Unpopular Opinion: Arts organizations don’t need young people

Did I get your attention with that photo of adorable little baby feet? Good.

As arts organizations, we are always talking about how we need “young people”. Young donors, young ticket buyers, young everything.

We don’t need “young” people. We need new people.

Before we delve into anything else, the group we usually think of when we think about young people are between the ages of 25 and 40. This group often has the highest cost per acquisition and they have the most barriers to attendance. They’ve got young kids at home, they’re working full time, they’re more likely to go out to eat with friends when they do have free time. (We know from the latest CultureTrack report that “food and drink experience” is now something that people identify as a cultural event.)

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t court this age group. We do. We need them to build the next generation of arts goers. However, we need to understand that this is playing the long game for most arts offerings (opera, ballet, theater, etc). We should not simply segment our target audiences into “our current patrons” and “young people”. We’ve got revenue line items to fill, amiright?

Back to what I was saying about the whole “new” thing. Because we’re so gosh darn good at communicating with our current patrons, let’s start by broadening our thinking and seek new patrons, no matter their age.

If your average patron is over the age of 65, a new person who is 50 is a great prospect (and is actually likely to spend more and have a lower cost per acquisition). They’re not 30, but you still want them in your seats, right?

When we are talking to prospective patrons, we need to approach our messaging in a way that is compelling, relevant, and welcoming and this is just as necessary for someone who is 50 as it is for someone who is 30.