Monday, May 7, 2007

May 07, 2007


Hello everyone.

"And the beat goes on...................."

Further consideration of the Generational Succession issues.

Over the past two weeks, Moy Eng and I, together with local arts organizations and sector leaders, convened Open Forums to talk about the findings from the Report from the INVOLVING YOUTH IN THE ARTS project that the Hewlett Foundation commissioned me to undertake, in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco. We had an average of 90 to 100 people in each venue.

Download the Full Report and / or the Executive Summary:
click here:

We recognize that each community is separate and different; that each has its own set of local circumstances and so we sought to explore what each of these communities might consider as they work on the local level to address the challenges of involving more young people. The Report considered the barriers and opportunities attendant to any effort on the part of arts organizations to compete for young people's involvement - and the discussions at these Forums echoed those findings:

As to what makes it difficult for arts organizations to become involved in the effort, the response was almost universal that it requires staff time to oversee the program and money to make it work that many arts organizations simply do not have. And that comported well with what those organizations that do have programs aimed at involving young people told us, virtually all of which cautioned not to undertake such an effort unless the organization was willing to make a time and money committment. All advised that such a committment was essential to obtaining a good result.

Findings in the Report:

As to advice given by those organizations that had sucessfully made the effort in one the areas we were interested in (governance, as financial supporters, as advocates, as part of our audiences and as new artists), three lessons learned stood out:

1) Young people are looking for some kind of meaningful involvement - even at the most fundamental entry level. They are looking for respect, for some kind of 'authority' and decision making power as part of their involvement (even if low level)and for mentoring so that they might "learn" something from the experience. Thus, they won't easily be fooled by the organization wanting their participation primarily as cheap part time labor to lick envelopes or set up the room for a fund raising dinner. The experience, if it is to be competitive, has to be deeper than that -- at least at its core.

2) They prefer communications mediums with which they are familiar and comfortable; they are less likely to respond to messages sent in forms, and via means, they really use infrequently, if at all.

3) In terms of being audience members, the experience has to be relatively easy to avail themselves of -- and thus tickets have to be affordable (and that doesn't mean the cheap balcony seats that "suck" by anyone's standards); times and places need to consider their schedules and who they are, and the content needs to at least occasionally move towards relevance to their lifetimes (from their point of view).

Now this advice came from organizations who have programs seeking to involve young people. Clearly, more surveying of young people themselves, more data on what they do and don't like, want, need et. al. would be of enormous value to the sector and we recommend such inquiries be a priority of funders, but young people at our Forums confirmed these feelings.

We seem to have something of an infrastructure based on our outreach programs from our performance based arts groups to high schools, and the foundation that that outreach has helped to create has been expanded in efforts to provide training, tutoring and opportunities to practice and perform (be it music, dance, theater etc.) We have far more limited outreach efforts to college campuses than we do to high schools and we also recommend that organizations begin more college campus ties and bridge building.

What we don't seem to have is any system to truly provide 'mentoring' to young people who might want to become invovled with us -- not on any surface level for volunteers and / or interns, nor really on any deep level either for lower level, entry employees. In each venue, this point was made. There are young people who want to work at arts organizations -- for the experience and to learn, but for whom the opportunities for real mentoring just don't seem to exist. At the Los Angeles Forum, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission's model internship program was lauded, but the lack of any pipeline that would move people from that program to deeper involvement - either on the job or to something like the Arts Administration program at local Claremont College - was decried.

Couple the lack of mentoring / learning opportunities with the common low pay for entry level arts administrators, and the package is not an attractive one to young, potential future arts leaders. While young people want work that will allow them to "make a difference", and money isn't the only criteria - nonetheless people have to live. One audience member in Los Angeles, noted that while she had a master's degree, the pay offered her simply wasn't enough for her to afford even a modest living space in Los Angeles. Overwork, together with underpay, fuels early burnout noted a San Francisco Forum member.

Arts leaders at the Forums told us they were concerned with overwork and burnout as factors that would make it difficult to retain the young people they recruited, that low pay made it more difficult to compete against the private sector, and that not only did they have limited time and resources, but that it was difficult to change the way their organizations looked at young people and the importance of involving them for the future because a 'culture' had been established that did things the same way they had been done for some time, and that changing that 'culture', those long held beliefs and assumptions.

Several young people at the Forums made a point that they didn't appreciate being patronized or talked "down to". Those in their mid twenties or above noted they hardly consider themselves to be "youth" anymore. And one person noted that he was tired of being "outreached to". The point is we need to break down some of the communications barriers and assumptions that keep us from talking at a deeper level. One participant in the San Francisco Forum noted that arts organizations need to consider delegating more authority and decision making to young people and allowing them to do some things "their" way, instead of the "way" things have always been done (at least as an experiment).

Along this same line, there were people at the Forums from differing kinds of arts organization models. Thus for example, in San Jose (we really met at the Hewlett offices in Menlo Park), Elena Serrano from the East Side Arts Alliance (a self-defined 'community' based organization - that happens to have arts as its focus - attended, and brought up the necessity for an institutionalized "regeneration" process as a part of the organizational culture -- something not necessarily considered by the average arts organization, but more common to hybrid groups like East Side Arts Alliance. And regeneration protocols embody the making of space for young people to do things in their own way.

As previously noted we have absolutely no organized efforts to target young people - either right now or for the longer term future - as financial donors and supporters. When kids have enormous disposable income and impact family spending decision making; when $125 for a pair of jeans or $150 for a pair of tennis shoes or $75 for a concert are not out of the question expenditures - we wonder why arts organizations long ago concluded that young people as we define them (high school, college and post college up to 30 years) simply don't have the financial resources to be donors to our programs and organization, when that simply doesn't appear to be true, and certainly not the assumption of nonprofit organizations in the environmental sector (as but one comparison).

People in San Diego agreed that issues as basic as pricing affected whether or not young people were successfully recruited as audience members. Thus, for example, young people were less likely to purchase season tickets for a given arts discipline / organization's performances. One audience member suggested that what was needed was a "sampler" season ticket that would allow the purchaser to see five or six shows - with decent seats - at five or six different arts organizations across two or three disciplines. Another suggested that offering free performance tickets to volunteers might be a good way to initially involve young people. It isn't that young people are not necessarily interested in Western European classical art forms - it's just that at this point in their lives they aren't necessarily interested in those forms being their exclusive art choices. The arts need to figure out how to offer them a more attractive package to "try" their offerings.

At several Forums, people spoke of the problem of 'retention' after 'recruitment'. The nature of technology impacting younger people's lives with a 24/7 bombardment of information, offfers, and "pitches" for one kind of involvement after another - all of which have an intense "immediacy" - makes it difficult for the arts (or anything else) to compete. Along the same lines, the point was made that young people have their own way of doing things just like every generation has had its own way of doing things.

Nor does there appear to be any effort whatsoever to organize young people to be our grassroots advocates, to carry the message of the value of the arts to their parents and communities, to defend us, to act as our boosters. This, despite the fact that there is substantial evidence other sectors - including the environmental sector - have successfully recruited and involved young people in just that role. (I note that no one ever comes to my house in the suburbs on a Sunday morning intent on convincing me that we need to "save the arts" (and we do you know). Young people (not older people) frequently come to my door to ask me to help save the panda, and the ozone and some river; some even come to my door seeking to "save" me as it were - but not the arts.

What we hope is that each community, each organization and the sector as a whole will continue to formulate concrete strategies to quantifiably, measurably involve more young people by 2010. There are three things we are asking each organization to do in the next six months:

First: Make the issue of generational succession and the involvement of young people an Agenda Topic for discussion at your next Board of Directors meeting.

Second: Add someone under the age of 30 to your Board of Directors.

Third: Do something, anything, to start some direct link between your organization and at least one college campus in your area.

There is keen interest in this topic and there is a growing body of other papers, research, studies and articles on the subject. Here are some links you might find both interesting and useful on the subject:


Moy and I want to thank those who accepted the invitation to join in these Forums and to those individuals and organizations kind enough to help us as co-convenors (Victoria Hamilton, Rick Prickett and Alan Zeiter in San Diego; John Arroyo, Tomas Benitez, Leslie Ito, Cora Mirikitani and Claire Peeps in Los Angeles; Bruce Davis in Santa Clara County; Nancy Gonchar and Kary Shulman in San Francisco.)

The June 15th Sacramento Forum is coming. More to follow.

Moy is considering how she and Hewlett might in some way support the idea of brokering mentoring between those established leaders in the arts and those younger people who become involved because they want those learning opportunities and what kinds of future follow up reports and studies might be appropriate to this effort.

Next week the HESSENIUS GROUP will do an online discussion of these issues. If you have any comments, thoughts or ideas on the topic that you want to share, please scroll down and enter as a comment to this blog.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit!