In the National Gallery of Slovenia, the manga drawing course has been successfully attracting young people from the age of 12 for many years. In five sessions, students learn the basics of drawing faces, bodies, landscapes, animals or fantasy creatures. They also get to know our Permanent Collection, which serves as a source of inspiration.
In addition to courses, we also organize holiday workshops and Saturday meetings, where participants learn about Japanese culture and its symbolism while drawing manga.
Our vision, in regards to domestic public, is to become a centre point of various identities, addressing all generations and people. For a few years now, our Education Department has been becoming more accessible not only for visitors with different kinds of disabilities, but also a more open and welcoming space for youth, which up to that point presented less than 10 % of our visitors. The large majority of the youth came to the gallery within a school group and only a few of them considered returning in their free time, since they found the gallery rigid and too traditional. To change that perception and to encourage them to spend some of their free time at our facilities, we needed a programming strategy, offering them intriguing enough activities to become their point of interest. We started approaching this challenge as the lead partner of the Creative Europe project HearMe, which addressed teenagers mostly. We then introduced youth public events, beginning with a free evening drawing at the gallery. We provided the artistic materials and opened our exhibition halls for people to come and draw in front of works of art. The response was excellent, young people were comfortably settled, drawing or just having conversation with one another. Creativity is something we wish to promote and encourage in all segments of society, yet it is of vital importance to connect the gallery with the current needs and expectations of youth: their hobbies, interests and their profound need to socialize with their peers. Museums, by giving them opportunity to hang out and to participate in meaningful and creative activities, can address young people’s crucial needs and also introduce them to our cultural heritage in a fresh, modern and interactive way.
Youth 12 and older are largely underrepresented in museums. Furthermore, due to the constantly evolving and spreading digital world, young people have been losing their fine motor skills and artistic imagination. In response to this, we are reviving traditional analogue methods, which are disappearing from school curricula. In this way, we above all encourage creativity and self-expression and socialization with other peers. We needed a bridge between contemporary trends and old masterpieces from our permanent collection, so we decided to approach young people via Japanese manga art, which is currently a big hit among the young, who experience it in comic books, animated films and video games.
We began with short manga workshops. These sketching and drawing workshops attracted many, so upgraded to monthly manga art courses, thematically adapted to youth’s wishes. The strong and sustained response allowed us to incorporate into these art courses many works from the permanent collection: from our 500-years old dragons, both painted and carved, to the Impressionist masterpieces, our permanent collection served as an inspiration for their ownart. Thirdly, as many of the teenagers became friends, especially after the long-lasting pandemic, we also introduced summer holiday workshops, which we organized before for younger children only. Because kids have a lot of free time during summer holidays, workshops are five hours-long. Therefore we also provide them with lunch and include some free time in the park nearby. From the very beginning, summer workshops were very well visited, all the groups were fully booked, meaning approximately 20 participants per day per term. We then started to implement them during all school holidays throughout the year.
The kids have an overwhelming need to socialize, so they suggested even more events: we prepared weekend movie-sketching events, where youngsters simultaneously drew their favourite characters or scenes while watching an animated Japanese film. Further on, we developed caricature workshops, based on our temporary exhibition’s art. After visiting the exhibition, the kids learned how to design and sketch their own caricature, steering them to see themselves in a positive light. Yet again, to respond to the social needs of the youth, we encouraged kids to bring along their friends for free. Interestingly, many of them came solo, confinding with us that they lack close friends and that they found like-minded peers in our museum, thus giving us a confirmation we are on the right track, helping them in healthy social development during their most sensitive and vulnerable years.
Quality of learning
From the very beginning we pursued two main objectives we have set for our institution:
- to be socially inclusive and to meet the social needs of youth such as hang outs with their peers, finding like-minded friends in a friendly, encouraging and informal environment;
- to provide meaningful activities for young visitors, which would lead to learning experiences connected to our cultural heritage, and would also encourage creativity and creative skills.
Our first objective was to welcome the youth in our museum by addressing the topics they found interesting, of which manga Japanese art proved to be the best connecting link between the old masters and contemporary art trends. They are able to learn new drawing techniques with our art educators, to improve their drawing knowledge and consequently to articulate own self-expression on a higher level. For workshops and art courses we chose themes they proposed, for example dragons, monsters, superheroes, magical creatures, villains, wizards, etc. To connect the seemingly dissimilar and distant Japanese art with old European masterpieces, we searched for similar characters depicted in our permanent collection. Superheroes from comic books have superpowers like the ancient Greek gods, fairies and magical creatures can be seen as angels and mythical hybrids, a dragon was a constant adversary in the legend of St George - the dragon slayer, etc. We also linked the workshops to our ethnological cultural heritage, for example the kind of “Mardi Gras” carnival, adapting our traditional folk customs to the manga style, the youth making their own manga masks and costumes, or Halloween, when they carved-out their own manga pumpkins. We took into account their specific wishes, asking them what activities they would like to participate in, tailoring the programme to their interests. For youth, it is definitelymost important to feel heard and accepted. Thus, many of the teenagers do not particularly delve into drawing sessions, yet they come for a conversation and to hang out with their peers, to listen to music, which accompanies all our lessons, and in the meanwhile embrace a fine-art museum as a place of leisure.The youth feel very “at home” in the gallery
, they are becoming excellent connoisseurs of our works of art, sometimes experiencing them on their own or at times with our help, they take pictures and selfies in front of them, and afterwards post them on social media, thus becoming the best of the gallery’s ambassadors.
Inclusion and social impact
Today, young people are facing loneliness and solitude on an everyday basis, due to the increased use of augmented reality, video games and social media, all caused by the global technological progress. Young people are losing touch with reality, searching connections via the internet and in the cybernetic world, and consequently often face social anxiety, depression and behavioural difficulties. Even when in the same room, youngsters are frequently messaging and chatting via their smart phones, instead of talking eye to eye. They are unable to make friends in person or maintain meaningful friendships. The pandemic only worsened the situation, even breaking school social contacts, leaving children to meet and learn only on digital platforms, causing major distress and leaving some of them with severe psychological consequences. As a public institution and very well aware of these facts, we have made making new in-person connections for youth our priority. When not allowed to invite visitors to the gallery, we of course organized all our courses via digital platforms, but as soon as it was safely possible, we moved all our activities back to the gallery space, giving the children the opportunity to experience artworks and their fellow students in person. That we have managed to create a relaxed and open-minded atmosphere is confirmed by the fact that many youth come to our sessions and events not because they are particularly artistically gifted or wish to progress artistically, but because they want to socialize with their peers and feel comfortable with our space and activities in doing so. Museum educators are there to motivate and encourage the youth, responding positively to each participant’s unique learning profile, including those with special learning needs. By approaching everyone individually, we successfully worked with children with behavioural disorders and the visually impaired.
For our institution and our youth programmes it is of vital importance that not only local kids visit these courses, but also that young people from more distant regions are keen participants in our programmes, despite the longer travel distances.