For those not yet concerned with the need to engage a younger generation in the nonprofit arts, cultural policy wonk Barry Hessenius offers more reason to panic in his new report, Involving Youth in Nonprofit Arts Organizations (available in PDF format), published this week with funding and guidance from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (Barry is also blogging about the report and the corresponding ”open forum” sessions in his post today.)
According to the report’s opening salvo:
The future of nonprofit arts organizations, large and small, depends on attracting the best new talent to administer their affairs, to serve as artists and audiences, and to act as advocates, boosters, and financial supporters. Given the shrinking pool of younger people and the increased competition for their attention, action to meet this pressing, and increasingly complex, challenge can no longer be left to a vague future date.
Hessenius suggests that some meaningful efforts have encouraged younger artists, but initiatives to foster youth involvement throughout the arts — in leadership, governance, staffing, financial support, advocacy — have existed only within individual organizations, or in patchy clusters of regions or disciplines. The recommendations?
As a field, the nonprofit arts sector needs to intensify its efforts to
- convince young people of the value of involvement in the arts,
- widen bridges and lines of communication to the next generation, and
- involve young people in areas heretofore outside the scope of their experience, for example, financial support and advocacy.
Two immediate challenges come to mind when implementing these recommendations:
First, the nonprofit arts sector rarely, if ever, thinks or behaves as a unified sector, even when addressing such core and common challenges as this. When individual players are already working beyond their capacity, efforts toward the common good seem perpetually on the future to-do list.
Second, the generations we’re seeking to ”convince” have already proven their distrust of marketing and expressed their demand for meaning. A better national campaign about service and leadership in the arts will mean little if the industry isn’t honestly and earnestly interested in providing value to younger generations — through listening, responding, transforming traditional structures and practices, and remaining open to significant change in ourselves.
The best and only way to ”convince” younger citizens that the arts are valuable to them is to actually be valuable to them. That requires not just a change of face, but a change of nature.
Thanks to Barry and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for informing and advancing the conversation. Here’s hoping we can all turn this productive talk into positive action.