Friday, October 29, 2010

Chasing tails

These days youth audience programs are all the range amongst arts companies. We are bombarded with dire warnings that the audience for the mainstream arts are "dying out" and companies are throwing large amounts of money to make themselves seem more attractive to the all-important under-35s. This is, of course, money that is coming out of production budgets. The idea seems to be that we should all like the same thing, that our arts companies should be everything to everybody, that there is something wrong if people under and over 35 don't have the same tastes. Some of these programs remind me of the over-50s who squeeze into the fashions of 20-somethings in the vain attempt to convince themselves that they are still young and 'hip', no matter how ridiculous the result.

But isn't a “bum on a seat" "a bum on a seat” no matter what age it is? Is the emphasis on youth alienating the older and more mature audience, which has always been the core audience for the “heritage” arts? There is also a demographic argument that says that the population is ageing and that in terms of pure numbers the population – and therefore the potential audience – is growing fastest in the over-50 bracket, so why throw large amounts of money at a population sector that is numerically in decline?

There is quite a bit of “group think” going on in this debate, i.e. “if all the other arts companies are chasing the youth market then we had better do that too”. Maybe a company that says, “we are going to different, we are going to look after a more mature audience” would be highly successful, if for no other reason than they would differentiate themselves from the rest of the industry. Or is that kind of diversity too frightening to our arts companies?

Image St Stev

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