Are We Suffering From Self-Inflicted Ageism Syndrome?

There’s an intriguing article from the 6/29/17 edition of that examine a recent Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interview with violinist Nicola Benedetti where the she expresses concern over what she defines as a counterproductive preoccupation with age.

“I think one thing to get wrong is to criticise the audience for being old, as if that’s negative. I can’t believe how terrible that is and how offensive that is to categorise a group in that way and to encourage a generation gap, like it’s a problem to fix.

It’s difficult to deny ageism is one of several artificial parameters too many performing arts organizations use when evaluating impact and value.

For example, take the article here from 6/27/2017 that examines a new real-time mobile phone program notes service.

One of the orchestras experimenting with the service is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and sure enough, their press material projects a clear technology = young assumption (emphasis added).

“EnCue by Octava is a unique app designed to help and assist the participant through a musical journey. We of course welcome all users, but the tone is specifically aimed towards new and potentially younger audiences, offering a real-time insight into the music being played live on stage by the Orchestra.”

Chris Evans, RPO Director of Press and Marketing

Adaptistration People 131On one hand, making a technology = young assumption might seem reasonable but contemporary research about smartphone user demographics dictates otherwise.

For example, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & Technology division published a fact sheet on 1/12/2017 about smartphone and mobile device usage that includes a good bit of useful insight into demographic trends. Here are a few highlights:

  • Since 2011, the share of Americans that own smartphone increased from 35 to 77 percent.
  • The difference between 18-29 and 30-49 age groups who own smartphones was only four percent; 92 to 88 percent respectively.
  • Smartphone dependency (using smartphones as primary broadband connection device) trends are similar among all four age groups in the study (18-29, 30-49, 50-64, and 65+).

When circling back to the RPO press material about EnCue, it’s worth nothing that nothing at EnCue’s website suggests that their service is perhaps better suited for younger concertgoers. At the time this article was published, the handful of audience images integrated into page content suggests a broad range of age groups as potential users.

What do you think; are performing arts organizations painting themselves into a corner too often when it comes to assumptions about age?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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