Friday, March 11, 2011

The World is Moving to the Cities

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................"

Demographic Concentration and the Arts:
According to National Geographic (in a teaser for its year long report on overpopulation) in 1975 there were just three mega-cities (defined as having a population of ten million or more) - New York, Tokyo and Mexico City.  There are currently 21 such metropolises.  By 2050, it is estimated that 70% of all the people on the planet will live in mega-cities.  The move is inexorably in motion.

While that profound demographic shift will have untold implications for life on planet earth, it may actually bode well for the arts.  The arts tend to fare better in urban environments.  For whatever reasons, cities attract artistic talent, nurture environments conducive to creativity, encourage public participation, and foster increased public and private support.  In many cities, while there is a struggle for working artists and competition among arts organizations, the ecosystem for the nonprofit arts seems to thrive.

We continue to employ strategies on a host of fronts (from strategic planning to advocacy) that pretty much ignores sweeping shifts in demographics.  We acknowledge them, but do little to truly incorporate the reality into our actions.  We use cookie cutter approaches in defending ourselves against attacks, and rely on broad based approaches to how we provide art, irrespective of the very different circumstances of diverse geographic locales.  We fail to make important distinctions in considering art's place in rural vs. suburban vs. urban settings - treating them as interchangeable when we ought to be using the available demographic data and future projections to tailor and customize what we do and how we do it.  I know - art is art no matter where it is created or accessed - but how we manage its infrastructure, how we rally support for its creation, and how we encourage that creation is, whether we acknowledge it or not, different for varying segments of the population, and different too based on geography.

One of my principal criticisms of our strategic public policy planning is the glaring lack thereof,  Somebody, somewhere in our sector, should be actively considering how such things as the move to mega cities will affect us - what problems it will create, what opportunities it will present.  And yet there is no national organization, no academic think tank, no real organized effort for any of that kind of thinking - with the notable exception of Bill Ivey and Steven Tepper and a few other stalwarts. There is no dearth of gifted thinkers in our field - from GIA and NASAA and AFTA and TCG and so on and so on, but we simply haven't figured out how to organize their thinking into some kind of collective whole that systematically and comprehensively addresses the big issues over time.   Even now, the demographic differences across America should justify, if not demand, that we take into account trends and shifts as we plan for our future, and those considerations should play a meaningful role in arts funding, audience development, advocacy strategy, and how we position ourselves to future generations across diverse ethnic lines.

The challenge of the future is that it simply refuses to wait until one is ready for it.

Have a good week.
Don't Quit

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