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Consider this the next time you’re trying to raise money for an arts organization or trying to rally support for the creation of an arts center or just trying to see the world in a fresh, new way.
Baby Boomers — those 76 million born between 1946 and 1964 — are the most pessimistic, disappointed, and self-entitled generation of the 20th century.
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying this, though it makes sense to me. This is from a report in The Washington Post.
This is according to a social and demographic trends survey released recently by the Pew Research Center. The survey measured the pessimism, dissatisfaction and general curmudgeonliness of 2,413 adults in various generations. The results validate any member of the Greatest Generation who ever looked at his or her offspring and sadly thought, “soft.” Simply put, boomers are a bunch of … whiners. More than older or younger generations, boomers — born from 1946 to 1964 — worry that their income won’t keep up with rising costs of living. They say it’s harder to get ahead today than it was 10 years ago. They are more likely to say that their standard of living is lower than their folks’ but that things don’t look too good for their kids either (67 percent of younger generations, meanwhile, feel they have it better than their parents).
And this attitude problem isn’t just because of middle-age crises.
Another report on social trends from the University of Chicago, which surveyed happiness levels for the past 30 years, suggests that boomers have never been happy. Again, the Post:
In 2004, 28 percent of respondents born in 1950 considered themselves “very happy,” compared with 40.2 percent of those born in 1935. Back in 1972, the figures for those same generations were 28.9 and 35.4. A whole lifetime of whining.
So what’s made them so unhappy? There are many theories in the Post article, but I like this one from Yang Yang, the author of the University of Chicago study, because I’ve seen this in action:
Boomers, born into families riding the American Dream, expected that such easy living would always come naturally. Happiness was seen as a right and inevitability.
Put another way: The boomer attitude is not collaborative but confrontational. It’s not one of compromise but of conflict. It’s doesn’t begin from a position of pragmatism but of ideology.
This is why Barack Obama is so appealing to many people under 50. This is why that same group of people — the so-called Gen X and Gen Y — were so disgusted by the 2004 presidential campaign, in which it came to light how much boomers were still fighting about the 1960s. The last straw, for me anyway, was to brouhaha over John Kerry’s adventures in swiftboating.
Why compromise when happiness — and many other things, I would argue, like the American Dream itself — is your right?
This attitude as applied to the arts: People should care about the arts, boomers say. They should give money to arts organizations. If they don’t, boomers say, then they’re stupid. If they don’t, then artists are victims.
Perhaps boomers, who are now facing retirement and old age, can afford to be so dismissive of the very real challenges facing younger generations of artists and art lovers, but those under 50 cannot be so dismissive. We have to face the realities before us.
I saw this during the first “Creative Spaces” discussion at Redux Contemporary Art Center in April (in Charleston, SC) when Marian Mazzone, chair of the Redux Advisory Board, said that artists are being “displaced,” and artist Linda Fantuzzo said that “artists have had to flee” the peninsula.
In an interview with me, for a story on the future of Redux, Mezzone said she was hesitant to talk to me, because I didn’t appear to have sympathy for Redux. She said this, I think, because I’ve said many times that the current venue problem is one of the performing arts not the visual arts.
If I’m not with them, then I’m against them, another trait of the Whiner Generation.
“People born in times of cultural renewal tend to take an overt attitude of pessimism,” says Neil Howe, an author who gained fame for his theories of recurrent generational behavior. They see their pessimism as a tonic that will wake up the world, then they just end up drunk on disappointment.
A few weeks ago I took a look at the front page of Arts + Life, our Sunday features section in the Lexington Herald-Leader. There was a story about a double bill of plays by University of Kentucky Theatre, a piece about UK soprano Afton Battle in the national semifinal round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and, inside, a story about a new UK musical and operetta club.
A few nights later, I was in UK's Singletary Center to hear the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, and I noted that concertmaster Daniel Mason directs UK's string program, principal violist Joseph Baber teaches composition at UK, principal ... well, you get the idea.
Even when you're not dealing with a UK organization, there's a good chance there will be a tie to the university.
That is not to diminish the efforts of artists from other area schools. I'm reminded of folks such as Stephanie Pistello, a Transylvania University theater graduate who now directs the New Mummer Group in New York; John Ellison Conlee, who graduated from Centre College's theater program and went on to a Tony Award nomination for his performance in The Full Monty; and singers such as Corey Crider and Norman Reinhardt, who got their starts at Morehead State University and Asbury College, respectively, before filtering through grad school at UK on their way to burgeoning opera careers. We have a wealth of colleges and universities in Central Kentucky with substantial arts programs. And covering UK arts extensively is not a subversive effort at boosterism (my dirty secret: I was born and raised a Duke fan -- one of UK's mortal enemies in basketball).
There's something to be said for having a major land-grant university in your city. It elevates the possibilities for what you can do and what your community demands.
Readers of Art.Rox may know about this already. Just in case, here's the website for the University of Southern California's new 10-month specialized masters program for mid-career journalists. The Annenberg School is one of the best, so check it out.
Our colleague Victoria Welch, a staff writer for the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, writes in this morning's paper in the spirit of Art.Rox, offering a snowy New England point-of-view of the vibrant and somewhat unexpected theater scene in sunny Southern California.
This article contains reviews of three plays seen by the 25 fellows, one of whom was the vicacious Victoria, of the 2007 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater hosted by the University of Southern California: David Mamet's "Speed-the-Plow," the world premiere of Jason Robert Brown's musical "13," and Stephen Sachs' adaptation of August Strindberg's classic "Miss Julie."
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog