Australian children and the arts: meaning, value and participation

Year: 2013

Author: Barrett, Margaret, Smigiel, Heather

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The last decades have witnessed increasing interest in the outcomes of participation in arts activity in formal, non-formal and informal learning settings for participants of all ages. The perspectives of child participants concerning their arts experiences, the meaning these experiences hold for them, and the value they attribute to these experiences provide arts educators and practitioners with valuable insights into the shaping forces of future adult audiences and participants in arts activity.
Whilst children's perspectives are often filtered through the lenses of adults including parents and teachers, participatory research approaches acknowledge the voice and agency of children and recognize their capacity to engage as co-researchers in the investigation process.
This presentation will provide an overview of a two year national project that investigated the meaning value and participation in the arts of 570 Australian children aged between 5 - 18 years. The project was conducted in two phases, and employed a range of participatory research methods to access the views of children in schools and youth arts organisations.
The main aims of the project were to:

Explore the meaning, value and purpose of the arts in Australian children's lives
Develop research methods and techniques sensitive to children's ways of communicating and constructing meaning.

Data were generated from: small group open-ended interviews; photograph generation techniques; artefact elicitation (years 5 - 8); and photograph elicitation (years 8 - 15). All interviews were analysed by:

Identifying themes in the children's accounts of their participation in arts experience and their attributions of meaning and value in these experiences
Re-presenting children's stories to illuminate understanding of children's perceptions of the function and value of the arts in their lives, and their beliefs concerning their future engagement with the arts.

Whilst findings suggest clear distinctions between the ways in which children participate in arts experiences in home, school, and youth arts settings, it is evident that they value their arts experiences across these domains, are able to define the nature and qualities of arts engagement, and project a present and future value in relation to these experiences. 
The significant features of this research include its rationale to redress a lack of national data bout Australians' perceptions of the arts and its focus on children as co-researchers with the design of the study. The importance of this study to highlighting the importance of arts education in the current political context will also be explored.