Last Saturday I spent the day handing out how-to-vote cards at two polling booths in suburban Melbourne. Apart from the long hours standing outside, it is always a great experience. Because everybody in Australia has to vote it is a great way to do your own little social experiment and form your own impression about the Australian population. You take on a particular role that brings you into direct personal contact with hundreds of strangers from all age groups, economic and social groups and every type of political persuasion.
This year I was struck by the number of frail elderly people there seemed to be in my little survey cohort. We all know that most western societies are aging rapidly as birth rates drop and we all live longer, but to get a glimpse of this trend with your own eyes really brings it home.
It got me thinking (again) about the impact this demographic development will have on our arts and cultural life. It is accepted wisdom that most people become more conservative in their artistic taste as they age. The readiness to explore the new and to take risks often wanes in indirect relation to our delight in reliving the familiar and tried and tested. What does this mean for arts programming? Many arts companies today place great store in their innovation, creativity and novelty. But the audience for that is quite possibly diminishing in number. How will the arts look when half the population is over fifty?
Some would argue that the effects of this trend are already emerging with "heritage" artforms and "heritage" programming increasingly dominating our cultural landscape. Are the arts headed for a future as frail and aged as the people who I seemed destined to meet last weekend?