The Millennials Project

One of the major new initiatives I announced at the Kennedy Center's recent announcement for our 2011-2012 season was a project aimed at bringing "20 somethings" into the theater.

We in the arts face a major problem: we now have an entire generation of young people who have had virtually no exposure to the arts. They do not go to theater, concerts, dance performances or operas.

I am constantly amazed at the low culture IQ of very bright and talented young people who have achieved a great deal in other realms. When I was once called a "media Caruso" in the press, a 23-year-old with whom I worked asked what a Caruso was!

Another business associate asked me if Giuseppe Verdi was dead. He was a Harvard-educated professional who was an adept piano player.

It is easy to point to culprits: the lack of arts education in our public schools, the astonishing array of personal popular entertainment options that occupy the time of younger people, and the ticket prices for concerts, plays and operas that are so high they keep many young (and old) people from attending.

But whatever the cause (and we need to analyze these causes so we can find cures for the future), we have remedial work to do with the current group of high school graduates who simply do not consider attending our performances or visiting our art galleries as an option that is relevant to their lives.

This is serious business: if we don't address this problem we will not have the subscribers, single ticket buyers, donors, volunteers and board members we need to sustain our organizations in twenty years as the members of this group hit their 40s and 50s. The arts have survived and grown in this nation because there is always a new group of middle aged people who replace their parents as our supporters. But this phenomenon has only been maintained because each new generation cares about the arts when they are in a financial position to help us.

But the current group of twenty-year-olds (deemed the Millennials) does not have any experiences with us. Will they be there for us when we need them? The goal of our Millennials project is to do remedial work; to bring a group of Millennials into our theaters often enough that they build a habit of arts participation.

We are attempting to attract this group with targeted marketing, ticket pricing incentives, and especially repertory that is attractive to them but also stretches their comfort zones. We also hope to develop enough projects that allow them to interact with artists and art forms and to participate in art making.

We are addressing the longer term issue with Any Given Child, our affordable yet comprehensive program for arts education in the public schools for grades K-8. We hope not to repeat the problems we have with the current generation of recent high school graduates.

We cannot do this alone. Our hope is that every major arts organization will join in this fight.

The future of the arts in America is at stake.