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A glimpse inside the minds of our youth: top arts 2024

Want to know what’s really on the hearts and minds of young people in Australia?  

Dr Merinda Kelly, lecturer in visual Arts, visual communication design and media education shares why the recently launched 2024 Top Arts Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria arrives to help you do just that.  

Top Arts 2024 is an esteemed exhibition that showcases some of the most awe-inspiring artworks and folios from Year 12 visual arts students in Victoria.  

The highly anticipated exhibition celebrates the efforts of outstanding Year 12 students who have spent hours conceptualising, experimenting, planning and creating spectacular works (those of us who have completed a folio subject, IYKYK). 

This platform offers us a rare, ‘offline’ insight to how young people are thinking and feeling about the world. The exhibition will house a diverse and dynamic range of multimodal pieces, from photographs and videos to paintings and sculptures. 

But what’s the relevance of an exhibition like Top Arts today? We investigate.  

Why Arts and Culture is Important in Education  

If covid taught us anything, it’s that young people need the arts more than ever before.   

As our favourite cinemas, museums, galleries, and cultural spaces closed their doors, we searched elsewhere to unleash our creativity. Sourdough starters, watercolour painting and coffee art; it was no accident that we turned to these activities to enrich our days with creativity to sustain our wellbeing. 

Now that students have returned to classrooms, they are turning to the arts to communicate what matters to them as they navigate with everyday life in the 21st century. 

Arthur Bartura, Idle contemplation, 2023, synthetic polymer paint, clay, wood, 26.0 x 45.0 x 25.0 cm, Billanook College, Mooroolbark, Wurundjeri Country.  
Living in an area prone to floods and storms, the constant change in the environment influenced my work. Witnessing a tree falling in my backyard triggered a profound realization about our impact on nature. This incident became a starting point for interpreting destruction into creation, highlighting the toxic relationship between humanity and the environment. 
© Arthur Bartura 

Article 31 Rights of the Child: Access to Arts and Culture is a Right 

Having access to arts and culture isn’t just a desire — it’s actually a human right.  

The UNESCO Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 31 states that all children should have the right to access the arts and culture.  

In a similar vein, according to the Australian Curriculum, Visual Arts, Visual Communication Design and Media Arts are mandatory learning areas for young people in Australian states and territories.  

Unfortunately, learning in the arts curriculum has been constrained in many Australian schools to make room for other types of subjects.  

But internationally and in Australia, experts are now advocating that young people need Art for Life’s Sake. Dissolving the arts to serve other learning areas can ignore the value of the arts as a tool to know and communicate what matters to young people in a rapidly changing world.  

The research goes so far as to suggest that watering down the quality of school arts programs and the high cost of creative arts degrees risks returning arts to their once elite and inaccessible status, which only further creates barriers for young people interested in exploring the arts in schools and further education.  

Top Arts 2024 Should Rightly Celebrate Teachers, Too 

Top Arts 2024 is not only an opportunity to celebrate students for their mammoth efforts, but lso gives teachers deserved recognition. Often an arts teacher’s expertise and dedication is not sufficiently recognised and affirmed, which perhaps signals why so many teachers are leaving the profession. 

We all know the profound impact a great teacher can have on our lives and careers. That viral moment of Adele reuniting with her high school teacher is all the evidence we need.  

A truly exceptional teacher not only inspires creativity but also offers a safe space for young people to experiment with different ideas, materials and techniques — which we know is essential to the creative process.  

Exhibitions like Top Arts 2024 are a great opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate arts teachers who work tirelessly (and take on copious amounts of overtime) to help students actualise their visions. These teachers also communicate the value of tertiary studies in the creative arts as they know why an education in visual arts is the key to arming students for the future. 

Top Arts 2024 Might Just Be A Platform the Next Generation of Professional Artists and Creatives 

There’s nothing like positive reinforcement and recognition to keep you going.  

Students who are deservingly showcased at Top Arts 2024 may just go on to become the next celebrated thinkers, designers, makers or artists.  

This kind of platforming and the success of art and design top arts alumni might be the little push students need to commit to tertiary studies in the arts, so let’s cheer them on.  

Learning From the First Artists  

Exhibitions like Top Arts 2024 also allow us to reflect and acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People were the first artists, makers, teachers, storytellers, scientists and sustainability practitioners on Country for sixty thousand years.  

The arts curriculum across Australia provides a generative space for bringing First Nations stories and ways of knowing to the attention of Australian youth. Here, they can learn and share other perspectives and ways of seeing, feeling and coming to know Country differently. 

Top Arts 2024: a worthwhile visit 

Image: Georgina Richards, Swallowing the pretence, 2023, Cyanotype, 56.0 x 76.0 cm, Mentone Girls’ Grammar School, Mentone, Wurundjeri Country,  
© Georgina Richards  

Whether you’re a budding artist or admirer of the industry, visiting the Top Arts 2024 NGV exhibition is a worthy way to spend an afternoon.  

Conceptualising, creating and appreciating meaningful artwork is part of what makes us human, so let’s celebrate the young people who are doing just that.  

Admission to Top Arts 2024 is FREE at the Ian Potter National Gallery of Victoria until 14 July 2024.  

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Dr Merinda Kelly
Dr Merinda Kelly

Lecturer,

Faculty of Arts and Ed,

Deakin University

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