OK, last post of my morning blogathon.
My friend, colleague, and former student Jon Silpaymanant has a number of posts questioning the interpretation of data widely used to document the aging of symphony orchestra audiences. What many of us believe to be the case is that absent innovative programming, presentation, and (usually) a fantastic new performance space, orchestra audiences are shrinking because new generations are not becoming regular attenders, ticket purchasers, and, most importantly, donors.
The audience, we overgeneralize, is aging, graying, and dying out. “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” wrote Mark Twain, attributing Benjamin Disraeli. “It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so,” most widely attributed to Will Rogers (but also to Twain), has a lot of truth to it, and it’s what Jon is getting at, it seems.
The audience hasn’t aged as much as we think, Jon says, not very much at all.
If so, that’s some good news. Because it means that a continued attendance (and donor) decline is even less inevitable and inescapable than many fatalistically assume. Obviously many orchestras–my local Indianapolis Symphony is a an example–have low attendance and huge financial issues. Can they thrive with bold, innovative leadership that makes the concerts and the entire enterprise genuinely valuable to the community? Yes.
Whatever the hard-to-truly-measure demographic realities may be, there’s a lot of work to be done–and fantastic opportunities.