Thursday, July 4, 2019

Newark Museum Interview

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


Note:  This is the final interview in a series with Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts grantees delving into their launch, management and continuation of creative aging programs for seniors.  A wrap up, including resources, will post next week.  

The Newark Museum "operates, as it has since its founding, in the public trust as a museum of service, and a leader in connecting objects and ideas to the needs and wishes of its constituencies.  We believe that our art and science collections have the power to educate, inspire and transform individuals of all ages, and the local, regional, national and international communities that we serve.

  In the words of founding Director John Cotton Dana:  "A good museum attracts, entertains, arouses curiosity, 
leads to questioning—and thus promotes learning."


Project Description:  

Contemporary Book Arts:
Explore a sampling of printing and book-making methods during 8 four-hour sessions: monoprinting, basic intaglio and relief printing and binding practices.

Create your own small suite of personalized books, both blank and content-filed. View contemporary and historical artist books and printed ephemera; learn through demonstration, hands-on making and experimentation.
Beginners welcome!

Mixed Media Sculpture:
During eight 2-hour sessions, learn to construct your own creative sculptures from repurposed objects, inspired by works on view at the Newark Museum. Manipulate and transform found and commonplace materials like discarded textiles, plastics, paper, wire, wood, beads and small household objects into art works, using two and three dimensional assemblage and construction techniques.


Interview: 

Barry:  What made you want to pursue a vitality arts program for seniors?  Had your organization had previous experience with crafting programs specifically designed to appeal to seniors?
The

Newark Museum: Newark Museum has recently been working to rebuild ongoing hands-on adult workshops and courses. Beginning in 1930, the Newark Museum’s Arts Workshops provided opportunities for our local population to engage in the Museum’s collections through artmaking programs. After eighty-eight years of continuous programs, the Arts Workshop programs were ended due to declining attendance and funding. Many of the participants in these programs were retirees (seniors) and have made it clear that there is strong interest in reviving the programs.

Barry:  Your project encompassed two separate opportunities for seniors: 1) book making, and 2) mixed media sculpture.  How did you settle on these two art forms, and why?

Newark Museum:  The subject of the courses was determined using suggestions from participants of previous programs, and by surveying the Museum’s docents (mostly seniors). Additionally, the Museum’s exhibition schedule influenced the decision. The mixed media sculpture course was directly connected to a recent commission of figure by a contemporary Native American artist, Jeffrey Gibson.

Barry:  In creating a budget for the project, what line items were included?  Were there expenses that were unanticipated?  Did you leverage additional funding from other sources?  What sources, and how difficult was raising the additional funding?

Newark Museum:  The budget included lines for Teaching Artist fees, Program Supplies, Marketing, Administration time, Part-time educator assistance, travel expenses, and catering for the reception. All budget lines were spent as anticipated except for travel expenses. Before the program began we thought we would spend more on bussing participants to the Museum and less on providing parking at the Museum.

Barry:  Did you accurately identify the workload and time involved that management of the project ended up taking, and can you describe that workload and the time involved.  How did you develop your team to oversee the project?  What roles did you include - teaching artist, project manager, marketing, evaluation, et. al. ?

Newark Museum:  The overall workload and time spent facilitating the four Vitality Arts programs in 2018 was generally as expected. The team consisted of the Teaching Artists, Project Administrator, Project Manager, and the Museum’s Marketing staff. After the spring courses, the Project Administrator left the Museum and her responsibilities were added to those of the Project Manager. The aspect of this project that was underestimated (or not presented clearly) was the reporting process. More time than expected has been spent on reporting the project. 


Barry:  The Aroha projects mandated inclusion of teaching artists to conduct the training for the senior participants.  How did you go about recruiting those teaching artists?  What was involved in their training and involvement for this project that you didn’t anticipate at the outset?  Were there benefits to the teaching artists involvement that came as a bonus?

