Museums of Modernity

Genevieve Holl-Allen 31 October 2018

Despite seemingly relentless stereotyping of young people as tech-obsessed, vitamin B deficient introverts, galleries, museums and other institutions have not given up incentivising us to engage with culture, and we aren’t ignoring their attempts either.

Recent studies have shown that the British population isn’t as culturally engaged as it once was.  According to statistics published by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva), The British Museum, Natural History Museum, Tate Modern and National Gallery welcomed a total of almost two million fewer people in 2017 compared than in the previous year, part of a general national and international trend. But the age-old conviction that young people cannot be persuaded of the importance of cultural institutions has proved false. In fact, young people aged between 18 and 25 were actually more likely to visit a museum in 2017-18 than they were 5 years ago.

We young people are continually lambasted by the press as having attention spans so short we cannot stand before a still image in an art gallery for more than half a second, and prefer to stare at a selfie rather than a still-life. But we are not to blame for this “crisis of culture”. I do not believe that our generation does not care for the art or artefacts of the past and, in fact, I do not believe that the museum community believes this either. I admire the museum community for its desire to involve young people in the cultural sphere. Although museums are known for their preoccupation with the preservation of the past, I believe that many have their sights firmly set on the future, and that means on us.

It is a self-evident truth that technology affects every facet of modern life. For any institution in today’s society to thrive, it should not try to compete with technology in our affections, but rather work with it to communicate with an ever larger community and to make culture more accessible. Cultural establishments like the V&A and the Tate have started to take advantage of new channels of communication, such as using Facebook and Instagram to share news of their major exhibitions, giving them a younger face and an updated image. Some museums have gone as far as to bring technology into their exhibition halls, with the V&A museum in London currently hosting the exhibition, ‘Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt’, with concept art on display alongside interactive installations.

This is not a case of young people versus stuffy culture. The fall in visitor numbers has nothing to do with the disengaged youth. Official government reports cite the fear of terrorist attacks, travel costs and the expense of eating out as reasons why Brits no longer seem to love their iconic museums as much as they used to. Life is becoming more expensive and culture is paying the price. Culture evolves with the times, and museums are catching up with the dizzying pace of today’s society with its technological dependence.  However, as students, we are one of the main age groups which could find our budgets squeezed by going to a museum exhibition or a show. We shouldn’t let this put us off, though, because several schemes have been put into place for us to attend blockbuster exhibitions and theatre productions for a fraction of the price, such as the Tate Collective and Young Bridge. We should not look a gift horse in the mouth. We should take advantage of these initiatives while we can, and get ourselves into culture, so that we can learn more about the culture of the past, but also the culture of the present.