Generation Next: Staying Relevant in a New Era of Art

By Wilmering, Michael | Art Business News, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Generation Next: Staying Relevant in a New Era of Art


Wilmering, Michael, Art Business News


The immediate concerns of an unstable economy shouldn't cloud the vision of a brighter future. But in an ever-changing market, evolution is the name of the game for those art professionals who are willing to play. Maintaining the Baby Boomer client base that has brought the industry this far is no doubt important, but progressive art businesses must also diversify and expand their marketing efforts to the next generation of art buyers.

DEFINING GENERATIONS

The massive spending power of the Baby Boomers, the largest generational group in history, had a huge impact on the economic boom of the 1990s. Approximately 77 million people strong, the Baby Boomers--defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as persons born between 1946 and 1964--were an economic force to be reckoned with.

But things are changing. As the Boomers begin to reach retirement age, that once-secure nest egg is showing signs of stress--hairline fractures that threaten future stability and purchasing decisions.

"The Boomers are at the end of their run as our primary client base," says William Parker, a trusted industry consultant with more than 25 years of experience serving the fine-art market. "Their future is empty-nesting, downsizing, assisted living and out. We might get a small bump at each of these transitions, but it will not be enough to sustain a business. Generation X and the Millennials are the future."

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The Millennials, sometimes referred to as Generation Y, are predominately comprised of the offspring of the Boomer generation and actually rival it in size. Although statistical data varies, noted generational authors and historians Neil Howe and William Strauss have classified the Millennials as persons born between 1982 and 2002 in their book "Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation." Unlike the smaller Generation X, these consumers are more Web-savvy and represent a larger potential client pool.

Parker says capturing and expanding an audience within these groups means artists, galleries and publishers will need to create an aspirational product that appeals to a broader customer base.

"Without the next generation, there is no business," Parker explains. "The problem, at least the immediate problem, is Generation X. In terms of numbers, they represent just half the individuals the Boomers represented." Such trends do not suggest a bright future for the art industry unless it is able to expand its customer base.

PLANTING THE SEED

According to Steve McKenzie, CEO of Larson-Juhl and Artaissance, it is imperative to evaluate the motivation behind this new generation of art buyers and tailor marketing messages to meet their interests.

"Successful businesses do a great job of satisfying the needs of their current customer while cultivating the next generation," he says. "The next generation of art collectors is the future of our industry. Engaging their interests now creates the opportunity to make art an ongoing part of their lives as they age and their incomes and tastes evolve."

Promoter and artist Noah Greenspan, a.k.a. Noah G POP, says catering to this demographic now is like planting seeds that will continue to grow for years to come.

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"This is especially important in a down economy in which many experienced collectors might have less disposable income to spend on luxury items," he explains. "As an investment in the future of the art business, attracting a new generation of art buyers is crucial if you want to excel in this market. This involves a combination of marketing techniques, collector education and nurturing a love and appreciation of art."

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Staying true to the image artists and galleries have worked to cultivate is also important, but it is equally vital to let go of old habits that are no longer providing desired results. …

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