Newark Museum:  The Newark Museum relies on the expertise of teaching artists for all our hands-on courses and workshops. The teaching artists for the Vitality Arts courses were found within the expansive network the Museum has cultivated over the years. The teaching artists used time before the courses to study the Museum’s collections and develop a curriculum that would support social interaction between students while creating opportunities for greater understanding and deeper appreciation for the Museum’s objects. 


Barry:  Did the project involve any collaborative efforts and / or partnerships with other organizations within the community, such as with universities, senior centers, care facilities or otherwise?  How did those come about and how did they work?  How critical were those to the success of the project?

Newark Museum:  Most of the Mixed Media sculpture course participants were involved with the course through a partnership with a local senior center. The senior center promoted the course to their audience and served as a pick up and drop off point for a hired bus company. This partnership helped to ensure access to the programs for people without transportation and help to provide experiences that the senior center is otherwise unable to provide.

The Contemporary Book Arts class utilized the Museum branch of the Newark Public Library system to further their study. During one of the sessions the participants met with the Museum’s Librarian, William Peniston, to view rare books and various types of binding techniques.


Barry:  Who did you target as participants in the project?  Was recruiting senior participants easy or difficult?  How did you deal with issues such as non-native speaker participants, diversity recruitment, dealing with disability and / or transportation issues of the senior participants etc.

Newark Museum:  For each Vitality Arts course the Museum creates an Eventbrite page which is embedded into the Courses & Workshops page of the Museum’s website. The link for this page is then added to digital member newsletters and shared on social media platforms. For the Contemporary Books Arts course, this marketing strategy was able to sell out the course. For the Mixed Media Sculpture course, only a few people registered using Eventbrite. To recruit more participants, the Museum collaborated with a local senior center to offer the course to their audience. The transportation costs for the senior center collaboration we predicted and were covered by grant funding. 


Barry:  What kinds of marketing did you employ in recruiting senior participants?

Newark Museum:  Eventbrite registration, email, targeted social media, printed cards and member mailings



Barry:  What criteria did you use to determine if the project succeeded from the organization’s point of view?  How did you evaluate the project during its course, and post completion?

Newark Museum:  The main criteria for the success of the course was the commitment of the participants. Weekly attendance was used to determine the level of commitment. Course participants also completed a pre-program survey and a post-program survey that evaluated interest and engagement using Likert scale assessments. In addition, the teaching artists completed a weekly program log that tracked progress during the course, and included successes and challenges in facilitation and individual participant’s progress.


Barry:  What lessons did you learn from your experience with the project in the provision of services to seniors in the creative aging arena?  How will you apply what you’ve learned to the sustainability of offering this, or new and additional projects to the senior community in the future?

Newark Museum:  Facilitating programs for a senior audience has unique challenges that influence the format and delivery of our courses. The Vitality Arts program consisted of one session per week over 8 weeks. This commitment of time was challenging for participants. Although many were retired, some worked part-time and had variable schedules. Some participants could not predict more than a week forward if they would be scheduled to work and if they would be able attend the next session of the course. Others had personal and familial commitments that prevented them from attending all sessions. When considering our future programs for seniors, a shorter time commitment may benefit both the facilitation of the course but also the rate of participation. 


Barry:  When you conceived the project, what obstacles and barriers did you identify, and was the reality of designing, then implementing, the project pretty much as expected, or were there elements that surprised you?

Newark Museum:  During the initial planning of the courses, transportation to and from the Museum was identified to be an obstacle for seniors from Newark that may not drive and may rely on public transportation. To address this obstacle, the Museum partnered with a local senior center which acted as a gathering point transportation to the Museum. 


Barry:  What were the overall pros and cons, logistically and otherwise, in designing, creating, and implementing the project?  What benefits were there to the organization - e.g., new volunteers, new support, new audience members, greater community involvement, media coverage, expanded organization image within the community etc.?

