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May 8, 2007

The kids are alright

Jennifer A. Smith


I recently took a nationwide survey conducted by Americans for the Arts. (If you haven't taken it yet yourself, you can find it here--but responses must be submitted by Friday, May 11). Once you finish the questionnaire, you wind up in a public forum where you can comment on an issue raised by the survey, or anything else that strikes your fancy. I think that's a great idea, rather than the standard "Thanks for your feedback" page.


One comment I saw there struck me, however. It's from a longtime arts educator who laments the cuts to arts in the schools. Fair enough. But then this person notes, "The baby-boomers are currently sustaining the arts venues through philanthropy. This will stop soon. We have not trained the next generation of music and art aficionados."


I won't name the commenter here since it is basically irrelevant; I have heard this line of thinking before and I also don't want to seem as if I am harping on one person. However, as someone firmly within Generation X (I'm mid-30s), this Boomer-centric mentality gets to me. Are X-ers (and Gen Y) really contributing to the arts at a lower rate than Boomers did at a similar age? If that is true (and I haven't seen numbers one way or the other yet--if anyone has those, please reply in the comments), we must consider the larger debt load Generations X and Y are leaving college with, as well as larger factors like the instability of Social Security. Charitable giving is something most people can manage only after the essential bills have been paid. I'm stepping up my contributions this year now that I'm finally in more of a position to do so.


I think the commenter's thoughts reflect a larger fear about what will happen to the culture once Boomers are no longer in control. The generation that once distrusted anyone over 30 now seems to dismiss anyone under 40 (important caveat: I'm not saying all Boomers react this way). Change can be a little scary; I'll admit I already feel out of sync with the current crop of 20-somethings who've never truly known a pre-Internet world (I left for college with an electric typewriter!). But culture has a surprising way of regenerating itself--it's just that the new forms may look unfamiliar.

Posted by Jennifer A. Smith at May 8, 2007 6:00 AM