Do DC Millennials Care About Art?

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘kimberlyfaye’

Last night a friend pulled up an article on her phone that she said I simply had to read. It was a piece on the Huffington Post by Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, bemoaning the lack of exposure to the arts by Millennials. Among other things, he points out what he calls the “low culture IQ” of twentysomethings who may have achieved a great deal already in their chosen professional fields, but have little knowledge about or even interest in attending a theater performance or going to an art gallery. The bottom line for Kaiser is the fear of what happens when Millenials hit middle age and are in a financial position to help the arts – will they?

As a member of Generation X, I always find the anxiety of the Boomers over whether the Millennials will take care of them to be mildly humorous, considering those fears were also expressed about us, and every generation hits that fear eventually. We’re now finding ourselves being asked to join boards of directors of arts institutions and worthy non-profits. What happened to being called lazy slackers in our crazy clubkid days? After years of being asked to go in the servants’ entrance it’s always funny when they finally let you in the front door.

Joking aside, I definitely feel passionate about the future of the arts and of course I want to help in their support. When I’m out reviewing, to my untrained statistical eye it seems like DC audiences are relatively mixed in age. However, lately I’ve been hearing the same question over and over from different theater companies – how do we get young audiences in? By young, they mean Millennials, though at times they even stretch the age range up to the late thirties, which shows just how dire the lack of attendance might be.

So, I want to hear from you. Here in DC we seem to have an amazing array of opportunities to enjoy the arts. But is Kaiser right in his worry that Millennials have little to no exposure to the arts, and consequently won’t support them? How often do you attend theater performances, art exhibits, concerts – and what makes you choose the ones you do? Is it a question of interest, or of being able to afford it? Please sound off! I’d love to hear what you think of Kaiser’s views and whether, in DC at least, you see it as an accurate crisis.

Update: There’s a backlash growing in the arts community to Kaiser’s post. Read more reactions from 2AMt and Tipping Over Backwards.

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

Twitter Flickr 

9 thoughts on “Do DC Millennials Care About Art?

  1. If the Kennedy Center didn’t charge upwards of $50 for decent tickets to performances they might get more young people to go. I know that the Shakespeare Theater has had great success with its young professionals nights, in part I think because your $20 ticket can get you a really good seat (and sometimes a free drink as well). $20 at the Kennedy Center gets you a nosebleed.

  2. The Kennedy Center is at most a 10 minute walk from the Foggy Bottom metro. How close does it need to be? There is even a free shuttle from metro every 15 minutes if you don’t want to hoof it.

    I’ve been able to see some great performances at the Kennedy Center for only $10 using their Attend program. They offer good seats, not just nosebleeds, but it can be limiting since both you and your guest have to be in the 17-25 age range. As someone on the tail end of that age range, that limitation on top of a general reluctance of younger folks to go can make it difficult to find someone to go with.

    I think that reluctance comes from a combination of a lack of exposure, programming, and the fact that the more traditional arts crowd can be a pretty unwelcoming bunch. How does Michael Kaiser expect to attract a new generation to the Kennedy Center’s performances if they’ll be mocked for things like not knowing who Caruso is. I grew up in a very arts focused family and have been attending the symphony and theater performances my whole life and somewhere along the line I missed Caruso. Instead of using it as an opportunity for derision, these openings should be used to share something he loves with a new generation. Telling people they have low culture IQs is a poor strategy to get them to “be there” for you when you “need them.”

  3. The Kennedy Center isn’t the only way to consume arts in DC. I’ve never been to a show at the center but I spend almost every weekend at the National Gallery and other area art museums and shows.

  4. I love the arts and theater. I would go weekly, if I had it my way; yet I don’t. Why? The cost and time is just too high. In London, you can get decent tickets for $10 on student’s night to a good play (Avenue Q, I paid $10 for a seat 7 rows from stage). In NYC, they have a highly developed system whereupon you can get tickets for free if you put your name in a lottery (which friends have said they’ve won more than just once or twice), and they have discount programs well-advertised and accessible to the public.

    DC has its own systems, such as, where you can find cheap tickets. Ultimately, what makes cities like New York and London so much more successful is that they have the theaters all relatively close to each other. The Kennedy Centers sits all the way over by the Potomac and Watergate, whereas the Shakespeare Theater sits in downtown by Verizon Center, and the Lincoln Theater is on U St. The variety of locations, one would counter-argue, helps give people in different areas access to the theater more. But, the downside is it makes me forget it’s there! And when I do remember, the prices are for $100+.

    Wicked is opening this summer in DC at the Kennedy Center, and already tickets that were reasonably priced are gone. With any decent show you can almost never get good tickets.

  5. Surprised no one mentioned the Generation O program– if you’re under 35 you can see select performances of all the operas for $25-35 apiece. And there’s always the Millenium Stage.

  6. One thing I ABSOLUTELY HATE about the Kennedy Center, though– if you see a single performance they will harass you nonstop about buying a subscription. Every time I buy a ticket I’m rewarded with someone calling me 3 times a week for the next 6 months.

  7. Gen Xer here. I certainly see plenty of Millennials at art events in DC. But they’re events that are, frankly, more fun like the DCist Exposed show, Cherry Blast, etc… And for theater, the Fringe Festival. All of these things sell out so there’s plenty of people of all ages willing to support the arts in DC. We’re really lucky in that respect.

    You have to wonder if Michael Kaiser even lives in this city. Has he ever been to a U Street gallery on a Friday night? In DC at least, young people go to performances and galleries but not to the Kennedy Center. It sounds like the problem is Kaiser, not Gen Y.

  8. I was at the Kennedy Center for some of the India events and there were tons of young people! Arena Stage gets a fairly good mix of ages and has discounts for 30 & under. But I saw Sutton Foster there this winter and the crowd was a lot older…same with Candide at Harman Hall.

    For me, the reason I don’t go more often is largely the cost. Michael Kaiser might discern that if he looks at the huge numbers of young people at events like Jazz in the Sculpture Garden, Art-o-Matic, Opera in the Outfield, the Shakespeare Theater’s Free For All, Hirschorn After Hours, the NSO’s concerts in Rock Creek Park, etc.. But it’s also that I want to do things where I get to talk with my friends/date during the event (trivia, bars, restaurants, sports events), and a lot of it is the feeling that I don’t know enough to be a good attendee (what if I clap at the wrong point in the symphony?) or won’t enjoy it (what if I spend $40 on an opera ticket and it turns out I hate opera?).

    I’m not terribly worried about a lack of supporters for the Kennedy Center 40 years from now. The senior citizens who flock there now weren’t all going to the opera or the ballet in the 60s and 70s, and probably the old folks at the time said they had low cultural IQs too.