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Danish Centre for Rural Research - CLF

Cultural diversity and places to develop life: Project shows young people's own preferences for youth culture in rural areas

The R YouCult project aims to help create a dynamic youth culture in rural areas. The researchers have now completed the preliminary study, which provides insight into what young people themselves want to see in youth culture.

By Camilla Wissing Mortensen, , 3/15/2023

What are young people's conditions for youth culture in rural areas?

This is one of the questions that preoccupies Pia Heike Johansen. She is a rural researcher and an expert in rural cultural life.

However, when she started collecting data, she discovered a gap. Where were young people when it came to culture?

- "We realized that we needed a more in-depth study on how to engage and support young people in developing a youth culture in rural areas," she says.


The results of the preliminary study are based on:

  • Literature review
    Selected articles from four international journals from the field of rural research
    Keywords: culture, youth, arts, civic engagement
  • Interviews
    5 telephone interviews with young people aged 17-25
    3 group interviews with cultural workers in the Region of Southern Denmark
    Supplementary: 5 interviews at the Mors Cultural Meeting
  • Field notes
    Mors Cultural Meeting
    Workshop in Odense
  • Questionnaire from 1600 young people in the Region of Central Denmark

This is the focal point of the international research project 'R YouCult' - a project she initiated in collaboration with the Region of Southern Denmark.

In the project, researchers from Denmark, Finland and Portugal will develop a training program to provide cultural workers with competences to facilitate processes that lead to a dynamic youth culture in rural areas.

Over the past year, researchers have conducted a preliminary study to find out what young people themselves think about rural youth culture and what their wishes are.
The results of the preliminary study were presented at a major event for cultural operators in Denmark, Portugal and Finland.

Pia Heike Johansen and research assistant on the project Christian Brink Grønnebæk present the most important points from the Danish results.

New understandings of transport

The distance between services is often seen as a barrier to development in rural areas. The preliminary study also shows that greater geographical distances in rural areas are a challenge for youth culture.

However, there is a nuance that is important to keep in mind, Pia Heike Johansen points out:

- Distance can of course be problematic in terms of gathering a critical mass of young people who can attend and participate in cultural activities.

- But young people are used to large distances in the countryside. Therefore, we should also have a different understanding of transport than something that simply takes young people from A to B. Our results suggest that transport is a social and confidential space in itself that has the potential to become part of youth culture, she says.

Is there an adult around?

As part of the preliminary study, researchers conducted a questionnaire survey among 1600 young people in the Region of Central Denmark.

In the survey, 83% of young people either agreed or strongly agreed that it is important for them to have their own space for cultural activities. For this space to be well-functioning, it requires a defined framework.

- One of the things that young people point out is that it is important for them to have a place where they can practice culture on their own terms. But it should not just be a shed, says Pia Heike Johansen.

She explains that the young people should have premises available where they can develop life, but that the young people need help to create the framework for the place.

- You could almost ask: 'Is there an adult around? Young people are not only looking for places to be, but also for the invisible adult who is involved in applying for support for development, professional help with finances, operations and all the formalities.

Activities must be brought to the fore

Art and culture are part of urban life. This is one of the general assumptions when it comes to rural areas. Therefore, many people often think that cultural activities and events are concentrated in the big cities.

However, this is far from the truth.

Study by the Region of Southern Denmark

The Region of Southern Denmark is one of the Danish partners in the project. As part of the preliminary study, the region has gathered knowledge about cultural policies in particular, but also related policies such as rural policies, in the region's 22 municipalities. The aim is to find out how the municipalities articulate the work with culture, youth and rural areas in Southern Danish policies.

