urbanisation Culture Société



The cultural participation of youth and their complex engagement with arts and culture

What kind of relationships do youth have with arts and culture? What are the main dynamics at play? While there is much statistical information available on cultural consumption and attendance, few studies focus on the many dimensions of the relationships between youth and the cultural field.

Rich and complex perceptions

The comments below, from participants in a 2012 study on the participation of youth by the Institut national de la recherche scientifique – Urbanisation Culture Société, reveal the fascinating dynamic between youth and culture.

"Well basically, it determines who we are fundamentally. The stories we tell define who we are. So, basically artistic expression is telling stories. So it is pretty essential […]."

"[…] it is like part of me, it’s hard … it’s like if someone cut off my hand, it would be like […] it’s too difficult to live without it."

"[It]is the source of life, it’s … we need culture to advance in society, to have a personal identity… in order to have distinquish ourselves internationally and to reach out internationally, you definitely have to have culture. […] really, it’s the lungs of … life, the way that the Amazon is the lungs of the earth, culture is … the lungs of each society […]"

For the study, we specifically examined 7 dimensions of youth participation: the nature of their activities, the contexts and locations of production, reasons and motivations, how they come to develop and share an interest in culture, culture and the digital age, individual and group impacts, and perceptions of culture.

Cultural engagement of youth: Beyond the cliché

Using qualitative research, we were better able to grasp and understand the diverse facets of this participation, both in terms of creation and consumption/attendance, and presentation/sharing. Through this, I believe we were able to move beyond certain clichés (apathetic youth, focus on “commercial” vs. “independent” culture, etc.).

The portrait of cultural engagement of youth that emerged through this study is complex and made up of many factors, including:

  • a great diversity of creative practices, consumption and sharing
  • contexts marked by individual and group activities (sociability)
  • a desire for flexible and interactive relationships with cultural content (especially digital) and presentation venues (virtual participation doesn’t eclipse in-person attendance
  • the importance of proximity
  • the influence of family, teachers-educators and peers
  • the extended impact of culture, both at the individual level (identity building, improved capacities for action in other spheres of society) and the collective level (creation of social connections, openness to other ethnocultural communities, etc.).

What next?

Given this information, we must then look more comprehensively at the new reality of youth engagement, while also addressing the challenges identified (low or no participation in certain cultural institutions, the problem of integrating the arts into the school curriculum, the rising costs of access to cultural products – devices, Internet, etc. – compared to the cost of the products, etc.).

The spontaneous representations of culture by youth attest to an incredible richness – one that can inspire stakeholders in the cultural sector to work towards ultimately building true cultural citizenship, the key notion at the core of this research