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EACEA National Policies Platform: Youthwiki


8. Creativity and Culture

8.1 General context

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  1. Main trends in young people's creativity and cultural participation
  2. Main concepts

Main trends in young people's creativity and cultural participation

In Poland, research aimed specifically at the culture and creativity of young people is not regularly carried out. However, participation in culture is examined and some of the available reports indicate significant differences between the intensity and the forms of participation amongst the different age groups. From the outset, however, attention should be paid to the significant definitional discrepancies, which have a major influence on the assessment of this phenomenon. It regards the defining of the concept of participation in culture, which is sometimes described in a traditional, narrow way, as doing something with cultural resources - this approach is usually used in public statistics on culture and it simply means the use (consumption) of cultural resources created by various cultural institutions, possibly also the amateur creation of such resources.

We are therefore dealing with an understanding of participation, which is almost exclusively seen through the prism of the individual's relationship with institutional culture. Subsequent approaches can be considered as progressively wider; some of them include not only reception, but also the creation and interpretation of various contents, while another, even broader approach, defines cultural participation as "individual participation in cultural phenomena - absorption of its contents, use of its resources, subjecting oneself to the existing norms and models, but also the creation of new cultural content and the reproduction and processing of existing ones".

A separate set of approaches results from a very broad anthropological definition of culture and can be characterised as a specific way of human living; as everything which makes a person live differently than other creatures, as a unique way of adapting to reality, a basic tool that provides people with an advantage over the animal and natural world. In this broad approach, the social context is also important - the fact that we live among the creations of culture which significantly mediate interpersonal relations, because culture is a sphere surrounding human beings on all sides and humans are inherently "immersed" in it. It is also referred to as "being in culture, meaning having internal dispositions to understand cultural patterns and the human behaviours resulting from it, as well as an understanding of the products of culture, along with the ability to produce and process them, which results from acquired cultural competence. The characteristic of this type of understanding of participation in culture is its broad scope: contents, goods, norms, models and values of culture and all possible manifestations of culture, but paradoxically, the universality of this state means that the fact of "being in culture" is neither felt nor realised in everyday life. Another issue is the relation of cultural participation with common norms, models and values - participation is both the reproduction and processing of existing ones, as well as the creation of new ones. This broad social and moral context has a special meaning in the life of the young generation - it indicates that participation in culture, its frequency and daily practice has a significant importance in further life of young people, not only with regards to the narrowly understood participation in culture, but also relating to attitudes in later life, existence in society and professed values.


Main concepts

Participation in culture may have, first and foremost, an institutional and reception-oriented dimension, as well as reference to broad spheres of life, include "non-mass and non-institutional phenomena into the analysis of contemporary culture", and define them "as a process of including and excluding individuals and groups, objects, ideas, behaviours and their configuration into specific situations (both everyday situations and special occasions) regulated culturally (...) [which] is possible due to human behaviour - therefore always, as per definition, having an active character".

We are, therefore, dealing either with the participation in culture treated as receiving (reception), learning, using and consuming "cultural goods"produced by others (this is in line with the understanding of culture visible in the most important document in this respect, i.e. the Act on Organising and Running Cultural Activity (Ustawa o organizowaniu i prowadzeniu działalności kulturalnej) or with a complex dynamic set of cultural practices that can occur in various places, such as locations described by Barbara Fatyga as a "substitute (substitutive) cultural infrastructure, including objects and places in public spaces that were not originally conceived as performing (narrowly understood) cultural functions. They are particularly important in places where the existing and official cultural infrastructure does not meet integration needs and, often, the ludic needs of specific social groups or excludes them from the official participation.  Examples of substitute infrastructure understood in this way include: a spot outside a local shop, stairwells and alleyways, obfuscated park benches, bus stops or staircases occupied by slackers or/and young people, uninhabited buildings and ruins, allotment gardens, nooks and crannies of stations and canals occupied by homeless people, et cetera".There is no specialised formal institution necessary to practice such understood participation in culture. Instead, in the typology of cultural activity and participation in contemporary cultural life, developed by Tomasz Szlendak, the "social circles" category manifests. These are "hordes of school or university friends. Young people going out together, visiting the gallery to see an exhibition before heading to the pub, or ending up in a cluster of people at an electronic music festival. People, especially young people, leave their homes because they want to meet their friends. This is their main need and motivation. Thus, they independently organise themselves into groups of people for whom collaboration and sociability are more important than artistic experiences".

Therefore, when analysing the issues of culture and creativity of young people, this phenomenon must certainly be taken into consideration. Some sources unequivocally emphasise such a broad, socialised approach. In the Youth 2011 Report (Raport Młodzi 2011) prepared by the Strategic Advisers to the President of the Council of Ministers, we read: "for contemporary youth, participation in culture means first of all entertainment and a form of "being together" – a means of presenting one's own social position and creating one’s own image". After that, the authors write about such phenomena as "shifting of the emphasis from culture on to entertainment, seeking pleasure and pleasing others, seeking fun", while pointing to the specific creative aspect shaping the future of young people, which is "experimenting with their own, as yet undiscovered talents".  Unfortunately, the negative aspect of this approach was emphasised too. It was pointed out that opening up to everything is causing the "aesthetic taste of the youth to become multi-vector, "not seeking", blurry, random and "patchwork-like"", although this does not lead to "mindless acceptance of the dominant culture – that being the mass culture or current trends circulating on the internet. In some groups it creates conscious resentment demonstrated by this disregard of "mass produced” goods and contents, "mass gatherings", TV series, distancing themselves from the online "garbage of meanings", or exclusion of TV from the set of home appliances". What is important is that the quoted report has found the source of such a state of affairs mainly in the lack of an attractive offer for young people on the side of cultural institutions (its mismatch to the tastes and preferences of the youth, its financial inaccessibility) and negligence in the realm of cultural education. To a large extent this results from the improper structure of state expenditure on culture, which does not take into account "the needs of the young recipients, including investments into large facilities, while the diverse and niche aspects of culture would be better served by small facilities having flexible functions and purpose."

The Central Statistical Office  conducts a cyclic survey entitled: Participation in Culture (Uczestnictwo ludności w kulturze). The last one available is from 2014, and refers to data even as far back as from 2009 (unfortunately no new research has been found). They show that among young people - individuals aged between 25-34 and 15-24 years- represent the highest percentage of people who consider culture as important (84.0 and 81.8 percent respectively), similarly in the 15-24 age group was the highest percentage of people who read at least one book - 74.9 percent (in cities - 79.5 percent, in rural areas - 69.1 percent, however, it should be mentioned that often those are school or student textbooks and, as such, obligatory readings). Participation in culture also means the use of mass media: over 70 percent of people aged 25 or over were reading newspapers, while in the youngest age group (15-24 years) - 55.7 percent (...) the most people listening to the radio were in the group of 25-34 years old - 89.6 percent, but on the other hand, the least radio listeners were recorded in the youngest group (15-24 years). When it comes to watching movies, young people relatively often go to the cinema (78.0 percent of the 15-24 years old group) but at the same time, the lowest percentage of viewers of the feature films (87.9 percent) was recorded in this group.

That is all regarding the participation of young people in the institutional culture studied within the framework of public statistics. However, with regards to the preliminary considerations, it should be emphasised that young people for various reasons - material, social, and infrastructural – often cannot find their place in institutional culture. The Central Statistical Office data quoted above confirms this (according to the reporting data of community centres, clubs and groups, in 2014 only 266,600 individuals (of which 61.2% were primary and secondary school students) participated in arts group classes, and 422,900 people (of which 41.1% were primary and secondary school students) participated in the activities offered by clubs and day groups). It is difficult to consider this data as impressive, especially, as Tomasz Szlendak writes in the previously mentioned typology, if we are dealing here with compulsory participation. The typology of cultural activity and participation in contemporary cultural life mentions another category of youth: "the children from the bus". "These are pupils and pre-schoolers who are brought to cultural institutions to watch plays, exhibitions and educational programmes/events, one of the most faithful and most numerous spectators and clients of Polish cultural institutions, who have no choice – they simply have to participate in artistic events. Without them, cultural institutions in Poland would certainly be empty". T

Further data, which is helpful in the diagnosis of the way in which young people participate in culture, is brought by the report entitled: Youth and Media. New Media and Cultural Participation (Młodzi i media. Nowe media a uczestnictwo w kulturze), prepared by the SWPS Centre for Popular Culture Studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities. The Report concerns the impact of modern communication methods, often blamed for having a devastating effect, not only on the cultural activity of the young generation, but on any activity which they engage in. The authors put forward the thesis that states quite the opposite, because theInternet at the level of young people's practices is not at all an individualistic and global medium. Its uses usually have a group character, shared by a circle of friends (who visit similar websites and communicate with each other through the same channels), and thus strongly local. The practiced ‘co-internet’ is closer and smaller than the abstract global network. The authors of the report also point to the fact that the Internet is completing the gaps in the aforementioned institutional offer: anti-hierarchical circulation of knowledge and cultural content challenges the world of institutions, both educational - because it facilitates learning outside of school, beside school and sometimes against school - and cultural. Once connected to the network, a computer becomes the basic interface for access to knowledge and culture. Regardless of whether it is about accessing texts needed to do homework, watching a favourite series or a theatre play, the most commonly used medium is not a book or television, but a computer screen. In times like this, when culture is digital or digitised, easily replicated and circulating in online exchange networks, the hierarchies separating the ‘high’ from the ‘low’ and the ‘elite’ from the ‘popular’ eventually collapse, and traditional cultural institutions suddenly start to operate in a completely new environment.