Here are some selected results:

  • The cultural strategies and policies do not specifically address youth and culture in rural areas. However, this does not mean that they are not working on it.
  • The strategies and policies focus on culture for all and on reaching new target groups. Young people are one of the most important target groups.
  • There is a focus on civil society and on supporting the group of volunteers.
  • The policies do not describe very precisely how young people are involved in the development of cultural services. Most cultural activities for young people seem to take place in the city centers, i.e. the larger cities in the municipalities.
  • There is a tendency towards silo thinking. Municipalities do not talk to each other much or pool efforts across the board.
  • Rural policies often do not focus on young people, but rather on creating a good life for all ages. However, culture is important in terms of creating coherence for young people.
  • It remains unclear from the policies who is meant when talking about 'children and young people'. However, municipalities want to get young people into the engine room and define what they want in order to have a good youth life.
  • In general, municipalities are interested in involving young people. For example, youth councils appear in the strategies as something that municipalities want to work with. However, it is not clear in which areas they will work with it.

This is the result another research project on the importance of culture for sustainable development in rural areas, led by Pia Heike Johansen. In the project, she has mapped the cultural supply and consumption in the Region of Northern Denmark, the Region of Central Denmark and the Region of Southern Denmark.

The mapping shows that a large proportion of all rural projects actually contain an element of cultural activities - and that the activities are broadly based.

In the preliminary study of the R YouCult project, researchers have therefore investigated what young people actually know about the activities taking place in their local area.

- It seems that the target group, i.e. young people, is not really being reached, Pia Heike Johansen points out and is supplemented by Christian Brink Grønnebæk:

- The results show that there is a need for the activities to come to the fore. Both the activities that already exist and those that could be.

Passive young people

In both Denmark and Finland, researchers have identified a group they call 'passive young people'. Passive young people are not necessarily passive in terms of engaging in activities, but they are not in contact with cultural workers and they do not actively participate in the cultural life of the community.

- The preliminary study shows that many cultural workers find it difficult to get hold of passive young people. The same is the case for young people who are responsible for cultural activities in rural areas," says Christian Brink Grønnebæk.

The results of the survey also reveal an interesting paradox.

On the one hand, 40% of young people say that as a young person in the countryside they can participate in creating culture where they live. At the same time, 40% of young people also say that they have to go into the city to take part in cultural life

Young people want a diverse cultural life

In rural areas, there is a tradition of association life. Therefore, it is often football, handball and gymnastics that are talked about. However, the preliminary study shows that many young people are looking for alternatives to the more traditional activities.

- Many young people want a place where they can just be. They need to be heard and recognized. It should not all be about football and handball. There should also be alternatives, such as creative workshops, says Pia Heike Johansen.

She points out that in many places there are opportunities to create other spaces, but that young people are not aware of the possibilities.

- There is a perception that culture in the rural areas is linked to sport associations. This leaves a lot of young people on the platform because fewer and fewer are active in the associations.

Perspectives from abroad

A part of the project is to create a universal education programme. For this reason, the research teams in Finland and Portugal have also conducted a preliminary study in those two countries.

- By studying the situation in several countries, we will find out what is country-specific and what trends are common across countries. It is important to investigate what youth culture is like in rural Europe, as our education programme must be usable in all EU countries, says Pia Heike Johansen.

Learn more

The article is based on an event that took place on Tuesday, February 21st in Denmark, Finland and Portugal.

The partners presented the preliminary research results to cultural operators in the three countries. The operators also had the opportunity to share their knowledge and experiences.

Download the PowerPoint from the event (Danish)

She underlines that cross-country studies can also provide inspiration and new ideas between countries.

Indeed, the preliminary results of the R YouCult project show that there are a number of local differences, mainly linked to differences in geography and the organization of culture.

Despite this, there are also several recurring trends. These include the fact that there are fewer young people in rural areas, that most cultural activities are led by volunteers, and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit these volunteers.

The results of the preliminary study will ensure that the training programme is structured in a way that is interesting for both cultural workers and young people.

The next step in the project is to develop the training programme for the cultural workers. This will be done through a series of training seminars in the three countries, including a study trip to each country.

About the project

The project "A room of their own - training cultural workers for facilitating rural youth culture" (R YouCult) aims to develop and design a universal training programme for cultural workers in rural municipalities and rural cultural institutions in the EU.

The training program will provide cultural workers with core competences to facilitate processes that can lead to the anchoring and building of a dynamic rural youth culture.

The project is funded by Erasmus+

Read more about the project

Editing was completed: 15.03.2023