June 24, 2006

I’m Going to Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day, Until Retirement

The sixties were a good time for the proliferation of popular arts and culture. Nonprofits arts organizations were launched with the establishment of the Ford Foundation’s grants, liberal arts educations were encouraged, college students graduated into a world of free love, low rent, and asked not what their country could do for them but what they could do for their country. (Read more in John Kreidler’s article Leverage Lost).

Now these free loving folks, better known as Baby Boomers, are in their 50s and 60s. For arts nonprofits this means that those that launched this industry are heading towards a critical transition in their careers – retirement, consulting, teaching…renewing? The question is who follows in their footsteps? Who will be the next generation of arts leaders and how are they being developed?

This is note an issue unique to nonprofit arts. The New York Times article Iron Man Slows, And So Does The Industry, by Jeff Leeds, Sunday, June 25, 2006 explores the same question for big buck classic rock and heavy metal artists. As rockers like Ozzy Osbourne, 57, Tom Petty, 55, Pete Townshend, 61, and Eric Clapton, 61 slow down there are limited acts that follow which are able to demand the same ticket price. The prediction is that an entire tour industry will wither in the next ten years.

Why is there a dearth in creative leadership in the arts between the Baby Boomers and GenX? Madonna, now 47, is one of the few artists who bridges the gap. Capitalizing on her chameleon-like persona she is able to timelessly exist on the cutting edge. But her hope for the future, GenYer Britney Spears, is living the definition of her demographic and has returned to the family values of pre-Baby Boomer twenty-somethings: marriage, kids, what next…

Now mid-career, GenXers are stuck in the middle. Originally blessed with the slacker misnomer we are the technology innovators who are in limbo between the extroverted Baby Boomers and the masses of GenY, Tweens, and Wannabes who are, for some reason, sexier prospects to mentor.

At the Americans for the Arts Convention in Milwaukee, WI earlier this month, select emerging leaders (folks 35 or younger and less than 5 years into arts management) had the opportunity to shadow seasoned leaders (aka Baby Boomers). The matches were inspirational for both parties. But the theory was that pairing mid-career arts leaders (GenXers), with Baby Boomers just wouldn’t work. Too intense, threatening, disconnected, competitive? The origination of the reasoning was not clear.

Why does this gap exist? Is it purely a population equation with fewer GenXers to actually follow the Baby Boomers so we are skipped entirely? Is it that we are a generation quite comfortable behind our faceless computers and technology?
Is it that the radical cultural clashes of the 60s broke new ground for those of us who came of age in the 80s and there just wasn’t anything to make us stand out as radicals, survivors, rock stars?