Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

The young and curious: how Science Gallery

A pop-up exhibition at the Science Gallery Melbourne in 2019 drew large crowds: Picture: Supplied.

Catriona May, The young and curious: how science gallery can break down silos, University of Melbourne, January 2020

An innovative longitudinal study will explore and challenge what young people want from their cultural institutions

A new study is hoping to discover why a group of 15 to 25-year-old Melburnians are spending their free time co-designing exhibitions, events and programs – without receiving any formal credentials in return.

The group is part of Science Gallery Melbourne, the Australian node within the Global Science Gallery Network, which spans seven countries and counting. The organisation offers a safe space for young people to explore today’s complex ethical challenges around issues like mental health and waste, by bringing science and art together in new and exciting ways.

Each gallery is embedded within a university and draws on a wide range of disciplines to bring its vision to life. So far, the University of Melbourne arm has hosted three pop-up exhibitions, with its permanent home on Swanston Street due to open to the public in 2021.

To ‘keep young voices front and centre’, Science Gallery Melbourne issued a call for young people to join the SciCurious advisory group in 2018. Participants signed up for two years to help the gallery plan its programs.

When Dr Kathryn Coleman, an expert in digital curatorial practice based at the University of Melbourne, heard about the group, she jumped at the opportunity to dig deeper.

Taking a step into the world of virtual reality at the Science Gallery Melbourne. Picture: Supplied.

“I sat at that first meeting and heard about this amazing new gallery that was providing answers to all the questions I had about identity and creativity and practice” says Dr Coleman, from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

“Too much of what we do in institutions is in a silo – you’re an artist, a scientist, a mathematician or writer, rather than simply a creative identity. No gallery had played in that space in the middle before.”

Dr Coleman’s longitudinal study, which has been co-designed with Science Gallery staff and the SciCurious participants, will consider what young people are looking for from cultural institutions, how education programs can better engage young people and the social and cultural impact of being part of SciCurious.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for the University and other education institutions to learn from young people; what makes them want to be challenged by ideas outside of their normal learning frames?” Dr Coleman says. “What does a professional learning community of young people look like?”

An artist’s impression of the permanent home of Science Gallery Melbourne, scheduled to open in 2021. Picture: Supplied.

 

SciCurious and Science Gallery more broadly are tapping into a growing motivation among many young people to be part of change, says Dr Coleman.

“We see it in climate crisis marches around the world – young people are searching, striving, seeking a community to help them think about the big ideas they’re challenged by.”

While SciCurious is dedicated to advising Science Gallery Melbourne, internationally the organisation includes a group of young people as part of its governance at every site.

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“We know from the World Economic Forum that young people trust very few organisations these days,” says Sarah Durcan, Global Operations Manager for Science Gallery International.

“But they still have a large degree of trust in universities and in museums and cultural organisations. That gives us a huge responsibility for how we give them voice and agency.”

Ms Durcan says the research will help to quantify the organisation’s impact, which has been difficult to date.

“Measuring impact from exhibition to exhibition is very difficult, but the benefit of being based in a university is being connected with these amazing minds who can figure out how to measure it, and then be around long enough to do so from year to year,” she says.

“It’s absolutely brilliant for us, 12 years after Science Gallery started in Dublin, to have a university of the calibre and ambition of Melbourne taking on a serious piece of research about what we’re doing.”

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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