Join Michael Kaiser in the Fight for Youth!

Michael Kaiser has a residence at the Ritz Carlton in Foggy Bottom. It was there at a long-ago reception that I pocketed a cloth cocktail napkin. Not on purpose, I just thought it was paper. Because why would anyone display wealth like that in a roomful of underpaid artis… Oh. Oh, nevermind. He doesn’t know, does he?

The Huffington article bothered me. Not only does it display the rampant delusion of a prominent American arts leader, this time it got nasty and personal. Ageism is always allowable, isn’t it? The entire narrative points a finger at Millennials for not being into [self-defined “high”] art. It makes the ridiculous assumption that all young people are stupid, drooling rabble, when in fact young people are more culturally savvy than ever. And I guarantee, Baby Boomers and beyond don’t know Verdi and Caruso either.  Let’s take a journey through some of the article’s more choice phrases:

We in the arts face a major problem…
“We?” WE? Well, he said it right there. People “in the arts” do not include those under fifty, apparently. Not a very good way to start out.

… we now have an entire generation of young people who have had virtually no exposure to the arts. They do not go to theater, concerts, dance performances or operas.
In what universe? I work in theater and have played music since age ten. My dad is a musician, my brothers are all musicians, several generations of my relatives were musicians, my boyfriend is a musician. When I was a kid, my dad took me to Avery Fisher Hall to see Evelyn Glennie, Stanley Drucker and the New York Phil. When I was a teen, I had season tickets to the BSO with my family, I took art, drama and music, and went on class trips to see professional theater. As a young adult, I worked for an orchestra and several theaters, including the KC’s Sondheim Festival. I’m not unique. Why don’t I go to the Kennedy Center? I can’t afford regular tickets, I rarely know what’s playing, the things I do hear about are not appealing, the website is unfriendly, the building is unfriendly, the building is isolated, there isn’t much in the way of food or drink in the vicinity, and it takes a long time to get there on public transit. The Kennedy Center is not the only art source in town. I see live theater and music every week. And for things I cannot afford or get to, I sometimes watch YouTube. Get on the tech train.

I am constantly amazed at the low culture IQ of very bright and talented young people who have achieved a great deal in other realms.
I am constantly amazed at the low culture, technology, common sense, innovation and world-wise IQ of very bright and talented old people who have achieved a great deal in almost every realm.

It is easy to point to culprits…
Culprits? Ah yes, youth culture is a crime.

…the lack of arts education in our public schools…
Again, what universe? Formal arts education is a relatively new-fangled thing. My own parents didn’t get the amount of arts training I did—even in public school—nor were performing arts high schools and fine and liberal arts degrees commonplace then, as they are now. I took visual art, sculpture, drama and music in both private and public school, as did almost all of my schoolmates.

…the astonishing array of personal popular entertainment options that occupy the time of younger people…
I can smell the fear. Computers. Computers! COMPUTERS! This must be the millionth time I’ve heard this from an arts leader—computers, the Web, gaming are somehow all anti-art. I’ll never understand this. It’s as though a bunch of 13-year-olds used to go to the symphony, but now they just stay home and play Starcraft.

… and the ticket prices for concerts, plays and operas that are so high they keep many young (and old) people from attending.
Kaiser works for the Kennedy Center last time I checked. Why not start the “fight” right at home?

The arts have survived and grown in this nation because there is always a new group of middle aged people who replace their parents as our supporters…
Wrong. “The arts” as Kaiser understands them are new—brand new. The system was forged in recent decades by a few wealthy foundations and a government that was seeing rapid cultural change. It was sustained by a bountiful economy, and as quickly as it rose, so quickly is it falling. The  Boomers did most of the institutional building and funding, and as they did with everything else, created an unsustainable climate out of their greed and live-in-the-now sensibility. Now they don’t seem to understand why “young people” can’t pick up their garbage. My grandparents didn’t give an eff about sustaining the opera. They had real problems like surviving the Great Depression and not getting shot by Germans. My great-grandparents also didn’t give an eff, because they were busy uprooting their entire way of life to come to this country. And also not get shot.

…But this phenomenon has only been maintained because each new generation cares about the arts when they are in a financial position to help us… Will they be there for us when we need them?
We might be too busy struggling to keep our jobs, pay the rent and make art for no pay.

We cannot do this alone. Our hope is that every major arts organization will join in this fight. The future of the arts in America is at stake.
Noooo! Major arts organizations need to go away. They are their own worst enemy.


22 responses to “Join Michael Kaiser in the Fight for Youth!

  1. Shifting my comment from Kaiser’s article over here…

    As a Millennial and artist living in Washington­, DC, I find this post frustratin­g. In looking at the upcoming season at the Kennedy Center, I find very little that appeals. And I’m someone who works in theatre, has seen over a dozen operas, used to play classical music, and loves dance. I look at the upcoming offerings, in theatre in particular­, and see a lot of big name musicals and very little in terms of the kind of exciting programing that is engaging current Millennial audiences – pieces from punchdrunk or Complicite in England or young, US companies such as Elevator Repair Service or Nature Theatre of Oklahoma. NToOK has a piece that was a huge hit at the Under the Radar Festival in NYC a few years ago that is prohibitiv­ely expensive for most organizati­ons to bring in – a situation where I would hope an organizati­on like the Kennedy Center could step up.

    My fellow Millennial­s, who have a stronger background than I do in music, tell me that the situation for classical music is much the same. And where are the operas such as A Dog’s Heart that just took London by storm or the operas of Phillip Glass or Rufus Wainwright­?

