A Golden Opportunity (Janet's Blog)

By the year 2030, there will be 78 million Americans over the age of 65. This is a staggering statistic for several service sectors like health, housing, recreation and the arts.

This year, Grantmakers in the Arts has embarked on a series of partnership events with Grantmakers in Aging sponsored by the MetLife Foundation. Research and recent articles can be found on GI Arts’ website. We will be in New York City for our third event on May 3rd at MOMA. I’ve been learning about aging statistics and the state of older Americans. Since I’m on the track to be one of those statistics in the next few years, it’s been a pretty interesting journey.

This is a topic that should interest all of us. For years, arts groups have looked out at their audiences and commented disparagingly about all the gray out there. We put marketing efforts towards increasing audiences from the 20 and 30 age groups. This was a good thing. I’m not sure how successful it’s been, but it’s a good thing.

However, we can’t forget about the faithful supporters and potential new audiences who are looking for ways to volunteer, live healthier lives and remain engaged in their communities after retirement. Baby boomers will redefine retirement, retirement communities and nursing homes. These are active citizens who want to participate in decision-making, who own homes and are concerned about the future of the communities where they raised their children and invested in schools and the cultural institutions.

They are also a group looking for ways to spend meaningful personal time. Many of them gave up artistic interests developed in high school or college to pursue careers and raise families. They now have the desire and time to engage in that activity. How are we as a sector preparing for this rich opportunity? How are we engaging our aging artists to remain vital and actively share their decades of knowledge with peers and younger generations? How are we maximizing volunteer recruitment, production schedules and marketing to recapture audiences that may have not been engaged but now have the time and resources to do so?

There is great opportunity for both organizations and artists to play an active role in the health and wellness as baby boomers age. The healthcare sector has become more approachable as artists, like Liz Lerman, have laid the foundation with important work in this area. Affordable housing developers, like Tim Carpenter in Los Angeles, are successfully incorporating quality arts experiences into retirement facilities. There will be a growing market for artists working in hospitals, retirement communities and senior citizens centers (which will be reborn as elder community centers.) Elder hostels and programs will explode. The National Center on Creative Aging is a great resource for artists and arts organizations interested in learning more.

The graying of America is a golden opportunity for arts and culture institutions of every size and discipline. We should focus on this demographic as urgently as we focus on attracting younger audiences. Gray can be gold for the arts.

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