Sunday, January 7, 2024

Attracting A Younger Generation

I am on the board of the Lensic Performing Art Center here in Santa Fe and a question that comes up all the time is how can we attract a younger audience while at the same time not neglecting our loyal and older constituency.

This is obviously not a new issue, and every generation has to approach it anew.

I would venture that this may be an even greater problem in museums. My wife, Penelope, and I often discuss the fact that there is no such thing as a museum of contemporary art and even a museum of modern art is transient. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has many Picassos though some have already referred to him as an Old Master!

Penelope was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum and at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. Even though at the Met she worked to extend the decorative arts collection up to the present, she is now upset by what she finds art museums’ excessive emphasis on contemporary art at the expense of their other collections, all in hopes of attracting a younger generation. It is, indeed, a delicate balance. Here is an image of the installation of one of two 11 X 22 foot paintings by Kent Monkman (1965 -) being installed for a time in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan.

The Art Institute of Chicago does Teen Workshops and a teen council, which is “a group of 15 creative and passionate youth artists, leaders, and organizers who collaborate with museum staff to reimagine the future of cultural institutions through teen-designed digital and live engagements.”

When we were at the Metropolitan Museum last May they had an exhibition about the legendary clothing designer Karl Lagerfeld. We saw the young folk standing in long lines to get in. Would they visit the rest of this museum full of old art? Honestly, I don’t think many did, but while they were there some may have visited another section of the museum, and they may have told their friends that they found something “really cool” there.

The American Alliance of Museums has its own suggestions. One that sounds most apt is, “Your average millennial has 9.3 social media accounts, according to a 2019 Global Web Index report. So make sure you’re using social media in a way that will appeal to a younger audience.” They also speak of the use of technology which I wrote about earlier this year.

Yesterday, the Frick Collection closed an exhibition of the work of Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017). The Wall Street Journal wrote, “inspired by European masterpieces but rooted in his own milieu, the painter produced dazzling portraits of African-American subjects.” The Financial Times wrote “Now that he’s posthumously become the superstar he always deserved to be, one of his favourite museums, the Frick Collection, has gathered 14 of his paintings in a show that stands alongside its permanent collection of works by Rembrandt, Bronzino, Velázquez and Van Eyck. They look utterly comfortable among such rarefied company.” How better to blend the old and the new and bring in a different and younger crowd.

Of course, it is best if the kids want to go to the museum in the first place. Forty years ago, Sesame Street produced a movie called “Don't Eat the Pictures” taking place at the Metropolitan Museum. The concept was that the Sesame characters get locked in the museum after hours and go on a chase to find Big Bird. In the process, they see many areas of the museum. It is a one-hour show and not at all academic.

Not sure what has been done since, but this is the best way to introduce the young to a foreign place. Make them curious.

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