The Wall Street Journal had a story entitled Docents Gone Wild sharing some stories about museum docents going off script, treating visitors rudely or diverting people away from works of art they didn’t approve of.
The take away for me wasn’t so much that you have to keep an eye on those crotchety senior citizens as much as the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation provides an opportunity to mobilize a large cohort of people on behalf of the arts. Only it will require some effort to effectively engage and train them.
In some respects this idea is a complement to the series on arts and aging/healing that Barry Hessenius hosted last month. That series dealt with the idea that there is an unmet need that the arts can respond to that is only going to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages. However, currently most arts organizations lack the capacity to do so.
In terms of enlisting retirees as volunteer or in a type of semi-retired/second career role, arts organizations’ ability is a little more developed, but can still be improved. These retirees are people who are transitioning out of careers as highly skilled professionals and will likely enjoy a longer, healthier post-retirement lifestyle than their parents had.
They may want to contribute more than just ushering, envelop stuffing and phone answering during their retirement. If they can’t find an activity to hold their interest, they may choose another activity that they feel is better suited to the energy and ambition they feel they have.
Arts organizations may be wary about involving additional older folks on their boards of directors when they are desperately seeking younger voices, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some organizations managed to create special task groups that mobilized to advocate and lobby for them with government entities.
For all the foibles their docents may exhibit, I am pretty impressed by the rigor of the training program these museums have instituted for their docents. Not that I would increase the training we give our volunteers for its own sake, but it makes me wonder if we are investing enough attention to our training as well as care and feeding of our current volunteers even before addressing the issue of being prepared for new arrivals.
As I was I writing this post, I had a vague recollection of some futurist like John Nasbitt (Megatrends 2000), Faith Popcorn (Popcorn Report) or Alvin Toffler (Future Shock) coming out with a book in the last 10-15 years that said retirees would gather into fairly insular communities termed something like Yogurt Communities because they would value “active cultures” or cultural activity. I wonder if anyone can remember it because I can’t find it. I was curious to do a check back to see if predictions were coming to pass.