Do what’s right; millennials will follow.
By Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director of the High Museum of Art, Rand Suffolk
Sitting on Peachtree Street in the heart of Midtown, the High is fortunate to belong to an incredibly diverse community. Our role in this city is so much more than storing and displaying art—our chief mission is to connect people with art. From that simple starting point, the possibilities for meaningful experiences, growth, learning, empathy, and interaction are endless.
That’s why we took it seriously when we noticed our audience didn’t reflect the diversity of our hometown. We made strides to raise the bar by focusing on growth, collaboration, inclusivity, and connectivity, and we saw our non-white audience triple in just two years (read about our approach on artnet).
We believe it’s imperative for arts organizations to welcome everyone—equally, thoughtfully, and fully—through their doors. But do you know who else values diversity, inclusion, and access?
Yes, the very same group you’ve probably heard described as “lazy,” “selfish,” and “entitled” places a high value on inclusivity.
So, why is it so popular to give millennials a hard time? It’s nothing novel, as every generation seems to complain about the next one, but I think much of the millennial-blaming comes from fear. Millennials are disrupting the status quo—and that’s a good thing.
Composed of 92 million people ranging in age from 18 to 37, the millennial generation is the largest in U.S. history. Atlanta is home to plenty of them, as evidenced by the city’s relatively young median age of 31.9 (37.7 is the national median age). As this group approaches their prime working and spending years, Atlanta’s arts organizations need to pay attention to the millennial market.
What Do Millennials Really Care About?
Millennials put their money into businesses that align with their values. They support businesses that take on social responsibility and create positive change in the world.
Having grown up with constant exposure to media and information, millennials are aware of the problems facing the world. They’re passionate about addressing a plethora of issues, including environmental destruction, human rights violations, sexual harassment, police brutality, and racism.
According to a study from 2015, more than 90% of millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause, even if it meant making sacrifices like paying more for a product or service. This is where diversity, inclusion, and accessibility come in.
Diversity, Inclusion, and Access—Inside and Out
Over 44% of the millennial generation is made up of individuals in minorities. As a diverse group themselves, millennials have high expectations for diversity.
They’re asking us not only to increase diversity but also to redefine what that means. For millennials, diversity extends beyond just race or gender—think cognition, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income level, education, etc.
While the High has made huge changes to diversify internally—including our docent corps and the artists we present—we still regard this as a continually evolving project. For example, we’re still working on diversifying our staff and our board of directors. We’re also still improving accessibility for our patrons with disabilities. This brings me to my next point.
As you work on your amazing pro-social initiative, broadcast your effort. Own it. Be transparent and upfront about your journey and why you’re on it.
The millennial generation is especially suspicious of businesses’ motives, and they’ll do their homework to uncover your policies and practices. If they like what they find, you could gain the fierce support of a brand-loyal generation. On the other hand, if they discover you’ve neglected to change outdated, tone-deaf, or offensive policies—their disapproval is fierce too.
Sixty-two percent of millennials say they’re more likely to become loyal customers if a business engages with them on social media. Millennials want to help, so invite their feedback and collaboration online. You’ll come away with deeper insight into what your community needs, and you’ll gain some fans.
We love that millennials are asking businesses to stay abreast with societal progress. We’re excited to continue weaving inclusivity into the everyday fabric of our institution, and we’re grateful for millennial support—as well as everyone else’s.