Recently, my ArtsJournal.com blogging cohorts Greg Sandow and Andrew Taylor have touched on a budding concern over the need to engage a younger generation. Greg and Andrew have a similar yet unique outlook on the problems associated with not only a shrinking audience, demographically speaking, but a shrinking pool of potential artists, administrators, board members, etc. Those are all worthwhile discussions but my mind tends to wander in the direction of economic issues…
There are a number of current events pointing to future challenges (otherwise known as problems) with regard to traditional revenue streams for professional orchestras. Among those is the impact of increased long-term financial responsibilities among younger demographics on an orchestra’s ability to conduct successful annual fundraising campaigns.
For example, sharp increases in artificially inflated home values combined with aggressive subprime lending are tapping into future disposable income levels at alarming rates. Left unchecked, the 20-somethings and 30-somethings of today will not have the same levels of disposable income that 40-somethings through 60-somethings currently enjoy – and orchestras count on for annual fund drives and planned giving. Combine that with other increasing multi-decade expenses such as record breaking levels of bankruptcies, long-term credit card debt, and sharply escalating college tuition fees and you have a situation where the younger generations of today will have much less economic flexibility than their counterparts among today’s elder generations.
As a result, in order to stay ahead of thinning revenue streams, adaptive development strategies will need to be formed well in advance of actual need. Since all of the potential economic hurdles mentioned above will impact each metropolitan area at different levels, executives and board members need to keep an eye on local levels of subprime borrowers, bankruptcy rates, and whether or not home values have been artificially inflated to alarming degrees.
Fortunately, this isn’t an exercise in doom-and-gloom scenarios; instead, it is an examination of current economic indicators to predict how orchestras will need to adapt to future fundraising challeng, er, problems. Consequently, as long as the stewards for America’s 100 or so professional symphonic orchestras don’t turn a blind eye to these issues then most should be able to avoid having the rug pulled out from underneath them when the funding climate changes.