I’ve been coming across a number of organizations designed to address the arts for an aging population. The Arts and Aging Toolkit talks about the Demographics of Aging (Chapter 1.3) with some implications for what that might mean for arts participation in regions with a quickly rising median age in Chapter 1 (Understanding the Context for Arts and Aging Programs). After talking about Longevity and Diversity (which is often something I blog about here) the section brings up statistics about Income which should be a sobering view to combat the constant preoccupation with a youthful demographic (what I have been calling the “Savior Demographic“). Here are some of those numbers:
- Households maintained by people over 65 have a higher net worth ($108,885 in 2000) than all other households, except for those maintained by people in the 55-to-64 age group.
- People age 50 and older control more than 50 percent of the total U.S. discretionary income.
- The estimated annual spending power of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) is more than $2 trillion. Each household spends about $45,000 a year.
The question here, since it’s overwhelmingly obvious that an older audience has far more buying power than a youthful one, is why do we fret so much about the lack of a young audience in the first place? Sure, audience development is important and should be a long-term goal for any arts organization, but it will take some years (if not decades) for the type of focus on younger audiences to bear any economic fruit. In the end, and as many popular entertainment industries are starting to realize, by shifting gears towards the young the old are starting to feel as if the industries are decreasingly offering any content geared towards them–in other words, the much more affluent older demographic is starting to feel alienated.
In other words, whatever gains may be made in immediate audience numbers and revenue (the latter is questionable) may be more than ofset by the loss of a smaller number of audience members but a sizebly bigger revenue source (as well as actual revenue). In other words, the opportunity cost in investing in a audience development directed at a older demographic is lost–and that lost revenue is likely to be much bigger than whatever gains may be made from a larger, but more youthful, audience.
Chapter 1.5 discusses the Implications for Arts and Aging Programs:
The stars are aligned for arts and aging programs to be part of the process and part of the solution. Our understanding of aging shapes today’s arts and aging field. Evolving conditions for older adults in our society—including new knowledge about the aging process, demographic shifts, and increasing enthusiasm for the concept of productive aging—offer significant potential to advance the arts and aging field. Organizations that provide participatory arts programs for older adults will discover
more demand for intellectually challenging lifelong learning programs;
increased competition from the other activities that fill busy adults’ lives;
stronger interest in arts programs that bridge cultural and
communication differences; and
greater focus on tailoring activities and instructional design to the interests and capabilities of participants.
And 1.6 discusses the Big-Picture Challenges to Arts and Aging Programs which reads like a list of all the reasons we fear aging that seem to be part of what is driving this push for younger audiences. Or, at least, many of the complaints about the purportedly gray and out of touch older audiences of arts organizations seem to derive much energy from the culture of youth consumer focus that [decreasingly] permeates popular entertainment industries. Other compelling explanations dealing with more general cultural issues are also explored so the youth-centric focus of popular entertainment is hardly the only culprit.
Read the entire Arts and Aging Toolkit as it may expose you to some of your own internalized biases regarding Aging (and the Arts). Another excellent resource for arts and aging is the National Center for Creative Aging (which helps sponsor and partner with the Arts and Aging Tookit organization).
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