Bringing Youth to the Museum: An interview with Sarah Younan

by Abbie Rands

Sarah Younan is the new Youth Coordinator for National Museum Wales and she is devising various projects to encourage young people to get more involved in museums and heritage.

‘Hi Sarah, tell us about the Youth in Museums project!’

‘The project is lottery funded as part of an initiative called ‘Kick the Dust’. The National Museum is the only heritage centre in Wales to receive the grant. We have a 6-month period to develop and research the programme to decide how best to put young people in an integral role in our museums.’

‘How will the programme be delivered?’

‘We are focusing on young people between the ages of 14 and 24 and we want to engage them in various ways, not only to be involved but to have a say in how our heritage sites are run. We want an ‘Introduction to Heritage’ which allows people to look around and see what our museums have to offer. We’re also going to be offering awards in science, art, and heritage. We want recognition for the young people who give up time and effort to our museums.’

‘I hear that you will be running a Youth Forum, how does that work?’

‘We will be inviting young people to a fortnightly Q & A with staff to talk about museum issues and how we can make the site better for them. We will also be having drop-in opportunities, where people can look at our storage items that are not currently on display. There will be the opportunity to join museum boards and give feedback in panels, as well as increased work experience openings.’

‘What inspired you to create the project?’

‘I wanted to show people that museums are not just about science and art and history; they are weird and wacky places full of opportunity. I find that most often, learning happens by accident! But for that to happen we need to engage young people, bring them closer to our museum and through our doors.’

‘What one-off events do you have planned at the moment?’

‘Already we have had an after-hours event in which dance students from Aberystwyth took over our art galleries, led by the Welsh dancer Eddie Ladd. They danced through the galleries, creating art with their bodies around the art that we have on display. We have also been in touch with a young beauty vlogger from Swansea, who will be making a YouTube video based around a beautiful silver vanity set that we have on display, belonging to a young duchess. The video will involve makeup design that would have been fashionable for the owner of the vanity set.’

‘You’re also very engaged with social issues; how do you plan on linking the museum to social activism?’

‘We want to use our museum exhibits and collections to highlight events and campaigns of significance. For example, we want to highlight women’s art on International Women’s Day and draw people’s attention to environmental awareness through our Natural History collections. Themes of identity are very important to young people, and we want to create a link between them and the people of the past, exposing their shared experiences and humanity. It’s very easy to be disconnected from the past and we want to make it easy to find common ground.’

‘Finally, how did museums impact you as a young person?’

‘I was brought up in Kenya and I would sometimes go to the National Museum there. I don’t really remember it having a huge effect on me though. I moved to Europe when I was in my 20s and I visited a contemporary art gallery in an old castle in Germany and I was amazed; I couldn’t believe this kind of thing was out there! The juxtaposition of the old castle and the contemporary art really communicated a sense of idea and identity to me.’