“We want to have children because we want someone to take care of us in our old age.”
No doubt you’ve heard this sentence before. It makes me cringe because this doesn’t seem to me like a really good reason to have children, you know? No one can count on offspring taking care of them when they are old—it’s just impossible to predict that much into the future. If that’s the only reason you are having a child, please don’t! The money saved by not raising a child through the age of 18 could be put towards a long-term healthcare plan, and a snazzy retirement home, and then you’d be set. Thinking before breeding!
Interestingly, the above opening quote is essentially the statement that Michael Kaiser is making in his recent Huffington Post essay, which bemoans the lack of younger audiences attending events at The Kennedy Center, and proposes “The Millennials Project” as a solution. Sadly, this essay starts off on the wrong foot, with the sweeping generalization that “we now have an entire generation of young people who have had virtually no exposure to the arts. They do not go to theater, concerts, dance performances or operas,” and then slides quickly downhill with, “…the current group of twenty-year-olds (deemed the Millennials) does not have any experiences with us. Will they be there for us when we need them? The goal of our Millennials project is to do remedial work; to bring a group of Millennials into our theaters often enough that they build a habit of arts participation.”
And that exploding supernova of patronizing and elitist attitude is going to persuade twenty-somethings to attend more cultural events and support arts institutions?!
Concern about the younger generation’s role in the future of the arts has been an issue during the entire history of arts organizations, and while it may appear especially frightening to some in 2011 due in part to rapid advances in technology and in the way that media content is delivered and consumed, this topic is nothing new. The question could be reframed, as one essay commenter smartly points out, to focus less on whether young people will be there for the arts organizations and more on whether the arts organizations are there now for those young people. This is, after all, a two-way street. It is thrilling to see more and more institutions understanding this point, and making an effort to both embrace modern technology and program art that offers insight into the present and future while also providing backward glimpses into the history of art-making.
It is worth noting that Washington, D.C. is, when it comes to the arts (and okay, when it comes to most things), conservative. Even so, it might help Kaiser to get out of the office a little more, if just to see the hundreds of people who stream in to the Kennedy Center Grand Foyer for the daily Millennium Stage performances, which offer a huge variety of artistic styles and disciplines. If he were to venture out even further into D.C., he would find a great number of established artists and organizations that are already attracting the audience he wants. It’s not that they aren’t engaging with the arts—they are not engaging (as much as he would like) with his version of art.
In the end, as with any generation, “The Millennials” are going to do what they are going to do. It might not be what those currently in power want or expect, but they are going to make something happen, whether that something can be anticipated or not.