Newark Museum:  By offering two courses each spring and fall over the past two years, the Museum has dramatically grown its audience for hands-on multi-session courses. Out of all the course participants surveyed, most are very interested in participating in future offerings.


Barry:  Would you recommend that other arts organizations consider creating and launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs? Why or why not?  What are the major considerations arts organizations ought to consider before embarking on the launch of their own programs?  What are the specific considerations in your experience that museums ought to consider in planning a creative aging vitality program?

Newark Museum:  Yes, it is our recommendation that other arts organizations create their own Vitality Arts programs. These programs allow organizations to connect with an audience that is traditionally neglected in educational efforts. Working with seniors also fosters social and cultural engagement and offers opportunities for seniors to be active in the community, while using their own life experiences to create objects with meaning.

One consideration to highlight when planning a senior program is to allow more time for conversation and discussion as well as more time for project-based aspects of the program. Both limitations in mobility and the general eagerness to share experiences and perspectives requires additional time in class.

Barry:  Do you intend to continue to offer these kinds of program to the senior community?  Why or why not?

Newark Museum:  Yes. The Museum’s mission is to serve the local population.


Participant Observations:

1.  Geraldine Code - 
Single, 65 year old, former teacher, living in East Orange, New Jersey interested in ink art, fiber arts double dutch, working now part time teaching arts and crafts at the Boys and Girls Club.

She volunteered that she decided to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program to explore other areas of art less familiar to her.

In rating the program she said:
"The project met my expectations  I wish that it was longer.  i had fun exploring and discussing the collections and exhibits in the museum." 

Will you continue to pursue the art form that you learned in the program?      Yes 

What advice would you give to other people who might be thinking of participating in this kind of program?
"I would tell them to absolutely sign up and explore their creative side."



2.  Jean Goldstein - a married, 72 year old, former Counselor at a community college, living in West Orange, New Jersey interested in Reading, mah jongg, knitting, tennis, and art.

In your own words, please Rate and Review your involvement in the project:
Did it meet - or exceed - your expectations?  What were the benefits of participation?
"It was a fun experience. I enjoyed the teachers and other students, as well as learning about art or craft forms I had little or no knowledge about. I also liked being a part of a program at the Newark Museum"

As a result of the program, have you decided to become involved with the sponsoring organization in other ways - say as a volunteer, or audience member, or financial supporter or?
"I’ve considered volunteering at the museum but haven’t made the commitment to reach out and do so."

What advice can you give to the sponsoring organization to make the program better?
"Allow more time to complete projects; provide reduced parking at the museum for participants. Loved the receptions at the end of the courses for participants and our families."

What advice would you give to other people who might be thinking of participating in this kind of program?
"Do it!"



3.  Betsy Vinegrad - a married,  61year old, former fashion industry tech designer, from Short Hills, New Jersey interested in sewing, quilting, knitting and attending art or craft shows and exhibits. Going to the theater.

Why did you decide to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program?
"I saw the Fashion the Future: Wearable Technology class posted on Facebook. It looked like a great way to sample using some of the resources in the Maker Space."

In your own words, please Rate and Review your involvement in the project.
Did it meet - or exceed - your expectations?  What were the benefits of participation?
"I took 2 classes: Fashion the Future: Wearable Technology and Contemporary Book Arts. Both exceeded my expectations. Although I have a lot of experience in fashion, I still learned a lot. I had no experience in book arts and did not feel intimidated by my lack of knowledge. This is a credit to the teachers and the organizers." 

"There were no negatives. I was pleasantly surprised that the programs were tailored to allow those with no experience to learn and still keep those with experience engaged."  

Will you continue to pursue the art form that you learned in the program?
"Yes. I would like to see shorter term workshops with deeper focus on parts of the series classes. For example, there could be workshops using the 3D printers or, one day doing mono printing."



4.  Elizabeth Wall - a  divorced, 70 year old former telecommunications consultant from Irvington, New Jersey interested in gemstone and silver jewelry creation, sewing, sketching/painting, vegetable and flower gardening, reading. 

"I have been on at least six day trips with the Newark Museum and the Environmental Center in Roseland NJ. I’m currently enrolled in the Rutgers Master Gardeners Course (three hour weekly class) which started September 2018 and concludes May 2019. Participating in this class has availed me of many opportunities to volunteer in Essex county: pruning trees at Brookdale Park, working at Branch Brook Park’s Concourse Hill area with other volunteers to clean up the area. Preparing (digging up) Canna plants for winter storage at Turtleback Zoo."

Why did you decide to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program?
 "I am  interested in the arts and related programs."

Had you participated in any arts program like this before?
"The year before I participated in the 3d Jewelry Making program"

"I was surprised at the work that I produced in the class last year (painting). Having had no formal lessons in this subject, I had no idea that in such a short time I could accomplish so much."  

What advice would you give to other people who might be thinking of participating in this kind of program?
"Choose your class and sign up for a life changing experience that you can continue with after class ends."



5.  Brigitte Wofford - 56 year old, married, teacher, interested in nature and wildlife, arts, reading, learning languages, exercise...

Why did you decide to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program?
"I liked the idea of combining making a piece of jewelry with learning 3D printing. I would have loved to take the other classes too, but I live far and I still work."

 "I really enjoyed the class. I got to meet people I would not have met otherwise, while learning in a fun environment."

What advice would you give to other people who might be thinking of participating in this kind of program? "
I would recommend it wholeheartedly." 


Thanks to Ryan Reedell at the Newark Museum for his help with the interview.


Have a great week end.

Don't Quit
Barry




Sunday, June 30, 2019

Paramount Center for the Arts Interview

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

Note:  This is the sixth interview in a series with Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts grantees delving into their launch, management and continuation of creative aging programs for seniors.  The final interview to post at the end of the week, followed by a wrap up, including resources, next week. 


The mission of the Paramount Theatre & Visual Arts Center is to provide opportunities for artistic production, creative exploration, arts education and the enjoyment of arts and entertainment.
The facility is managed to ensure use by a diverse set of patrons, enhance artistic opportunity, provide a creative environment for community involvement in the arts, and generate a positive economic impact on Downtown St. Cloud.

Project Description:
Developed under the heading of Growing Art-FULL, designed for individuals over 55.
• (3) course mediums were developed: movement, clay, and choir
• (10) sessions per course – the tenth session being a culminating event, a concert or showcase
• Courses were held on the premises of (1) senior living facilities and (1) senior day program
• We rotated the mediums per facility into (3) session periods – so all (3) courses would be operating concurrently.
• Each class was led by (2) teaching artists - professionals in their unique field


Interview:

Barry:  What made you want to pursue a vitality arts program for seniors? Had the center had previous experience with crafting programs specifically designed to focus on arts, and appeal to seniors?

Paramount:  Past experience serving nursing homes with arts classes had been very successful and made us aware of the limited options available for residents in other areas of senior living facilities such as independent and assisted living. Paramount’s stage offerings drew a large number of seniors but our arts programming did not. The combination of perceived need and past success, along with the availability of quality teaching artists, made this grant opportunity a perfect match. We wanted to grow our service audience and expand our program offerings.

Barry:  Your project encompassed three separate opportunities for seniors: 1) dance - movement, 2) sculpture - clay, and 3) music - choir. What was the thinking in focusing on those three art forms?

Paramount:  First of all, these were areas of strengths for our facility and our teaching artists. Secondly, these were options not currently being offered in the facilities we hoped to work with. Third, this offered a visual, auditory and kinesthestic option to help us assess for future programming. Fourth, the activities could accommodate sufficient numbers of participants.

Barry:  The Aroha projects mandated inclusion of teaching artists to conduct the training for the senior participants. How did you go about recruiting those teaching artists? Was that easy, or more difficult than you imagined? What was involved in their training and involvement that you didn’t anticipate at the outset? Were there benefits to the teaching artists involvement that came as a bonus?

Paramount: We chose experienced artists whom we trusted to have the skills needed. However, the initial three artists really wanted to have a second artist for each area so they would have someone to plan with, confer, reflect and present. This proved to be a strength of the program as the audience was new to the artists and so they appreciated having a partner. We chose to have a male and female of different ages for each art form to again strengthen the program and provide another area to assess. Having two artists was good for the artists and good for the participants giving them a greater chance to make a connection with an artist. Also, in the second year we asked each first-year artist to mentor a new teaching artist and so now we have 12 teaching artists with experience as we work to sustain the program. Because the artists were very experienced teaching artists, the training provided was mainly around the grant goals and the development of curriculum that would honor those goals and serve the intended clients.

Barry:  How did you deal with issues such as non-native speaker participants, diversity recruitment, disability issues, dealing with transportation issues of the senior participants etc.

Paramount:  Our main task was to deal with disability issues and transportation. The artists were incredibly creative in dealing with mobility, hearing, vision, some limited memory issues. Once a class roster was established, the liaison at each facility was most helpful in helping artists to be pro-active. A registration sheet also invited participants to share any concerns or limitations they felt might impact their participation. No one was turned away from programming. Holding the classes where the clients lived helped to limit transportation issues. Providing pay for adjacent parking for the Paramount classes was seen as an important provision for those traveling to the clay classes.

Barry:  In creating a budget for the project, what were the major projected costs, and were there any unanticipated expenses? Did you leverage additional funding from other sources? What sources and how difficult was raising the additional funding?

Paramount:  The major costs were in providing two teaching artists for each class. Beyond that, once we realized that participants from facilities were not willing to travel to the Paramount for clay classes, we had to find a way to pay for the added time needed for artists to take the class to them. Preparing the clay and hauling back and forth for drying and firing was less than convenient, but critical to success. Purchasing electronic supplies such as microphones assured that all could hear the teachers and the music needed. Having authentic quality supplies be it music folders, printed music, proper clay supplies were essential to provide an authentic arts experience. One unanticipated expense was providing time for choral staff to arrange pieces to meet the reality of the group assembled. For example, an SATB piece might have to be rearranged to an SAB if there was an imbalance of men and women. Or a piece might need to be simplified and enlarged for a person with vision loss. Additional funding came from the two facilities for year two programming once they saw the value of year one. In addition, we gave the audience opportunity to contribute following the closing performances, but that met with limited success.

Barry:  Did you accurately identify the workload and time involved that management of the project ended up taking, and can you describe that workload and the time involved. How did you develop your team to oversee the project? What elements did you include?

Paramount: The time allocated to manage the project was insufficient. Staying in touch with all the teaching-artists, the site managers and meeting the grantors expectations proved valuable, but time consuming. The role of project director was not just that of managing the budget and marketing, but also became the cheerleader who held the project in a cohesive whole, intervened if there were issues, encouraged and empowered artists, problem solved, and dealt with a myriad of details that could not have been predicted. It was a complex and worthy project with many new components for us. The learning provided was incredibly valuable, but did have costs. One very valuable tool that was developed was the weekly log that both the artists and the site manager completed. Because I simply could not attend every session, reading their logs helped me gain a sense of what was happening at each site, and to jump in when I sensed a lack of cohesion in reporting.

Barry:  Did the project involve any collaborative efforts and / or partnerships with other organizations within the community, such as with universities, senior centers, care facilities or otherwise? How did those come about and how did they work?  How critical were those to the success of the project?

Paramount:  The collaboration with Good Shepherd Assisted Living, St Benedict Independent Living and St. Cloud Whitney Senior Center were key to our success. The relationships developed are authentic and I have no doubt will continue as all parties continue work to meet the needs of a growing aging population. They came about via past successful programs and were only fortified. The liaison at each site proved to be essential. They took care of many of the details (pencils ready, taking attendance, recruiting, following up with absences, communicating with artists, etc). Their importance was made clear when a staff change at one site caused a disconnect that proved challenging. We were lucky to have strong site facilitators who were advocates for their residents and for the program.

Barry:  What kinds of marketing did you employ in recruiting senior participants and did you go outside your constituent base?

Paramount:  The Paramount has a graphic designer who produced recruiting fliers for all sites. The programs were also advertised on Paramount's website and in the newsletters of collaborating sites. Project Director and artists also made site visits prior to each class to encourage and invite participation. Good Shepherd also has a policy of recruiting through the local Community Education program in Sauk Rapids. We also invited family members of those living in facilities who were over 55 to participate in the classes. There were several participants, who, after being in a class at one facility would follow and participate again in another site.

Barry:  What were the overall pros and cons, logistically and otherwise, in designing, creating, and implementing the project? What benefits were there to the organization - e.g., new volunteers, new support, new audience members, greater community involvement, media coverage, expanded organization image within the community etc.?

Paramount:  Pros are many. The project:
1. helped us expand our pool of experienced teaching artists and to support them over a two-year period
2. helped us to purchase critical supplies that will be important in sustaining programs.
3. gave us the opportunity to produce a professional video to help tell the story in a compelling
way.
4. taught us to develop and use data in effective ways.
5. expanded our programming and our participation base
6. connected us to new funding sources, expertise, and knowledge
7. provided new commitment to the power of the arts by virtue of participant and artist testimony. The joy we witnessed is priceless.

Cons:
1. Moving from grant support can be challenging. Even though people have experienced the value of a program, getting them to pay for what was previously given to them takes creativity!
2. The time required to manage when this is one of many programs offered.

Barry: What criteria did you use to determine if the project succeeded from your organization’s point of view? How did you evaluate the project during its course and post completion?

Paramount:  The evaluation tools provided by Aroha were the basis of our assessment. We relied on the monkey survey tallies to help us tell the story. Informally, we were always watching recruitment and retention numbers, capturing weekly stories of breakthroughs and delights, maintaining artist and site management logs, and taking photos of smiles and product to document participant sense of success. The success was not always in the quality of the dance or the pot or the song, but also on the sense of accomplishment, the smile, the tears of joy, and the surprise of participants’ family members at what their loved one had accomplished. Of course there is always the budgetary bottom line that is crucial to sustainability.

Barry:  When you conceived the project, what obstacles and barriers did you identify, and was the reality of designing, then implementing, the project pretty much as expected, or were there elements that surprised you?

Paramount: We wanted a ready audience and so pursued working through both the Paramount and established senior communities. One was an independent living facility, one an assisted living and one a community senior center. Again this would give us good data in a variety of settings to help us make decisions about sustaining the program.

Barry:  What lessons did you learn from your experience with the project? How will you apply what you’ve learned to the sustainability of offering new and additional creative aging projects to the senior community in the future?

Paramount:  Learnings include:
1. While having two artists was critical to the experimental stage, it is not feasible in the sustainability phase.
2. Paying artists a particular fee during the research phase is not possible to continue post grant/ research phase. Helping artists to understand that will be crucial, as will be still paying them a fair wage.
3. While this project helped us connect with those 70 – 95, we are missing out on better serving
those 55 – 70. We need to develop programming at the Paramount or Whitney to assure the entire Age range is being served.
4. Watching the success of other Aroha programs has made us want to expand the offerings to include writing, theatre, sculpture. Watching the other programs was extremely informative.
5. The higher up the corporate ladder one climbs, the more important quantitative data becomes. Seeking funding from a foundation board takes more that touching stories and photos. We are grateful for the quantitative data that Touchstone has provided as we work to get the participating agencies to increas their buy-in.
6. It is critical to simplify processes as much as possible. Having standard documents that can be used at all sites will be important the next round. We did too much individualization that created unnecessary complexity.
7. It was helpful to ask facilities to consider expending marketing as well as programming funding for the program, as they understood that past programming (bingo!) will not suffice for the coming generation of facility residents.

Barry:  Would you recommend that other senior center organizations consider creating and launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs? What are the major considerations organizations ought to consider before embarking on the launch of their own programs? What are the specific considerations in your experience that senior centers ought to consider in planning a creative aging vitality program?

Paramount:  YES! Gaining access to strong model programs and education from agencies such as Aroha, Touchstone and Lifetime Arts helps to break down the walls of “what is” to imagine “what could be”. But imagining is not enough. Those who buy in will do so because they understand the research and the data that shows quality of life is at stake. Understanding must accompany emotion. If these major players continue to share their expertise at conferences and publications aimed at senior management facilities, it will make it easier for arts organizations to “sell their wares” to them. If the information comes only from the arts organizations it can seem self-serving.

Barry:  What advice would you give those organizations gleaned from your experience?

Paramount: 
1. Poll your residents/members to see what they want, but don’t limit options to what they say. They may fall in love with something they had never considered if it is offered, marketed well and presented by an excellent teaching artist.
2. Market your arts programs in your publications. A rich menu of choices will say a lot about who you are as an organization.
3. Real work for real audiences is really important. Whatever programs you offer, provide a way to
celebrate and show-off their accomplishments.
4. Work with quality artists and pay them fairly. That can be hard to assess on your own so working with an arts organization provides a quality control that is invaluable. Working with a professional adds an element of respect and expectation for those participating – a way of saying “you are worthy of the be and capable of producing.” What a powerful message!
5. There is a difference between an artist and a teaching artist.

Barry: Do you intend to continue to offer these kinds of program to your senior community? Why or why not?

Paramount:  We most certainly intend to take advantage of the incredible momentum built within our artist and our Senior community. It will be important to bring the players together to tune the program, identify what went well, what was confusing and what needs to change and then to craft a plan together. Having all parties feel a part of the planning will be important to any continued success we have. The evidence Is clear, and the Paramount is the agency with the ability and the mission to carry on this work.

Thank you to Solveig Anderson at Paramount for help with this interview.

Have a good week.  And Happy Fourth of July.

Don't Quit
Barry

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Millennials Are No Different Than the Rest of Us.

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


We have spent a lot of time over the past decade trying to figure out Millennials; trying to understand what they want, what they need; trying to develop strategies to recruit them to our teams, to get them as our audiences, to convert them to being our donors.  We've focused on their devotion to high tech and social network platforms.  We've adapted programming and marketing to target them, and we've adopted new ways to present and exhibit art.  We've bought into the idea that because of their life experiences with tech, and their alleged penchant for doing things differently than previous generations, they are somehow different in fundamental ways than we are.  We subscribe to the notion that they simply want to access art in different ways than generations of the past.  We appreciate that their politics are different from ours.

But is all that true?

In the halcyon days of the Boomers back in the 60's, my generation thought we would, in the words of a Don Henley song, "change the world with words like love and peace".  In Berkeley and Boston, New York and Los Angeles, we thought our entire generation thought the same; because we shared the same musical tastes, we were of the same mind.  That turned out NOT to be true.  The fact is that we were not a homogeneous group that shared the same politics, nor did we even share the same life experiences.  Our preferences and tastes were all over the map - molded by a plethora of influences ranging from socio-economic status, education, religion, where we grew up and a lot more. And as we grew older, like generations before us, we grew more conservative.

The Millennials are likely no different.  Yes, they grew up with the technological revolution of computers and smart phones.  Yes they seem to love selfies.  Yes they have been impacted by the Great Recession, and those that are college educated carry heavy student loan debts.  Yes they they may be more likely to still live at home in their 20's, and yes they may have more trouble finding their job niches.  But fundamentally different from us in their politics, their tastes, their way of approaching life?  I'm not so sure.

