Particularly in Dublin, it can be challenging to find art-related programmes for young people. Separate from a paid job, there are few events that offer training to assist students looking to get into the artworld. Sitting down with Grace Benham, who studies Art History and Archaeology here in College, she walked me through her position in the incredible new initiative by the National Gallery called the Youth Panel. While this position is unpaid, any student looking to gain insight into curation, collaboration, and National Gallery work should keep their eyes peeled for this competitive opportunity.
The first cohort ever which started in October 2022 is concentrating on providing new ways for everybody to experience the country’s national collection. Regarding the application process, Benham stated that “it was a creative one in which we were invited to share about ourselves and our enthusiasm for art in any medium. I made a poster about myself with a video embedded, detailing my passion for art, specifically my passion for the inclusion of all backgrounds and diverse communities within the arts sphere.” Notably, not every applicant needs an academic foundation for art history and Benham emphasised the personal impact of art in her own life, which no doubt encouraged her to apply in the first place. She summarised that “growing up in the inner city, art, in varying forms, became a safe space for me. From being my safe space in my formative years, to now being an area in which I want to build a career in, art has had such a positive impact on my life.”
“With only 17 applicants being selected from ages 16–25, it is an essentially ambitious programme, but for any art lover living in Dublin, it offers an exploration into art practice that is not experienced appropriately in many undergraduate degrees.”
With only 17 applicants being selected from ages 16–25, it is an essentially ambitious programme, but for any art lover living in Dublin, it offers an exploration into art practice that is not experienced appropriately in many undergraduate degrees. Anybody can appreciate art yet all too often, art galleries, museums, and institutions imply a level of prestige which emanates to the public but we must not forget that public collections belong to everybody. Young people are also at the heart of innovation in Ireland and surely interactive programmes such as this Youth Panel will encourage younger generations’ intrigue into the art world, which in many areas needs a lifeboat.
In our conversation, Benham discussed what the Youth Panel entails: “we meet on a fortnightly basis on Thursday evenings. Our meetings are two hours long. In the meetings, we discuss the events we want to curate for young people, meet with other members of the gallery staff and discuss how our passion for diversity and inclusion can be put into practice in the National Gallery, and partake in experimental programmes which focus on diversifying ways in which people can interact with art, for example, we partook in a workshop by the SPICE project which is experimenting with using sound as a means to interpret art.” She also delved into specific details about this year’s focus, stating that “most recently, we held an event which focused on women artists. The event, which was completely free, was a collaborative learning session with the public. We chatted about artworks made by five different women artists from the collection in response to International Women’s Day. To facilitate these conversations, participants were invited to experiment with using the artists’ creative techniques as well as share their own styles with each other. We chose Sarah Purser, Mainie Jellet, Lavinia Fontana, Anne Yeats, and Sarah Cecilia Harrison as the five women artists from the National Collection.”
Furthermore, Benham continued by highlighting the imperative nature of young people for this initiative, saying that “young people contribute original ideas and distinctive experiences to the art world, so it is essential that the Youth Panel create programmes for them and encourage them to become involved in art. Many young people are deeply committed to addressing social issues and are using art to effect change. Including young people in galleries can give these crucial discussions a stage and inspire them to investigate the role of art in social activism.” With art activism becoming more public and seen in higher-brow museums and galleries, underscoring its connection to social change and global issues in the art world, this programme clearly encompasses a range of social discussion. Benham emphasised that “it is the youth of Ireland who experience this fast-paced society first-hand, and bringing their experience of this into the gallery can help it to become a space that moves with the times; this can lead to greatly poignant changes like more diverse artists on display and more diverse communities and backgrounds being brought into the arts sphere.”
“‘For instance, in planning our event for International Women’s Day, I was heavily involved in deciding the approach for the event, as I am extremely intrigued about finding different ways for the public to engage with art.'”
In addition, Benham also commented on her own involvement on the panel and her weekly activities, highlighting that “for instance, in planning our event for International Women’s Day, I was heavily involved in deciding the approach for the event, as I am extremely intrigued about finding different ways for the public to engage with art. Coming to the sessions is not mandatory nor is getting involved in event planning. So with the Youth Panel, the cliche of ‘what you put in is what you get out’ very much applies.” Showcasing female artists’ works has been at the forefront of the National Gallery in recent years, with major exhibitions like Lavinia Fontana, Women Artists and the RHA, and Sarah Purser all showing in 2023. Regarding the panel’s upcoming plans, Benham stated that “currently, we are in the process of organising an event inspired by our workshop with the SPICE Project. We want to curate an exhibition that uses music as an aid to interpret art. Keep an eye out on our Instagram and the NGI website for that!”
“in the context of decency, voicing the minds of young people across Ireland, and within this panel, it certainly applies.”
Evidently, the values behind this panel have embraced inclusion and diversity. Hearing about Grace Benham’s experience demonstrates the panel’s apparent aim for fulfilling the gallery’s aspiration: allowing people to engage with the public collection in various ways. Benham stressed that “people can get involved through our events in which we encourage people to engage with art in differing ways. We update our Instagram regularly with information regarding our upcoming events, so follow @apolloprojectirl. The National Gallery’s website also posts about our upcoming events.” This year’s panel’s motto is “be sound”; in the context of decency, voicing the minds of young people across Ireland, and within this panel, it certainly applies.