October 2013 - September 2014

Each Circuit gallery has adopted distinct approaches to partnership. Some galleries are focusing on sector engagement, research and development of networks, while others are pursuing projects with identified partners. Youth sector partners involved so far include youth centres, colleges, a youth enquiry service, alternative education centres, a youth offending team, a group of dancers with learning disabilities and services working with young carers and young parents. The issues facing young people, youth services and galleries differ across the regions, which each possess various political, industrial, labour and migration histories.

Through these interactions, the following concerns have emerged:

Deconstructing partnership rhetoric

Partnership is a highly ubiquitous and politicised concept. A review of the literature highlights the dichotomy between dominant, state-led partnership discourses, and discourses related to the ‘collaborative turn’ in contemporary art for instance.1 Partnership is perceived both as a pluralistic, open and ethical approach to institutional practice, and as a vehicle for the privatisation and outsourcing of public services. This first year of research has involved exploration of these different comprehensions of partnership via gallery education, youth work, government and community arts discourses, and reflection upon the divergences and convergences between institutional understandings of partnership, and partnership in practice.

The consensual/conflictual condition of partnership

The multiple ‘problems’ presented by partnership have also provided the focus for first year research.2 Often represented as a site of power struggle,3  partnership between visual arts and youth organisations raises questions about authority, authorship and equality, and prompts debate over the ‘ethics of engagement’.4  These arguments frequently focus upon the construction of ‘Otherness’ in the encounter between young people - whose identities may be associated with deficit categories of disadvantage, marginalisation and vulnerability - and art institutions - which are perceived as repositories of expertise, high culture and wealth.5 Practitioners recognise that cross-sector work has the potential to magnify constructions of difference and expose structural inequalities and institutional exclusions. The pilot fieldwork has revealed examples where different regimes of knowledge have created conflict or agonistic spaces within the programme, and examples where cross-art form practices have catalysed the production of dynamic, transdisciplinary spaces of partnership.6

The spatial politics of youth

This research inhabits a set of particular political circumstances that shape public representations of young people and youth work. A backdrop of youth disenfranchisement - characterised in the media for instance by the legacy of the riots, youth unemployment, youth club closures and teenage radicalisation - has framed the first year research. The spatial marginalisation of young people has emerged as a key concern for many of the Circuit partnership projects. Issues surrounding young people’s position within their communities and local environments have formed the basis for exhibitions, events, films and publications within the programme. The intention is to investigate the co-production of these critical spaces and the readiness of galleries and youth organisations to support hard to reach young people’s sometimes-chaotic behaviors and existing cultural practices and values.