In an article in Pacific Standard, a new report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, suggests Millennials aren't so different from previous generations, at least in part:

"Millennials, according to the cliché, are both woke and broke. Woke in the sense that, having grown up in an increasingly multicultural society, they're less racist and sexist than previous generations; broke in that, having entered the workforce during the Great Recession, they have yet to catch up to the economic achievements of their parents.
The report which analyzes data from a variety of sources, largely debunks both of those notions.
Today's young adults are just as likely to endorse traditional racial and gender stereotypes as members of previous generations. And by age 30, those who have earned college degrees enjoy incomes comparable to those of their predecessors."

The report's authors note:

"By age 30," unemployment declines among Millennials, and reaches levels comparable to those prevailing in generations that preceded them." 

To the extent we have internalized the idea that Millennials don't have sufficient income to become our audiences, our patrons, our donors - that's apparently not true.  They don't all live at home, they're not all without jobs, struggling to get by.

And, I wonder how many other assumptions we have made about them are also without justification.  I wonder if they really all necessarily prefer to access art through some tech medium as opposed to the traditional live performances and museum visits.  I wonder if they will likely, as did we, grow into being more interested in the arts as they mature, gain leisure time, disposable income, and settle down.

The article notes that:

"Finally, the report debunks widespread fears that Millennials are abandoning face-to-face interactions in favor of phones and computers.
"Millennials spend as much time with relatives or friends, and hanging out at bars, as 20- to 35-year-olds have been doing since at least the 1970s," write sociologists Mario Small and Maleah Fekete. "More than 47 percent socialized with relatives at least several times a week. More than 30 percent did so with friends."

I think its very likely that Millennials are far more like their parents - like us - than we supposed.  I think our efforts to dramatically change how we approach providing access to what we do may have been overreaching; that, in fact, they will be as likely to support the arts, and in the same ways, as we have been.  That's not to say that we don't still have a challenge in attracting them, much as we still have a challenge in attracting the Boomers and Xers.  But the challenge may not be to devise some wholesale way to fundamentally change how we present art.

Millennials are very likely, in my opinion, as they age, to become, as generations  before them,  more conservative.  They aren't likely to stay some course of fundamental rebellion that will herald a new order of things.  As in another Don Henley song line:  "Things in this life change very slowly, if they ever change at all."

Of course, Millennials have grown up with different experiences than did we.  Of course, their world is different, but their world is still our world as we continue to grow in it too.  I think we may be wasting some time trying to identify some magic new pathways to doing what we do; believing somehow that that is necessary to relate to a generation as so foreign and different from us that they might as well be from another planet.  In large part, they are us - just younger.  Do you remember when you were their age?

So how do we approach marketing to them?  What strategies do we adopt to include them as part of our sustainable future?

In an article in Ladders,  Amazon's Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying:

"The true secret to business success is to focus on the things that won’t change, not the things that will.  For Amazon’s e-commerce business, for instance, he knows that in the next decade people will still want low prices, fast shipping, and a large selection."

What won't change for us?  People, including all the generations, will still want exceptional artistic experiences, they will still want reasonable pricing; they will still want convenience; they will still want opportunities for enjoyable social outings, they will still seek fun as part of their social lives.  We are told they want "authenticate" experiences.  Well, we all want authentic experiences.   That's exactly what all our customers want.  To provide those things is already challenging, and we struggle to meet those needs.  And that won't change.  But to believe that the Millennials want art via some tech delivery system - perhaps even ones not yet developed - is a risky conclusion, largely unsupported by reality.

Perhaps Bezos is right and we ought to focus on delivering what we do in ways that satisfy those basic demands that won't change. That is not to suggest that we ignore societal changes, nor that we fail to reasonably consider and employ every new device that might help us.  And I'm not saying Millennials are exactly like us in every respect.  But I am saying they are not all alike either, and that they are far more like us, than different from us.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry