FOR most people those awkward adolescent years still trigger a host of memories filled with embarrassing angst and uncertainty – not quite comfortable in our skin, not quite sure of the crowd we feel at home in.
Our parents no doubt felt equally challenged, trying to fill our free time with wholesome activities away from the television screen.
Cities lured us with a taste of the adult world.
But beyond the skate park and the mall, the food courts and the cinema, cities didn’t really offer much for the 13 – 17 year old with only a handful of dollars and an unlimited reserve of boredom – or they didn’t in the 1980s at least.
“I remember feeling as though I wanted a place to just be. I remember wanting to be connected, and I remember feeling that shift away from the orientation of the family to wanting a peer-led experience,” says Lisa Slade, assistant director of theArt Gallery of South Australia.
For years now, the Art Gallery of South Australia has run a hugely successful childrens’ program for 5 – 10 year olds in the city.
They hold regular ‘after dark’ events catering for the 20 – 30 something crowd.
But as they head into 2016, the Gallery has set themselves an ambitious new plan to crack the ‘nearly-adult’ market.
“Cities play a really dynamic role, particularly cities the size of Adelaide where it’s actually possible to make your way around the city in a relatively safe and easy way, to be platforms of engagement.”
With the support of one of Australia’s largest philanthropic organisations, the Balnaves Foundation, the Art Gallery will be delivering a new Friday night program for teens, called NEO.
“Its very different to START and The Studio where we tend to work with artists and performers to develop a program – this has to be teen-led,” says Slade.
Targeting 13 – 17 year-olds, NEO events will run six times a year in collaboration with a team of young ambassadors working as mentors and conversationalists on the night.
Young audiences will have their own designated social space in the Gallery, with food and beverages, music, film screenings, and peer-led conversations with and about artists, says Slade.
The first NEO event will coincide with the 2016 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art, in March, exploring the theme of artists as magicians.
Circus skills workshops will be held in the Gallery’s courtyard, as well as interactive classes in hairdressing where participants will have the opportunity to create their own “hair sculptures,” says Slade.
“We’ve learnt that what we do has to come from the exhibitions, but it has to offer a whole experience, it has to take them somewhere else and it has to offer them something beyond the school experience,” she says.
And while social media and a youth-led web platform will be part of the NEO communication strategy, “the old art of conversation and engagement will lead what we do in the space,” she says.
Cracking the ‘nearly-adult’ market isn’t easy, admits Slade.
If you look at most programs in the city, the 13 – 17 age group often has the least on offer.
Down the road from the Gallery, the State Library has been turning themselves inside out trying to reach out to digital natives; engaging a team of large-scale projection artists to illuminate stories from their bequest collections on the walls of their building.
Adelaide’s Windmill Theatre Company just premiered their first feature film, Girl Asleep, pitching perfectly to the ‘nearly-adult’ crowd.
The film delves into the life of Ellie, a 14 year-old girl floating in a bubble of loserdom, until her 15th birthday where she ‘finds herself’ in a parallel world that is both slightly erotic and ludicrous.
Meanwhile, Carclew, the state’s leading multi-art form and cultural institution, is offering Graffiti Art and Animation workshops specifically for teens and people under the age of 26.
Across town, the Adelaide Fringe Festival (the largest in the Southern Hemisphere) is gearing up for another season, with shows catering for the ‘nearly-adult’ market tackling big issues such as immigration, Australia’s stolen generations, homelessness and world history.
“I think what we are actually doing, is teaching teenagers and young people to be citizens who make their own culture, not just receive it – they are active players in making and forging a culture,” says Slade.
“In Europe they issue under 18s a museum entry card and you see large groups of teens in galleries and it’s really become a home, a place for teens to be.
“We are far from the first but we are just hoping to do something that is well aligned with the scale of our city, and the way we see our young people as citizens in the making,” she says