By Tascha von Uexkull

How can we support young people trying to enter the museums and heritage sector workforce in tangible and meaningful ways? It’s a pertinent question, and one that I have given much thought; not least because as a young person trying to pursue a career in museum learning, I have encountered a number of setbacks.

To give a bit of context about myself, my name is Tascha von Uexkull and I’m a workshop facilitator, writer and creative based in London. I’ve had a passion for opening up arts and culture to young people ever since being involved in museum youth forums back in 2013. This was also the moment I discovered that youth programming in museums was a real job, and I’ve been pursuing related career paths ever since.

Photo: Luke O’Donovan

Prior to the first lockdown, I was working 6 zero-hour contract jobs and 1 part-time role consisting of 4 positions within the Victoria and Albert Museum [V&A], namely in learning, visitor experience, and the National Art Library; a Workshop Facilitator role for an organisation called Little Artists London; a temporary role as Learning Coordinator for architecture charity Open City; and finally, a recently acquired role in visitor service for Chiswick House and Gardens. In a volunteering capacity, I was also a member of the V&A’s youth forum and the Camden Arts Centre’s youth collective. 

From my own perspective, going into lockdown made my aforementioned roles impossible, and my jobs dropped from an impressive 7 to an ordinary 1. I was fortunate enough to be offered a contracted role as Learning Coordinator for Open City just prior to the first lockdown, but it’s not easy starting a brand-new position from home without the support of an office environment and direct access to your colleagues. Consequently, despite being grateful for the paid work over a period of such upheaval, I felt incredibly isolated and found it difficult to adjust to the lack of face-to-face facilitation. I’d never fantasised about working from home, but the reality was even more challenging than I’d anticipated, with family issues, lack of personal space, major building work, and noisy neighbours rearing their ugly heads simultaneously. It was hard to feel the good fortune of such a situation, though I felt guilty for complaining when so many of my peers were facing unemployment.

This is just a single personal account, but it’s worth emphasising that the pandemic’s effect on young people more broadly has been significant, casting a shadow of uncertainty over future study and employment opportunities. Multiple lockdowns have made live networking events an impossibility, resulted in numerous redundancies, and of course taken an immense toll on young people’s mental health. 

Of course, the past year hasn’t all been doom and gloom and many young people have utilised this unique time in creative and sometimes entrepreneurial ways. The advantage of being prevented from doing the things you normally do is that you’re forced to think outside of the box. For me, feeling like youth programmes in cultural institutions were closing their doors at the precise time my peers and I needed them most, I felt motivated to take immediate action. Thus, my Assemblage Youth Collective was born, a group of young creatives aged 18-26, whose goal is to provide opportunities for networking, upskilling, and collaborating on creative projects. As well as fortnightly meetings, often with creative professionals, we’ve recently produced our first zine, a small-circulation magazine exploring a particular theme that’s often produced by an individual or very small group. Ours is filled with creative writing, photography, illustration, collage, and painting produced by the whole collective.

Photo: Luke O’Donovan

Whilst the pandemic is our current primary concern, it is of course important to remember that even prior to the emergence of Covid-19, there were a number of barriers facing young people trying to enter the museums and heritage workforce. I for one remember the crushing disappointment of reaching the tender age of 21 and having to leave the museum youth forum I was involved in because that was its definition of the end of youth. Although I’d been a committed member for over 4 years, there were no opportunities for progression or even any follow up after I left. At an age where I needed career guidance and networking opportunities most, I felt like I’d been pushed back to square one.

This glaring lack of alumni opportunities is one of the gaps in youth programming that Consultant for Arts Education and Evaluation Rachel Moss will be exploring in GEM’s upcoming event ‘Young People – Career Opportunities and Progression Routes into the Sector.’ Most importantly, however, this event will dwell on the current support on offer for young people that is effective and how the Sector can take concrete steps to filling the gaps. To do so, Rachel will draw on her What Next? Research report for Tates Routes In Programme, as well as her experience in setting up paid traineeships, evaluating young people’s programmes, and mentoring young people. 

Refreshingly, for a talk about young people, you will also be hearing from a young person, as I will be sharing my own experiences of navigating through the museums and heritage sector. I was lucky enough to meet Rachel through my involvement in the National Portrait Gallery youth programme, where she was Young People’s Programmes Manager at the time, and we have remained in contact ever since. 

The uncertainty of the last year has affected everyone, but the impact on young people’s mental health is evident and concerning. What a pertinent time to consider how we are supporting their progression into an incredibly competitive sector to ensure this journey is inclusive, informative, practical, and long-term.

Young People – Career Opportunities and Progression Routes into the Sector’ has now passed.

V&A Youth Collective

About Tascha:

Tascha von Uexkull is a workshop facilitator, writer, and creative based in London who has worked in a variety of museums since reading English Literature and History of Art at the University of York. She is passionate about the importance of opening up the creative industries to young people.

Personal Instagram: @taschtastic 

Assemblage Youth Collective Instagram: @assemblage_collective