    And yes, ticket price is very much an issue. But I think programmin­g is the larger hurdle. As pointed out in the Post a few weeks ago.

  2. Hi. I don’t know you, but I love you. You are right on all counts.

  3. John Geoffrion

    In other news, Michael Kaiser has targeted the root cause of our national obesity problem. Too damn many young people are going to McDonalds instead of Whole Foods. “Yeah, it’s more expensive,” said Kaiser, “but don’t they realize how much better it is for them?”

  4. Can I get a round of applause, here? Will fellow ladies and gentlemen of the Bacchae, please stand up? Make some noise, hail Dionysus and antagonize this Pentheus out of his walled city to play….

    SNAP! You are awesome. Thank you for writing a brilliant testimony. Excellent use of the classical method for deconstructing the reputed position, I might add. Ad hominem rhetorical redundancy, meet the Millennials! (And they say we’re all too dense to appreciate the arts.)

    Very articulate, passionate and cogent response to this Kaiser’s HuffPo article, one I fear to fully read myself. Having a personal investment in the fight for my generation, it feels damn good to see someone else standing up against the senile and redundant rhetoric.

    I’ve been actively refuting the Millennial stereotype since I saw the front page of January 2005’s TIME Magazine and read its “TWIXTERS,” Opinion/Editorial. The ripple effect of this Lev Grossman piece has been astounding. Six years later, reading about our (as in Millennials) ‘cultural-sociological evolution’ in the mainstream media has been torturous for folks like us but like candy for the elder generations, primarily Boomers. Even more frustrating, they loathe any Millennial who dares to write an article defending the stereo-type. I’ve tried. The effect is a wonder to observe. How seething with rage and sadly disenchanted people seemed, as made evident in the responses. Why such anger? Why the disenchantment? Why is it our fault?

    The position being argued, despite all the circumstantial evidence and statistical analysis, remains offensively weak. In almost every article written, the same three errors in judgement appear. Unfortunately, people like Grossman and Kaiser forget what it was like to be 25 or 34. That is their first mistake.

    The second mistake is the most egregious because its hypocrisy augurs a kind of transfered neurosis. Their own experience of transitioning from an adolescent to an adult is not a qualifier for negating the promise of youth, the character of a generation. On the contrary, it is a qualifier for an empathy that every generation begs of their elders. “I’m sorry, I thought the whole James Dean, Juvenile Delinquency, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hippie Movement, and stuff, was younger generations rebelling against the elders who misunderstood them?”

    The third mistake is one I cannot believe they keep making because it is so damn obvious: Technology. We are in the middle of a technological revolution that is rapidly changing our culture, our society, our environment, ourselves, but it’s not like it is the first time in human history this has happened (Guttenberg’s Printing Press? The Industrial Revolution?)

    And if you look at our history, who has benefited most from these changes? The Arts. Every time a new technology is introduced, the elders quake in fear, predicting the death of one artistic form or another. Then, the artistic medium, apropos of imminent doom, proves how they underestimated the arts, yet again. We are better at adapting and surviving than given credit for.

    Simple logical deduction reveals how our generation is facing an unprecedented and yet-to-be defined set of obstacles appropriate to this world we all share. Um, is it just me or is this NOT rocket social science?


    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing such a powerful post. We need more people, more voices making noise in the face of this nonsense. It is not going away and is only getting worse. MTVN’s and Reality Show’s depiction of American Youth/Millennials are far from the reality of who we are. Sadly, Kaiser is neither the first, nor the last, in a long line of misguided, agist, old Pentheites.

    But keep in mind, they do not win their fight against Dionysus and the Bacchae. For the same reasons Euripides’ play is still being adapted and staged today, the moral of the story has relevancy thousands of years after it was written. Some folks just never learn. I say, we take THEM to school.

    (Does this Kaiser have ANY kids? Seriously, because if not, he’s insulting his own generation more than ours at times. My parents want their money back from all the productions they took us to at The Kennedy Center. That’s 30 years of patronage, times 5 seats per production, adding up to quite a hefty sum.)

    Great piece. You are so awesome. **APPLAUSE** –KHC

  5. Amen! Here’s an interested quote that was passed to me months ago, attributed to NEA chair Rocco Landesman:

    There are 5.7 million arts workers in this country and two million artists. Do we need three administrators for every artist? Resident theaters in this country began as collectives of artists. They have become collectives of arts administrators. Do we need to consider becoming more lightly institutionalized in order to get more creativity to more audiences more often? It might also allow us to pay artists more.


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  7. Just wanted to add my kudos, Liz! Don’t need to add anything else–you and my fellow commenters were quite insightful.

    Now let’s see if Mr. Kaiser will listen and respond. Not gonna hold my breath, but I hope he wasn’t thinking he was Moses as far as all this was concerned.

  8. Pingback: The Michael Kaiser Controversy | Direct Address

  9. hey – I enjoyed it, Liz, and I’m 54. rock on! (an ancient incantation implying approval)

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  15. True Story: I was listening to, reading your article, and clicked on your 2nd link. “Everything Doesn’t Happen At Once” momentarily had a soundtrack of “Cold Weather is Back” by The Ex. Hot damn!

    I don’t buy the excuse that younger folks can’t handle art that “stretches their comfort zones”. In fact, I’m willing to bet Kaiser’s stringent definitions of ‘How to Support Art’ and even ‘What is Art’ inform the decisions that make it hard to support the Kennedy Center. Thanks for inadvertantly creating a bit of art for me today, thanks to (gasp) technology.

  16. Ha, that’s awesome! The Ex were here in DC pretty recently too…

    Thanks for your comment. We’ll see how things play out.

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