Youth Day commemorates a historic event in honour of 16 June 1976, that profoundly changed the socio-political landscape in this country. Forty-four years later, 16 June 2020 extends this legacy with a firm resolve, that a small university museum can contribute to the upliftment of the South African youth and hopefully make a long-lasting impact on their perceptions of heritage.
To create more awareness around Youth Day, museums have a critical and active role to play in society. While the UP Museums may not be able to present specific exhibitions or Youth Day programs this particular year, as university museums we try to encourage young visitors to develop an understanding and respect for culture and art, as well as their heritage and the heritage of others.
Museums have a commitment to collections, curation and conservation that support their educational functions, and museums serve the community and their visitors reflects the diversity of that community. The university community of students, staff and researchers is one of the UP Museum’s primary constituencies, yet the thrust is largely towards being more connected to its community base, particularly towards making an impression on young visitors.
While museum doors remain temporarily closed due to the ongoing negative effects of the pandemic, this does not distract from the educational mission of our university museum. The UP Museums have three approaches to youth development: public offerings, school curricula directed tours and more recently, the introduction of customized tours for the disabled youth. Specialized museum school tours with interpretative content, directly linked to the national curricula is an ongoing request and revolving educational programme presented each recurrent year.
Currently, in the absence of physical tours, the UP Museums aim to increase more digital content suited to the youth for continued enjoyment and fun, such as art crossword puzzles, to drawing and connect the dots activities for younger audiences. Of course, not all museum learning is formal and more recently, the introduction of online puzzles drawn from iconic works in the university museums and archives is gaining popularity. The museums actively engage in the academic teaching programme, so literally hundreds of undergraduate and postgraduate young students are exposed to the offerings of the museums from their first year.
According to the Head of the UP Museums, Sian Tiley-Nel expresses that, “engaging young people, their strong opinions, likes, dislikes, attitudes and experiences of museums is influenced by a variety of factors, age is just one. Engaging more deeply and honestly with the youth outside the realm of academia is important. We are constantly learning that the youth are not uninterested in museums as stereotyped by unfounded assumptions, but they rather enjoy the university museums as social places even escape places. Many come to sit and just experience the museum galleries that they feel most comfortable with”.
In marking the anniversary of 16 June and the Soweto Uprising, history has taught many lessons over the decades and one of which is that, museums need to invest in young people through art and culture, and empower the youth to appreciate not only their heritage, but the heritage of others. This Youth Day, let us support the youth in their experiences and social views (as well as opinions) and allow them to be involved on many levels with their university museums, not just from an educational perspective, but for appreciation, discussion or just plain fun.
For the latest new online UP Museum puzzle to mark Youth Day, please visit: https://www.up.ac.za/museums-collections/article/2893814/online-puzzles