Commentary: "Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now"

Barry Hessenius, WESTAF blog, 7/17/11

Bob Dylan wrote of the phenomenon of how certain times of our lives affect the way we see things. In "My Back Pages," Dylan lamented the conceit that, in the [firebrand] period of our youth, we knew it all:

"Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin' high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
"We'll meet on edges, soon," said I
Proud 'neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now..."

I think sometimes that we in the nonprofit arts sector would be wise to make some effort to be a little younger than that now too; to shed some of our dogmatic, hard and fast conclusions about who we are, what we are doing, and how we approach it all. I'm not talking about the proverbial "out-of-the-box thinking" we all so champion, but rather just the everyday approach we take to what we know or don't know. I'm not so sure we know as much as we claim we know. I hope we can be at the vanguard of "younger than that now" thinking and not just play catch-up to the real thought leaders of the future. The arts are one of the threads in our lives that not only allow us the true luxury of being - from time to time - "younger than that now", but which actually propel us away from the dangerous trap of keeping us "so much older then." The arts are, for our psyches and mental health, like the anti-oxidants that track down and destroy the free radicals that roam our bodies destroying cells; the very force that can keep us young in thought by challenging our beliefs. I suspect that over the next 50 years there will be verifiable research collaborating the thesis that the arts play a significant role in keeping us young - physically and mentally. A daily dose of the arts may be as good for you as the daily handful of vitamin supplements.


In Australia, older artists are breaking the mould of expectation

Glen Murray, Arts Queenland blog, 7/6/11

MADE (Mature Artists Dance Experience) was founded in 2005 for the specific purpose of offering mature adults dance and theatre skills development opportunities as well as performance outcomes that would provide audiences with an alternative view of contemporary dance in this country. It quickly became apparent that there was not a great deal of effort required in attracting the target demographic but rather that the concept had originally answered and now continues to satisfy a basic need in the lives of the participants. After each season we experience a fairly dramatic spike in recruitment to the project. The primary barrier has seemed to be family and societal pressure for the members of MADE to conform to what is generally considered appropriate behavior. It is always a challenge for others when someone breaks out of the mould of expectation. The overriding experience of the members of MADE is that they are transcending their perceived physical, intellectual and emotional limitations. At the time they are expected to shrivel and wither, they are in fact flowering abundantly. In the early days of MADE there was a gap between me and the participants but as I age myself, and their skills, confidence and abilities increase, that gap continues to narrow. The subject of age has generally disappeared from our conversations and discussions and has been replaced by ideas generation, research and creative development. The advent of an unprecedented globally ageing population is forcing governments across the world to issue forecasts of the dramatic impacts this will have on all social and economic factors. How will our cultural entities navigate this global phenomenon in the lead up to the middle of this century? Will they be prepared for the dramatic shifts in population demographics and demands?


The first needs assessment of aging performing artists in N.Y. and L.A., 7/13/11

A new study by the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Teachers College/Columbia University finds that aging artists are models for society - especially as the workforce changes to accommodate multiple careers and baby boomers enter the retirement generation. The needs assessment of aging performing artists in New York and Los Angeles is the first of its kind to understand how performing artists -- who often reach artistic maturity and artistic satisfaction as they age -- are supported and integrated within their communities, and how their network structures change over time. It complements the RCAC's 2007 study of aging visual artists. The artists studied are actors, dancers, choreographers, musicians and singers. Unlike aging visual artists, aging performers have made significant preparations in numbers that trump the general population: 92% have a will, 77% of NYC artists and 65% of LA artists have a health proxy and 67% NYC/66% LA artists have a power of attorney. Also unlike visual artists, performers have membership in unions. The news is not all good. Ageism remains; performers can still work many weeks under the jurisdiction of several different unions and not qualify for health or pension benefits; and their work, unlike that of visual artists, is not often solo. The study provides recommendations, including suggestions for performers' unions to provide better data on their aging members, and strategies for delivering health care and pension income to members who may be ineligible, perhaps through a merger of unions. Services recommended largely by the artists themselves include resources, housing, places to network with their peers, more cultural activity in senior centers, and understanding the artist over his/her lifetime.

Download the Executive Summary

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Commentary: Why aren't we studying attitudes of elderly toward classical music?

Colin Holter, New Music Box blog, 7/13/11

In a February blog post on the Met Opera's reported demographics, Rebecca Wizenried notes that the mean age of Met subscribers is 64.8 (57.7 for single ticket buyers), and furthermore that GM Peter Gelb considers his lowering of these numbers from slightly higher ones a major accomplishment. I cite Wizenried's post only to establish something that everyone reading this already knows: Whether or not the Met's audience is representative of classical music audiences (maybe not), and whether or not Gelb's excitement was warranted (probably not), and whether or not the temperature of cultivated music can be adequately taken by a single metric (certainly not), we can agree that it is thought that the patrons of classical music in the United States are old and getting older. That's the conventional wisdom. So let me ask you this: Have you ever read a piece of serious writing on the attitudes of the elderly toward classical music? If, as is often assumed, the over-70 crowd exerts a powerful influence over the institutions that deliver classical music to us, shouldn't a concerned musicologist work some tightly focused ethnography on them? [G]etting inside the heads of the people who are widely considered to be keeping classical music afloat today would be a noble task to undertake -- one that might bear immediately useful fruit.


Related: Has anyone looked into how to attract more people 65+ to the arts?

Molly Sheridan, ArtsJournal blog Mind The Gap, 7/13/11

Colin Holter posed a question in his post that I'd like to consider here as well. Considering all the marketing hours and conference panels that performing arts organizations seem to devote to stalking the younger non/rare/sometimes-attender, the lack of any session or article or study in my memory focused on this exact topic left my mouth hanging open. Has anyone actually investigated this or looked into how to attract more people in the 65+ demographic? We know they're out there and living longer lives. What do they value about the experience and what would encourage more of them to participate in it?  These are not perfect questions, I realize, but the fact that no one seems to be asking them much at all makes me curious. In what other market would we try and sell an experience to a rarely interested buyer while simultaneously overlooking those demographics that have demonstrated a high affinity for it? Good lord, if the concert halls became known as the hot spot in town for the in-bed-by-ten set, we probably couldn't keep the ironically attending youngsters out of the lobby anyway. Two birds! When I brought this up to my friend and colleague Jim Holt, he pointed me towards this video and suggested (using his best David Letterman impression) that "a version of that video, but with 80+ year olds, would be like a license to print money." I think he just might be on to something there.

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