It is impossible to talk about the participation of young people in culture without appreciating the role of the Internet and modern forms of communication. This is also visible in the previously quoted Central Statistical Office research: the percentage of people using a computer at home every day is the highest (85.8 percent) among the youngest age group – 15-24 years. It is usually used for the entertainment purposes: streaming or downloading movies, music files, playing computer games or downloading games (this type of computer usage was declared by 62.6 percent of people from the 15-24 age group and 45.8 percent of people from the 25-34 age group). The authors of the diagnosis prepared for the needs of the Social Capital Development Strategy 2020 (Strategia Rozwoju Kapitału Społecznego 2020) were also aware of this.  It points out a very significant aspect of the self-awareness of young people, who are convinced (and it is hard to doubt the rightness of this conviction) that they are more modern than the older generation, better at multi-tasking, learn faster and are generally more creative. At the same time, it should be emphasised that patterns of participation in culture do not depend solely on age, but also on (often strongly correlated) geographical, economic, educational and technological factors (well-illustrated by the results of a study conducted by Kantar Millward Brown, on behalf of the Warsaw authorities, which showed that in addition to age, the factor having the greatest impact on the use of the wider cultural offer in the Polish capital is material status - the higher the status, the more frequent the participation). In general, however, the new forms of participation positively involve other forms of active participation in culture.

The abovementioned factors jointly predicate access to cultural goods as well as its reverse, i.e. cultural exclusion. These are not, of course, factors related only to young age, but their impact on the model of participation of young people in culture is all the more important, that it translates into current and - as it was said - future social practices, which in turn affects important factors for development, such as cohesion and social mobility, or equal opportunities. However, it is worth emphasising, that not only economic, temporal and spatio-geographical factors are important here, but more and more often the role of quality of the cultural offer, cultural aspirations of citizens along with lifestyle changes are being pointed out as equally important. As in the case of other spheres of social activity, the threat of exclusion mainly concerns deprived groups, from poor environments, with low education and social status.  Access to the cultural offer is diverse both at the city-village level and in the regional distribution. Both cultural offer and cultural infrastructure in cities are much more developed and diverse. The cited diagnosis also contains important contextual information about the creative potential, which, although it does not refer only to young people, it postulates the thesis that, in relation to European average, Poland has a very low percentage of students of artistic faculties. To a limited extent this fact can be regarded as characterising the level of creative potential of Polish youth, which has a significant social impact, because, as the authors of the diagnosis write, it is not a resource that belongs to individuals, institutions, organisations or companies, but rather a specific system of connections between them, favouring the creation of new, original and innovative things (...) and the system of artistic education due to its versatile character is an important element of cultural and creative potential. However, there is an important obstacle hindering access to culture and the creative ability of using it by young people. It is a restrictive approach to the issue of copyright, which is often incomprehensible to them: the issue of authorship is secondary to them and they intuitively use the materials posted on the web as if they had permission to do so. Interestingly, it is actually in line with the law, which allows one to use already shared content for one’s own use. In the long run, however, copyright can be treated as a handbrake on cultural education, when it does not allow legal development of culture and blocks educational opportunities. This refers to such aspects of it as the inability to process and publish modified content, creating an illusion of the illegality of downloading content (propaganda activities, presenting aspects of copyright that are convenient for specific interest groups, blocking access to knowledge. The dissemination of open educational materials, amongst others, guarantees (putting aside the issues of accessibility to equipment, network and the user’s skills) equal access to knowledge.

Conclusions contained in the document entitled: Poland 2030. The Third Wave of Modernity. Long-term National Development Strategy (Polska 2030. Trzecia fala nowoczesności. Długookresowa Strategia Rozwoju Kraju – this strategic document has since been replaced by a newer one that does not contain such direct references to young people's’ participation in culture) may be regarded as a summary of the above considerations. While characterising young people, the authors write about the phenomenon of socialisation into a culture of diversity and prosperity, which is accompanied by a process, as part of which  adults increasingly adopt or retain the features and behaviours of teen style in an attempt to maintain a level of social acceptance within contemporary youth culture.This process also involves the promotion of a cult of youth among the adults. At the same time, they note that this generation has no complexes against its peers from other countries - this is the first generation in Poland for centuries without experience of cultural or technological gaps in comparison to young people from other developed countries. The authors point to the important consequences of such a state of affairs for the activities designed and implemented to support the participation of young people in culture, stressing that they define it as participation in a "massclusive culture", i.e. one that operates in mass circulation due to availability, but at the same time, through the existence of niches for groups of addressees, a kind of exclusivity, or "clubiness". It is a generation that is characterised by a different evaluation of the role and realm of freedom. For them, the oasis of freedom (of the greatest importance) and the area of creating social bonds is the Internet. At the same time, the Internet organises access to other media in a convergent way (for people under the age of 25, the Internet is the source of information about the world and Poland; to a greater extent than television). This young generation is the first “net generation” in Poland.

Youth subcultures also exist in Poland. One of the definitions assumes that the subculture is: "almost every group with a sufficient number of adherents, which has social beliefs, values, norms and a lifestyle which differ to the rest of society, can be considered a subculture. Subcultural models give the group a clear identity and style, which distinguishes it from the whole of society, of which it is a part."Polish youth subcultures are most often associated with a specific type of music, for example heavy-metal or hip-hop. There is no indication that central authorities perceive this diversity and therefore create related documents.