Museum Profile – Museum of Youth Culture

Museum of Youth Culture is a non-profit emerging museum dedicated to the scenes, styles and sounds forged by young people over the last 100 years. Currently based on Shaftesbury Avenue in London’s West End, the Museum was founded by Jon Swinstead in 2015 from over 150,000 photographs collected over 20 years through the subculture-specific picture library PYMCA (photographic youth, music, culture archives). It is devoted to the stories of our formative years and represents over 100 years of social history in Britain told through youth culture.

At the heart of the Museum is our education programme, working to harness the power of self-expression as a tool for disadvantaged young people to build confidence and new skills in photography and heritage. To maximise the impact of our collections on those most in need, we collaborate with homeless youth charity Accumulate, local authority youth support services, pupil referral units, and the London Metropolitan Police. This can take the form of short-courses, one off workshops, or one-on-one mentorship using our archive as a central focus to look at identity, representation, and alternative forms of expression.

Museum of Youth Culture is formed of a small specialist team of six based in London, with a collective 50 years’ experience collecting, preserving and storytelling of Britain’s DIY grassroots creativity. We share our work through in-person exhibitions, talks, events and scanning socials – inviting the public to bring along their own photograph, object, or spoken word history. Outreach is key to the Museum’s work, with designated ‘Outreach Champions’ employed to ensure the collections are diverse and inclusive, covering underrepresented narratives within youth culture such as LGBTQIA+ history, Black British culture, and even online youth cultures found within temporary social media platforms, currently at risk of loss or deletion.

The Museum works with an active following of 50,000 people and recruits young volunteers primarily through Instagram (@museumofyouthculture) with record reach from one post receiving 1.5 million views. Prior to lockdown, the Museum welcomed over 250,000 physical visitors to around 30 pop-up exhibitions, events, and workshops per year in part achieved through collaborations with brands like Fred Perry, Depop and Dr Martens. The Museum of Youth Culture believes in bringing heritage to those commonly underrepresented within museums and galleries. To do this we build exhibitions in nightclubs, local libraries, and empty retail units as an attempt to bring the power of self-expression and youth culture history to unlikely spaces.

Being an agile, collaboration focused pop-up Museum, we work with a range of location partners such as property trusts, retail brands and heritage attractions to build a museum as unique as its subject matter. Since 2017 the Museum has almost consistently held high street presence in Central London or further afield in towns and cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Clacton-on-Sea with plans to spread further afield to Coventry, Carlisle, Birmingham, Newcastle, and Glasgow in 2022 as part of our recent new NHLF funded project ‘Amplified Voices: Turning Up the Volume on Regional Youth Culture’. As part of this exciting new fund, we will be launching a major summer exhibition at the Herbert Gallery in Coventry, whilst making headway towards the first purpose-built Museum of Youth Culture confirmed to launch in Birmingham in 2025.

Our work to date has been largely funded with huge thanks to National Lottery players through the National Heritage Lottery Fund, bolstered with more diverse income streams such as client collaborations, licensing, and pop-up shop revenue. During Christmas 2021 we successfully crowdfunded over £10,000 to help secure our Central London home for the future and support a major move of our archive planned for early 2022. Building the Museum of Youth Culture, we value our independent spirit and alternative approach to Museum practice.

Jamie Brett