Where the World is Going

This is a second posting from my experiences at this year’s Grantmakers in the Arts conference in Brooklyn, but I want to start it from an unusual place – a quote by our own Mayor Frank Jackson, overheard in a recent interview on Cleveland Public Radio: WCPN ideastream.  It’s probably the most brilliant and insightful thing I have ever heard the mayor say: “Cleveland needs to be where the world is going – not where the world is.”  Amen!

To paraphrase the quote, and to link it to an interesting plenary speech at the conference by pollster and author John Zogby, I would say: The arts need to be where the world is going – not where it is, or where it has been. 

To launch GIA’s 2009 “Recession Conference,” which most of us expected to be focused on the doom and gloom of the economy, Zogby painted a more positive scenario for the future based on his years of work looking at the meta-trends in American society.  Challenging the notion that we will never be able to change entrenched and destructive political and societal realities (think climate change, health care, obesity, etc.), he catalogued some remarkable changes that we have already made in relatively recent history: “We recycle, we stopped smoking, we stopped littering, we turn out the lights, we have begun to understand we are not the only ones on the planet.”

In his latest book, The Way We’ll Be, Zogby defined some new categories of consumers, and pointed out how the arts are much higher on the list of necessities for these groups. 

There’s the “First Globals” – cosmopolitan 18-30-somethings, 56% of whom have passports and think of themselves as citizens of the world.  They are cultural omnivores, not stuck in traditional ways of viewing or validating art and culture.

The “Secular Spiritualists” are likely to be older; people with experience who are redefining the American Dream as something far less possession-based.  These folks are  living longer and looking for ways to make meaning in the rest of their lives through authentic and creative experiences.

Among the lessons for the arts, in Zogby’s view are: Get’em young through social networking, and give them opportunities to participate, learn and explore their own creativity.

Among the lessons for the arts from Zogby, Mayor Jackson and the GIA conference itself are: Imagine a healthy arts community in a changed and changing world, and make the leap into the future.  Be where the world is going.