In conversation with… Péjú Oshin, Curator of the Young People’s Programme at the Tate, funded by HFF

October 2020

Péjú has worked in several roles at the Tate since 2018 working up to become Curator of the Young People’s Programme, a role which focuses on engaging with those not in formal education to enjoy the arts. This role is funded by the Huo Family Foundation.

With a background in architecture and design, Péjú never expected to end up working in a museum. She always had an interest in working with young people and held several positions over the years, starting off her own career on a young peoples’ programme at The London Transport Museum. This eventually led to her working at the Tate in 2018. She says every day is different and that’s what makes the job so exciting. It can consist of content planning to ensure that everything they do is relevant and authentic for young people, connecting with young artists and constantly supporting their development. “One of the most exciting things for me is when a young person comes to a museum space and hadn’t known the space existed, but then wants to come back again. It warms my heart and makes the job worthwhile.”

The events and interactive talks that the Tate facilitates are usually the most exciting part, but Covid-19 has sadly put a stop to this aspect of the job. It has been devastating for the sector and young people in particular, but Péjú and her team’s reaction was to be as responsive as possible. “It has been horrendous – everyone is experiencing this collective trauma and there is nowhere to escape. We looked at how we could be more present in the lives of the young people we work closest with, our Tate Collective Producers, and increased engagement to biweekly instead of monthly. This is a very stressful time for young people – so much has been taken away from them – so we wanted to generate a discussion around current feelings and how people are coping. We’ve learned a lot about digital connection, and we won’t ever lose that.”

The Arts has always been an area where funding cuts hit first and Péjú recognises why donations like the Huo Family Foundation’s are crucial. “We sometimes meet young people who are initially quite shy but after working with them for a few days, we see that the art and the artists they are exposed to can develop their confidence. This is where art can be a useful tool to hold a conversation”. Péjú feels the Foundation’s mission statement is particularly aligned with the work she does daily supporting communities in the pursuit of knowledge. “Philanthropy is hugely important especially in this moment where artists are struggling. It is important to ensure these young artists are seen and heard. Not only does art teach you to look at the world critically, but it can also support people’s wellbeing and brings people together.”

Looking at the silver lining from the pandemic, Péjú hopes that the Tate and her team are able to keep elements of the digital once they are back in the physical space. This would allow participation from young people who can’t travel for financial reasons or perhaps have a disability. “It’s important to try and reach new audiences, and to ensure arts are accessible for them. We want to try and bring some of the agility forward in order to bring [young people] in and make them feel comfortable.”

Péjú is excited for future possibilities and feels that the arts will play an even more important role moving forward. She strives to give young people access to art and culture and particularly to get a better representation of those from BAME backgrounds. Traditionally there is a lack of visibility of people of colour in the arts. When young people who are from these backgrounds see me, they see that it is possible to do this kind of role. And that’s great for them. And for me.”