Charting the Future: Why we need new Visionary Ideas, Values, and Models to Propel Communities forward through the Arts

Posted by Mr. Todd Eric Hawkins, Apr 18, 2014 3 comments

Todd Eric Hawkins Todd Eric Hawkins

When I think about the future, both my own personal future and that of the arts, my mind immediately recalls a quote by Wayne Gretzky. The quote came to me via Ben Cameron, Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. During his keynote at the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium at American University, Mr. Cameron recited the following:

“I skate to where the puck will be, not where it has been.” – Wayne Gretzky

As emerging leaders we have an opportunity to change the way current arts organizations operate, or create new ones while exploring new ideas, new values, and new models. We, as the next generation of arts leaders, will navigate through the largest generational shifts in decades. Who will our audiences be in twenty years and how will we serve them?

At art conferences and roundtables over the past few years, we have had countless conversations about the generational shift in the arts and the aging demographics of our audiences.  Our challenge will be to find new ways to engage our own generation in arts participation. We will have to recognize that the experience will not be the same for our generation, or the one that follows, as it has been for the Baby Boomers and those who came before them.

We live in a world where we can now program our own entertainment. We can listen or watch practically anything we want, whenever we want. In addition, we are in constant communication. Will showing up at a particular time, on a particular day to sit in a dark room for two and a half hours, without being able to text friends, be appealing to a new generation of arts participants?  What does that mean for the arts?

I am not advocating for a complete abandonment of the way in which we exhibit, perform, or participate in art making, but the way we engage our future audience and the content will change.

While I cannot predict the future, I am encouraged by the work of some arts organizations that are clearly addressing these questions.

Recently, I had the privilege of serving on a grants panel for a local arts agency. One of the applicants, a small choral group, explained their arts programming in the following way:

                “Every performance is designed to be an all-encompassing experience.”

The organization went on to explain how their patrons, “from the moment they walk in the door” are engaged in the arts, from art-making in the lobby, directly related to the show to be performed, to the fact that at their concerts “you won’t just be looking at a choir standing still,” signifies the organizations willingness to “skate to the puck.” Rather than trying to bring audiences in to a static, traditionally executed choral performance, they have chosen to take their audience on a multi-sensory, all-encompassing journey, while still respecting the traditions of choral music performance.

Simply by recognizing that contemporary audiences may have different expectations from their arts experiences, and by meeting people where they are and not expecting them to enjoy traditional choral music in a traditional way, they have the potential to engage a new generation of arts participants.

We are the present and future experts, mentors, teachers, innovators, and leaders. One day we will be the keynote speakers and panelists at arts conferences and we will be accountable for the state of the arts because we will have to lead the way.

Together, we have the opportunity to create a future for the arts. Not only for the arts of today, but for where we want it to be in twenty years.

Where will the puck be?

Interested in hearing more about the future of the arts from emerging arts leaders? Check out our preconference session on Arts Leadership at this year’s Annual Convention in Nashville, TN.

This Emerging Leaders Blog Salon on Charting the Future is generously sponsored by Patron Technology

3 responses for Charting the Future: Why we need new Visionary Ideas, Values, and Models to Propel Communities forward through the Arts


April 19, 2014 at 11:36 am

I enjoyed reading your post. I am the director of a business incubator specifically for artists. We have a great community of artists and are doing some great things to help revitalize an economically depressed small town. I would like to speak with you at some point to talk about our vision and see if you are aware of any resources for advice. Thanks, Jon Spoon

NC Arts Incubator
223 N. Chatham Ave.
Siler City, NC 27344

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Ms. Caitlin Holland says
September 08, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Hi Crystal,

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Thanks for reading!

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September 06, 2014 at 3:30 pm

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Can you recommend a good internet hosting provider at a reasonable price?

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