Monday, January 26, 2015

Millennials to Overtake Boomers in 2015

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

Last fall came news that the majority of Americans are now single.  Now comes news (from the Pew Research Center - click here) that this year the Millennials (18 to 34 years) will surpass the Baby Boomer generation in numbers.

"This year, the “Millennial” generation is projected to surpass the outsized Baby Boom generation as the nation’s largest living generation, according to the population projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau last month. Millennials (whom we define as between ages 18 to 34 in 2015) are projected to number 75.3 million, surpassing the projected 74.9 million Boomers (ages 51 to 69)." 
 What does that mean for the arts?   Short term, not much.  Long term, everything.  This isn't really news - we've been aware of the reality for some time.  And we've been actively trying to figure out how to engage the Millennials in three key areas:

1.  Audiences.  As our audiences decline, and as the growth that does exist is principally in the boomer cohort, the challenge is how to get the Millennials to replace the Boomers. Sooner rather than later.  Efforts in this area include both bringing more Millennials to our venues, and taking our art to them wherever they may be.  It's about old fashioned marketing, bricks and mortar, mundane concerns as the challenge and its about innovation, high tech, and fundamental differences in generational attitudes and thinking.

2.  Donors.  The same challenge exists here.  How to tap into those who in the future will be the ones who do, or do not, contribute to our revenue stream (and thus our survival).  How do we begin the process of cultivating those who hold our financial future in their hands?  As public funding remains political and thus problematic, varying widely across the country; as private foundational and corporate funding is simply not able to scale up to the demand;  and as earned income has a finite ceiling (movable or not) - individual donors are absolutely critical to the future of the arts, and so cultivating the Millennials to be those individual donors, if not now, real soon, is a core challenge to our longer term survival.

3.  Leadership.  How do we recruit, train and retain and support the generation of leadership we need to help us survive, and thrive?  Boomers are leaving.  Someday Millennials will move into those positions - perhaps sooner than has been true of generational shifts of the past.  Will we have an adequate pool of the best and brightest?  Are we meeting expectations?  Are we prepared to equip future generational leadership cohorts will all the skills, knowledge and support they will need?

So the question for each individual arts organization and for the field as a whole then is:  How are we doing?  What does the data, measurements and experience tell us so far?  Are we ahead of the curve or behind it?  If nothing else, this announcement is a reminder that the future is basically already here, and we need to first assess where we are, and then get very serious about our short and long term strategies.

But there's another consideration that we often overlook when we consider the Boomer / Millennial generational shift and its impact, and that is the fact that it is the forgotten generation - The Generation Xers - those 34 to 50 - who are the short term future -- no matter how you consider that future.

1.  According to PEW:  "The Gen X population (ages 35 to 50 in 2015) is projected to outnumber the Boomers by 2028."   We tend to forget that the Xers aren't a tiny fraction of the population - there are over 55 million of them.  55 million.

2.  In terms of the three key areas above, it is the Xers who may be the most likely cohort to (at least short term) replace the boomers in the audiences.  Of course, we need to expand and somehow get Millennials into our audiences as quickly as possible and diversify as widely as we can, but short term, the Xers will be, if not our salvation, then our survival.  And it is the Xers who will be in a financial position and likely more approachable to be our donors and supporters than the younger Millennials - again at least in the short term.  And finally, it is the Xers who will soon move into the positions of power and leadership at the helms of our organizations as the Boomers exit the field.  It is the Xers with the requisite skills, networks, experience, training, ideas and vision to move us forward.  How the Xers relate to the exiting Boomers and the rising Millennials is very likely a far more important question than how the Millennials relate to the Boomers.  Remember - the Boomers are the Millennials parents and that is a key factor in understanding that relationship.  The Xer / Millennial relationship is much more arms length (for better or worse).  And its the Xers who will be managing that relationship for the benefit, or to the detriment, of the arts' future.  We need to spend some time on that relationship so as to understand the dynamics better and so as to better meet the challenges that will invariably come up and impact everything we do in ten years.

With all the talk about Millennials, we would be wise not to forget that in the generational maze, we need to work all three - boomers as they leave (and short of passing on, boomers are not arbitrarily going to be leaving irrespective of their age), Xers as they assume dominance (even if comparatively short lived), and Millennials as the longer term future.  We have to address the needs and wants of each if we are to successfully navigate that maze.

As the onslaught of demographic changes keep coming at us, sometimes it seems almost impossible to confront all the challenges facing us.  But we're not alone in the pursuit, and we benefit from the efforts and experiences across interests in meeting those challenges.  We need to continue to focus on the tasks - one by one - in what we might be able to do; learn from each other and from those outside our universe, and innovate and take risks.

Have a great week.

And to all of you in the path of the blizzard, I hope you can hunker down, stay safe and be comfortable until it passes.

Don't Quit