A conference at the crossroad of Youth Work, Culture and Education

Between the 2nd and 4th November 2022, in Bonn Germany, a conference took place titled, “Youth Work, Culture and Education: European Trilogue-Conference on Cultural Youth Education”. Rolf Witte, one of the organisers of the event, shares some insights on this event. The conference took place in the framework of the Bonn Process for the implementation of the European Youth Work Agenda, and as a contribution to the European Year of Youth.

The conference was organised by BKJ and ACEnet. ACEnet is a partner of BKJ, and is a network of European policy makers and civil servants working in the fields of arts and cultural education. ACEnet was developed to communicate cross-sectorally between different policy areas. The two organisations invited European policy makers and civil servants of ministries responsible for youth, education, arts and culture, to discuss the strategic connections between the policy sectors and to identify possibilities of closer cross-sectoral cooperation on national and European levels.

Boosting international exchanges

One of BKJs main areas of focus is on the building of cooperation between the cultural sector and the formal education sector. As an organisation they deal with three policy areas everyday though they are positioned and financed in the youth sector. For example; they work to motivate schools and their partners in the cultural sector, to cooperate on local level and on the development of education policy in many countries.

Aim of the conference was to show the possibilities that exist with exchange programmes.

Aim of the conference was to open the eyes of those who are linked to the education and cultural fields, to the youth field and to show the possibilities that exist with exchange programmes. The conference encouraged the representatives from the arts, education and cultural sectors to have a closer look at the Erasmus+ Youth programme. It provides good opportunities to organize cultural education projects for and with young people.

Having in mind that the EU programmes in the fields of culture and formal education are not so easy to access for cultural education projects. This is a very practical example of why such an overview of three policy areas can be of benefit.

BKJ itself has a rich history of organising international exchanges with young people, and its member organisations develop a large number of them each year. Due to the broad scope of the organisation, its members and partners, the exchanges have many different forms. They vary from long-term partnerships to short-term youth exchange programmes.

The international partners for the exchange programmes come from the youth sector, the educational sector and from the cultural sector. International exchanges are important experiences, whether they are connecting youth circus groups from two different countries, or a music exchange of youth orchestras from several countries, or a number of youth theatre groups meeting together. BKJ was able to share their substantial experience at the conference, especially with delegates from the other sectors.

The conference was also developed as a contribution to the Bonn Process. Rolf Witte stated:

“We don't know yet if there will be a follow-up of this first conference, we just wanted to throw a stone in the water, to bring people together from these three sectors, to create motivation for a better understanding of each other, and to integrate the different perspectives of each policy sector into the thinking of joint strategies for the national and European level."

Rolf Witte

Rolf Witte

Rolf Witte works for the ‘German Federation for Arts Education and Cultural Learning’ (BKJ). BKJ is an umbrella organisation of 55 national and regional organisations which represent different art forms working with and for young people. Rolf Witte is the head of the International Department and so promotes international and global exchanges in arts education and cultural learning

Using the momentum of the European Youth Work Agenda

When the European Youth Work Agenda was being developed, BKJ saw a European level political document which recognised the cultural activities of young people as a part of youth work. Most discussions about youth work do not focus on the areas of work that BKJ and its members are developing and conducting because it is so cross-sectoral.

BKJs work is not solely focussed on youth policy or education policy or cultural policy, it links all of them together. The European Youth Work Agenda is currently the only European level political document that sees the link between the cultural, non-formal education and youth sectors.

The Agenda provides the perfect framework to start discussions at European level between these three policy sectors.

A cross-sectoral approach to Youth Work and Cultural Education

Although BKJ is rooted in the youth sector, their focus is mostly on non-formal but also formal cultural education. For them it does not matter which sector you belong to, the important thing is to work with the young people in cultural activities and in the arts.

The approach of BKJ and its members to all these activities is not to create good or better artists as would be normal in the artistic sector and it is not to ensure students have good results in schools as the education sector would require.

The approach of BKJ in all its work is to create the conditions for the young people to work out how they can be happy and successful in their life and active in their society in the future. It is the personal development of the young people that is the basic aim of each activity and they use the arts and educational pedagogical approaches to reach this aim. The approach motivates young people to develop themselves to find out what is inside of them through the arts.

Artistic and other forms of cultural expression provide perfect possibilities to reach young people. It can motivate them to have an interest in the organisations that provide such opportunities and in the projects these organisations make available to them.

Artistic and other forms of cultural expression provide perfect possibilities to reach young people.

All of this works on the young person’s personal and social development, for example; inviting a group of young people to an international seminar on ‘Europe’ may not inspire many young people to take part. However, if you invite two youth circus groups together on an international exchange activity, they are meeting other young people in another country who share a common interest in the circus.

Now the concept of ‘Europe’ becomes more interesting because they discover that these other young people are no longer strangers and that they have similar problems and issues. Even if it is a country that is not well-known, with a language they don’t know, they will communicate with one another. This experience is something that they would never have if there was not a mutual interest starting point - which could be circus or dance or theatre or photography or video clip making.

BKJ also motivates their member organisations to use the European Solidarity Corps to do international voluntary service in the cultural and in the artistic sector. Germany has a long-standing tradition of national voluntary service, and over the last twenty years BKJ has been implementing one year voluntary service opportunities with young people placing them in arts and cultural institutions and organisations. At time of writing in late 2022, BKJ has approximately 3500 young people doing voluntary service in these sectors.

The Bonn Process, Youth Work and Cultural Education

A specificity of such an organisation as BKJ working across several sectors is that it is not clearly defined in terms of who is a part of it. The member organisations are very different and varied, some of them are: the national organisation of theatre pedagogues, which is made up of people who are professionals in theatre and pedagogy; there is the national organisation of libraries; national organisations of music schools and youth art schools; and the national organisation for play with children and young people, which is using play buses for working with very young children on playgrounds.

The ‘political’ background of BKJs members are all very different, some of them are rooted in the cultural or artistic sector, while others see themselves more in the pedagogical sector or the youth work sector.

The work of BKJ and the “Youth Work, Culture and Education” conference clearly shows that cross-sectoral approaches work and are useful and supportive for the youth sector. Inspired by the European Youth Work Agenda, the conference provided a great opportunity for the creation of new partnerships and ongoing discussions. The Bonn Process can continue to support the initiated exchanges and mutual understanding, for strengthening the non-formal cultural education strand of youth work.

Read also: The European Youth Work Agenda as guidance for policy development