Culture Connects All: Rethinking Audiences in Times of Demographic Change
Arts and cultural organizations traditionally have two main roles: the production of arts or cultural activities, and the presentation of them to an audience. Both of these fundamentally involve people, as producers or as specta- tors; it is people who give cultural organi- zations their means and purpose.
Given this importance, when demo- graphics change, cultural organizations must pay attention; and demographics are indeed changing. Two of the fastest grow- ing population groups present a timely opportunity for engagement but are at risk for being ignored by many cultural organizations that could benefit from their participation.
Which are these two rapidly expanding populations? They are the rising tide of immigrants and older adults. Whether looking at the ever-increasing waves of immigration or the incoming wave of adults over the age of 65, it is clear that America’s demographic makeup is increasingly diverse and proportionally older than in the past. At the same time, arts and cultural organizations in search of new audiences have primarily focused on the ‘young and wireless.’ While this may be one strategy for bolstering the number of tickets sold, it means that cultural organizations may be ignoring the populations that need them most, and also ignoring a host of opportunities to increase their reach and resources in the community.
Immigrants and older adults face a number of challenges. For the immigrant community, these may include education, jobs, health, and isolation. Older adults also face challenges around finances, health, mobility, and isolation. Arts and cultural organizations not only have the ability to make small changes to help mitigate barriers to cultural participation, but also have the ability to address some of these central issues, with lasting impact, through programming and partnerships. Both these populations labor under misperceptions and stereotyping, categorized by special- ized needs; but both bring knowledge, experience, and social ties as new assets for cultural organizations.
To understand whether and how arts and cultural organizations are adapt- ing to these changes, Partners for Livable Communities researched and interviewed cultural organizations in six cities. Partners began this project building on years of experience working with cultural organi- zations on social and economic develop- ment. The findings are clear: organizations must look inside their programming and operations, and ‘outside their four walls,’ to create meaningful partnerships, particpate in and listen to the community, and generally embody the spirit of being a good neighbor. The key to addressing these find- ings is to understand the value of mutually beneficial relationships. [Inroduction p. 6-7]
Culture Connects All, a benchmark report by Partners for Livable communities funded by MetLife Foundation, offers new audience-building opportunities for arts and cultural organizations to engage two of America’s fastest growing populations: immigrant and older adult populations.