1.0 Introduction

The purpose of this review is to provide an understanding of the literature in order to inform the development of a research proposal focused on the ARTIST ROOMS on tour exhibition. Three areas are explored:

  • The motivation of young people to get involved.
  • The ways that galleries (and other cultural organisations) engage with young people.
  • The types of methodologies used when conducting research on young people’s motivation and engagement.

Since this review of the literature has been conducted over a relatively short period of time, a number of parameters have been used to provide focus. The academic research informing this review primarily covers the period 2008-2013. Publications drawn directly from practice (cultural organisations) extend beyond this timeframe to ensure the inclusion of relevant organisational policy on engaging young people in gallery contexts.

In addition, and in order to ensure breadth of coverage, the reviewing process has focused on the abstract, methodology, results and concluding sections of the research articles considered.  As a result this review is highly selective. Further detail is provided on a small number of key studies.

Finally, though the literature reviewed focuses on young people, definitions vary. For example, Vasiliki Tzibaki (2013), following the New Labour agenda on social inclusion, researches young people aged 13-19.  Alex Gofman’s research on young people aged 18-35.

The main disciplines publishing work on the areas of young people’s motivation and gallery engagement include tourism and hospitality, sport and technology. This review of relevant literature is structured around 3 themes:

  • Young people and motivation.
  • Engagement.
  • Methodology.

2.0 Young people and motivation

This section provides an overview of the theoretical background exploring motivation. The limited literature reviewed in this section is broadly indicative of a gap in the existing research exploring young people’s motivation engaging with galleries. For this reason this review references a number of empirical studies that are indirectly related to the subject matter of young people’s motivation to participate in gallery settings.  

Interest in motivation crosses disciplines and geographic boundaries. The research reviewed brings together leisure studies, museum management, educational research, tourism, marketing and hospitality. The latter disciplines (related to tourism) indicate a commercial interest in the subject of motivation. The empirical studies reviewed in this section have been conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia and Hong Kong, demonstrating a global interest in the subject of motivation.

Broadly speaking, the theory described in the following studies can be categorised into a variety of understandings of motivation: individualistic and altruistic, intrinsic and extrinsic (autonomous motivation), contingent and habitual. In addition to motivation, the studies reviewed in this section also consider aspects of experience that might disengage or demotivate young people.

Two young people playing chess at Tate Modern

Spaces for young people. Long Weekend 2008
Photo © James Deavin

2.1 Motivation theory

Claire Holdsworth suggests that much of the literature exploring motivation assumes that volunteering must have a purpose. Altruistic and individualistic perspectives of motivation dominate.  However, while motivation may be described as altruistic or individualistic Holdsworth suggests that individual motives can be complex, involving a range of motivations that can also change over time.1 In a study of student volunteering in English Higher Education the dominant view of volunteering, as a strategic attempt to improve employability or ‘to do good’, is rejected.  Instead, volunteering is positioned in relation to building confidence and the development of self. The importance of identity construction as a motivational concept is also advanced by Jan Tønnesvang.

Tønnesvang argues for a holistic approach to motivation combining positive and negative perceptions, in this case of music learning, with personal and environmental factors.2 Positive factors include attainment value, self recognition and a sense of achievement in relation to intrinsic and utility value. Negative factors are linked to environmental factors (parental pressure) but also anxiety and the work involved in practising playing an instrument. Personal factors are described in relation to aesthetic feelings, abilities and beliefs while environmental factors focus on significant others involved in the process (parents, teachers, peers).

Fiona Price and Karima Kadi-Hanifi consider the ways that motivation can be sustained in the long term. In a study of adult learners, digital and social networking is used to consider how longer-term engagement can be promoted. The concept of e-motivation is described as the ‘innovative use of technology to motivate’.3 Price and Kadi-Hanifi conclude that technology can be used successfully to improve longer-term engagement.  However, the study shows that some technologies were more successful than others. Text messaging, email and social networking were preferred to blogging.4 Variation in preferences for technology may exist between young people and adults so further research may be needed to explore the use of technology in museum and gallery settings specifically by young people.

2.2 Motivation studies in cultural contexts

Through the agendas of inclusion and cultural democracy and empowering marginalised groups, increasing young people’s cultural engagement and participation has been a priority since 2000 (Vasiliki Tzibazi).5 The rationale underlying approaches to reducing social exclusion considers that attainment, skills and confidence will be increased through cultural participation and ultimately lead to a reduction in social exclusion. However, the existing literature indicates a gap in the existing research exploring gallery engagement and young peoples’ motivation.

In addition to the perspectives of motivation already mentioned, Bo Wah Leung and Gary McPherson provide a further way in which motivation can be categorised. In a study of school-age musical high-achievers Leung and McPherson explored 24 Asian students’ intrinsic motivation to learn music.6 A developmental approach is proposed categorising intrinsic motivation into initial motivation, short-term involvement in learning and longer term involvement and commitment. Since this study focuses on high-achievers it explores the perceptions of students who are already highly motivated. In addition, since the focus of music learning in this study takes place in formal education (school) contexts the authors take into account parental expectations of student learning, which may (or may not) be relevant when thinking about young people’s motivation to engage with galleries in informal learning contexts.

Leung and McPherson attribute initial motivation to music experiences beginning at a young age and which are associated with positive feelings. Short term motivation and the initial learning process may be influenced by a range of factors (personal, environmental) as well as overcoming challenges to their learning. Negative experiences at the short term stage were felt by young people forced to play an instrument. Ongoing commitment and lasting motivation may be influenced by skill (in the context of music learning) but also student-teacher relationships.7

Young people at Tate Liverpool's Colour Tent event

Eliza Hixson studies young people’s motivation to participate in a range of events. Activities contrasted included a sporting event, shopping, visits to the beach and attendance at a cultural festival (Adelaide Fringe Festival). Gender and place were explored as potentially important factors influencing participation. However, gender was not considered a predictor of participation since only slightly more male sixteen to eighteen year olds than females of the same age participated. In terms of place, sport playing and spectating (more so than the other activities) increased young people’s place identity and connection to Adelaide.8

Shopping and going to the beach were considered to have the greatest impact on young people though attendance was highest at the Adelaide Fringe Festival and Clipsal 500 V8 car race. In contrast, activities where no previous skill was required were considered to have least value.

The importance of these activities appears tied to young people’s conception of self. Aspects of the experience that are considered important include opportunities for self expression, social interaction and stress reduction, and as a result might be thought of in relation to general well-being. Tønnesvang  also considers the importance of identity (confirming or sustaining identity) when thinking about motivation.

Hixson considers psychological theories (autonomous motivation and self-determination theory) appropriate when considering young people’s motivation. In sporting pursuits (goal-orientated) young people may be motivated to do better than their peers. In contrast, task-orientated young people might be motivated by knowledge acquisition and collaboration with peers.  Motivation is categorised as autonomous or controlled. Autonomous motivation brings together intrinsic and extrinsic motivation where activities are integrated into identity development. In contrast, controlled motivation concerns the use of punishment and reward to achieve behavioural results.

In contrast to comparisons made across different types of events in Australia, Alex Gofman, Howard Moskowitz and Tonis Mets In an article called Marketing Museums and Exhibitions: What Drives the Interest of Young People, (2011) focus on young people attending museums in the United States. Young people are defined in this study broadly to include eighteen to thirty-five year olds. 

The study explores museums services, topic of exhibition, type of visit, time of visit, social opportunities, and purpose as possible motivational factors.  Alex Gofman finds a gender difference in attendance (23% males compared to 54% females based on additive constant analysis).9 The study also shows that young men are likely to be influenced by messages encouraging attendance at museums in order to become a more well-rounded person, to meet new people or see something new. Three mind-sets (habitual patrons, fun and social activities, interaction) were also identified in this study, which may influence decisions to attend a museum. Understanding the use of messages is viewed as valuable in terms of museum marketing.10

Deepak Chhabra’s  study of heritage site attendance provides a comprehensive overview of the push and pull factors influencing attendance. As with Gofman, Chhabra’s concern is with marketing for heritage sites. This survey of 200 US university students identifies 22 push factors, 10 pull factors and 12 satisfaction factors (displayed below).11

Download table 1.0: Push, Pull and Satisfaction factors [PDF, 5.1 Kb] from a survey of 200 US university students (Chhabra, 2010). Response rate 194.

Chhabra concludes that seeking authenticity was the most important push factor, followed by novelty in respect of the desire to learn about a site’s history. The most important pull factor again relates to authenticity in respect of both authentic exhibits and new cultures. Authenticity is considered important because it is viewed as key to ‘selling’ heritage tourism, though the term is not clearly defined.

Authenticity has become an important motivation in heritage tourism. The tourist quest for authenticity was first suggested by Dean MacCannell in 1976 who posited that people desired to seek an authentic experience outside their day-to-day mundane life and were keen to probe into other peoples’ backstage lives. Authenticity as a concept has extensively permeated tourism literature.12 

Satisfaction is considered related to both push and pull motivation. Similar to Alex Gofman et al, engagement varies by mind-set or intention. Authentic experience seekers desired connectedness, restoration and education. Entertainment and escape seekers desired connectedness.  Relaxation seekers were interested in restorative satisfaction.

Tzibazi adopts a longer term and Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach to exploring young peoples inclusion in museums arguing a need to include young people’s voices in the research process.13  Similar to Chhabra, authenticity is considered important by Tzibazi. In addition, the transformative value of participation is positioned as important to the PAR approach and the emancipatory objectives underpinning it. 

This study suggests that young people are indifferent to the offer made by cultural organisations, which may explain why the research suggests thirteen to nineteen year olds are considered hard to reach. A number of barriers to participation are considered including cost, lack of motivation, parental influence, physical barriers, travel and lack of time, and the idea that art galleries are unwelcoming (uninviting) places.

The group’ s perceptions on the role of museums as community institutions and the challenges that museum professionals have to face were deepened when the young people, in collaboration with three professional artists who were involved in the project to support the group’s needs, co-curated an exhibition in a gallery in London. Through this experience a first-hand understanding evolved of processes of exhibition development and parameters that shape museums and their practices (i.e. limitations and potential of space, communication modes within the museum space, style and tone of communication in label writing). The co-creation of an exhibition offered a practical arena for the group to put into practice their critical views of other museum spaces they had formerly reviewed. It was vital in this process that there were group discussions to explore individual views and ideas so that each participant felt valued and not compromised in the final collective decision. As in other PAR projects with community groups and young people (Tuck et al. 2008) reaching a collective agreement is not always a straightforward process 14

Tzibazi  concludes that galleries (arts organisations) need to resist dominant pedagogies of transmission or culture to develop pedagogies that acknowledge young people in the learning process. Though efforts have been made to involve young people in galleries and museums, for example through the use of Youth Forums, some approaches are viewed as tokenistic. 

Space is an open invitation to young people to come and use Tate Britain in a different way.

© Diana Agunbiade-Kolawole

3.0/3.1Engaging young people and gallery engagement

Similar to Tzibazi, Esther Sayers also acknowledges problems in the pedagogical positions of learner and expert in gallery settings. While education remains an important function within galleries its importance has shifted over time and in relation to other functions (conservation, preservation). 15Tensions exist between scholarly and emancipatory objectives. In addition, inequalities persist with attendance still dominated by the middle classes and elite. Tate Modern aspires to goals of community diversity and of young people sharing the ‘cultural conversation’. Research shows that some projects (Raw Canvas) enabled young people to voice their ideas but challenges remain in ensuring young people engage in decision making on youth programme issues. Sayers considers that the enduring challenge lies with the tensions between moderate and conservative approaches to interpretation and knowledge production in the gallery. 16

Emily Pringle provides an overview of Contemporary Gallery Education (CGE) covering a range of relevant areas including the distinctive role of the artist educator, and an overview of policy and theory developments in CGE. The research discussed in section 3.2 advocates the need for pedagogy of co-construction between learners and educators in gallery contexts. This same view is apparent by Pringle.17 Of particular importance given the limited existing research exploring motivation and engagement with young people in gallery contexts Pringle considers the role of artist educator to be distinct from museum educators. Artist educators are required to work as educator, activist, researcher, role model and collaborator. Pringle  proposes a model of CGE arts practice combining context, process and outcome. Context takes into  account where the learning takes place and includes personal, socio-cultural and site-specific factors. 18 Learning processes include collaboration, analysis, reflection, experimentation and holistic engagement. Outcomes include reflection, engagement, meaning forming, responsibility and empowerment. Pringle calls for further research exploring how the framework (key themes) are used in practice. The limited existing research suggests this work is still required.19

Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) undertook to identify, through literature review, case study and expert interviews, research exploring cultural engagement (including motivation) and the tactics used to create demand within the cultural sector.20 Understanding demand for cultural engagement speaks to the rationale of why people participate. Attendance figures only show levels of participation but not the reasons underlying attendance. A holistic approach is recommended to understanding cultural demand. Social networking theory, psychological and ethnographic approaches are considered necessary to understand the complexity of cultural engagement.

Heritage Lottery Fund and The National Youth Agency (HLF and NYA) reviews the Young Rootsprogramme of activity from 2002-2007.21 The project aimed to encourage engagement with heritage in young people (thirteen to twenty-five year olds). The Model of Practice developed out of the project considers partnership working, creativity and involvement with the wider community key factors when young people are engaged in heritage learning.

Kate Pontin situates the rationale for engaging young people in museums as a matter of forming developing long term connections (habits) to museum engagement. 22Young people’s physical development (influenced by cognitive and emotional development, peer pressure and identity development) and their perceptions of museums (as not for them) are recognised as barriers to engagement. The need for shared ownership between partners and young people is highlighted as necessary for maintaining young people’s involvement. The need for flexible planning and carefully considered exit strategies are also considered important.

Christopher Ganley  reflects on the ARTIST ROOMS exhibition and tour of galleries across the UK. The term ‘cultural learning’ is considered preferable to ‘cultural education’ acknowledging the broad shift away from pedagogies of transmission. National Galleries of Scotland and Tate define learning as “[a] physical, intellectual, emotional or creative connection with art in a meaningful, enjoyable and potentially life-changing way” 23. A number of approaches to engaging with young people were recommended, including guided visits, workshops, talks and debates, and the use of digital resources. While the recommended approaches were valued by associate galleries they were also perceived by galleries as constraining the flexibility of the underlying learning agenda. 

3.2 Research

Robert Lawy et al  explore democratic learning of young people in gallery settings in the south-west of England. 24They argue that little attention has been given to the ways in which young people’s learning practices offer a democratic approach to learning. Seven artist-led projects were studied over a period of several months. Participants comprised thirty-two young people (eleven boys) in secondary schools. The methods used included interview (group and individual) and observation. Differences between learning in a formal school environment and gallery contexts were noted around structure, learner-adult interactions and atmosphere. Some young people found the transition difficult to navigate in respect of these differences. Time was needed to adjust to learning in a different (gallery) environment. While the democratic learning goals were appreciated by artists a balance was needed in respect of other important aspects of creative practice such as aesthetic concern.25

Christina MacRae in a study working with Manchester City Art Gallery and Manchester Metropolitan University (2003-2004) aimed to open up ideas on how galleries engage with young children. 26 Rather than a focus on self, MacRae considers how gallery collections can be used to engage with the environment (world). The theory of Merleau-Ponty is used in contrast to approaches focused on the rational mind. Instead, MacRae is interested in the whole body knowledge construction process. Though four experimental sessions were delivered as part of the research MacRae focuses on one of these sessions, based around ‘touch’. 27While children’s engagement began with touch (exploring the textures of different sculptures) the process also included story writing based on a painting (Ford Maddox Brown’s ‘Manfred on the Jungfrau’). The balance between allowing children to touch some artworks and not others was negotiated carefully.  Focusing on sensory engagement was seen to open up creative possibilities for understanding a social fabric inclusive of people, objects and feelings.

David Mason and Conal McCarthy explore young peoples’ perceptions of art galleries with a specific focus on the approaches used by galleries to engage young people. A survey was used to understand perceptions of Auckland Art Gallery (New Zealand).28 The findings indicate differences in the definition of modern art. What was exhibited failed to connect with the worldviews of young people. Looking forward, museums must consider their content but also their values and approaches to working if they are to attract younger audiences.

When museums and art galleries exclude young people, they do so in the same way they exclude other groups, by failing to legitimize young peoples’ values, identity and ways of doing things - in short, their youth culture. 29

Regarding the practices of museums, Angelina Russo et al suggest the advantage of engaging young people in museums with social networking lies with the capacity it offers for agency and therefore to become ‘active cultural participants’. 30Social media expands the opportunities for learning. Technology develops quickly but the capacity of museums (schools and other organisations) to respond to new learning environments is restricted. This is not the case in all museums. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) offers “Talk Back”, a forum for young people to share their views on museums collections. Russo et al also mention ArtMobs (an independent media group) that supports young people creating their own podcasts of visits to MOMA.31 The capacity exists therefore to ‘engage communities of interest in conversation, collaboration and co-creation’ 32  Engaging in social media again highlights the need to open up pedagogical approaches from transmission to something more bi-directional. However, not all (young) people will be interested in the possibilities of knowledge sharing through social networking. Galleries and museums therefore also need to understand the opportunities on offer for personalised learning. 

Dean Kenning  also considers education practice, specifically in gallery education contexts. 33Again, a move away from transmission towards ‘critical social purpose’ is advocated. The spirit of avant-gardism is theorised as a radical way of shifting gallery education to be more social, be open to new ideas and, in doing so, transform gallery education itself. The maintenance of existing hierarchies within art institutions is considered a barrier to social progress.

It is about art itself gaining autonomy by becoming free from the institutional structures that hold back its ability to act critically in the world. If art in schools enables access to zones of freedom unavailable in other subject areas, then schools may offer art ideas about how to transcend its own limitations. 34

4.0 Methodology

The empirical studies reviewed predominantly combine elements of quantitative and qualitative research. The most common data collection methods used include survey and interview (Hixson, Holdsworth,  Price and Kadi-Hanifi, and Tzibazi). Holdsworth argues for the use of reflective (biographical narrative) approaches encouraging young people to relate their cultural engagement to their life experiences and transitions.35 Importantly, Holdswoth concludes by considering the nature of the questions asked when studying young peoples motivation. Motivation studies have a tendency to assume that volunteering must have a purpose.36

Tønnesvang  adopts a theoretical approach.37 Leung and McPherson adopt a purely qualitative methodology (interview) while Chhabra takes a purely quantitative approach (survey). 38 Two approaches might be considered to extend beyond those outlined above.39

Tzibazi uses Participatory Action Research (PAR) engaging young people in the process of the research. 40 The advantage of the participatory approach lies in the nature of young people’s engagement with the research process as co-creators. The intention of PAR, which is strongly connected to social justice movements, is the development of critical consciousness and agency. In order to avoid tokenistic gestures it is important that organisations utilising PAR must be committed and able to implement the recommendations of those involved in the process. PAR, when successfully implemented, offers opportunities for increasing confidence and contributing to identity development.

If museums are to create a participatory culture in which young people are co-creators of museum experiences they have to trust the participants’ abilities. 41

Gofman et al  use a solution-oriented experiment referred to as Rule Developing Experimentation (RDE). 42RDE offers participants different conceptual prototypes (‘concepts’) that combine different aspects of an experience. These aspects might include emotional measures, specific museum features and services. Respondents then consider their preferences for these different concepts. Data generated from RDE comprises a baseline understanding of a respondents likelihood of attending an exhibition and a conditional probability of attendance if a particular aspect was included. RDE is used to understand and develop ideas for marketing purposes.

5.0 Summary

As a result of the literature presented in this report 6 key points are highlighted as especially important

  • The literature reviewed in this report indicates a gap in recent research exploring gallery engagement and young peoples’ motivation
  • Activities may be of interest to young people when they are associated with identity development and well-being, including social interaction and self expression.
  • As a result of the importance of identity development, theories of autonomous motivation (involving intrinsic and extrinsic motivation) may be of particular relevance.
  • Authenticity is viewed as an important push and pull factor in the context of heritage attendance though definitions of authenticity will likely vary across disciplines.
  • Barriers to participation including cost, lack of motivation, parental influence, geography, time, and perceptions of galleries as uninviting must be addressed.
  • Pedagogies of co-construction must be at the heart of engagement with young people.


This literature review was commisioned by ARTIST ROOMS. The ARTIST ROOMS Research Partnership is a collaboration between Tate and National Galleries of Scotland with the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. It aims to deliver a programme of multi-disciplinary research into the ARTIST ROOMS collection, its use as a shared national resource, and how audiences, particularly young people, engage with it. ARTIST ROOMS was established through The d’Offay Donation in 2008 and is jointly owned and managed by National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.

Claire Sowton, PhD Student, University of Edinburgh.