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Culture Watch: Listen Up, Young Professionals

Youth movement: If young professionals want arts and culture organizations to take them seriously, they need to show some interest in the current crop of offerings.Listen Up, Young Professionals 

About once every two years, my wife’s office gets an influx of fresh-faced 22-year-old recent college grads. Almost from the minute I meet them, the first thing they want to talk about is what there is to do for young people in Southwest Florida.

Most have just come from large universities where nightlife is considered as seriously as studies. They’ve been free to make choices with their time and money for the first time, and they’ve chosen to go bar-hopping, clubbing and catching bands before anyone has heard of them.

Then they come to Naples, where none of those things are readily available. Too often, live music means a guy playing Buffett covers or some classic rock. Clubbing is limited to either the faux-Miami vibe or ’80s-theme nights. And the closest thing to bar-hopping happens within a few contained blocks at Mercato.

Some of them inevitably move on to bigger cities, which offer more of the cultural amenities they crave. Go to a going away party for a 30-year-old and you’ll surely hear the person leaving say, "I can’t wait to be some place with young people."

Heck, I used to be one of them.

But as I get older, I’m coming to the realization that entertainment is what you make of it. And the under-45 set isn’t trying that hard. There’s a reason Johnny Mathis is on the calendar every year at the Phil. The demographic that loves some classic crooning is also the demographic that supports the majority of the arts and culture programs here.

There are glimmers of hope. A new generation of cultural leaders is emerging—Kathleen van Bergen at the Phil, Gulfshore Playhouse’s Kristen Coury, ArtWalk founder Andy Howl, von Liebig board president Stacey Bulloch—all of whom are hoping to bring a younger perspective.

But for the most part, there is no reason for cultural executives to offer up programming for patrons between 21 and 50. Take the recent opening of the Degas exhibit at the Naples Museum of Art I attended with my wife. Other than a few art aficionados who happen to have been born after Jimmy Carter took office, we didn’t bump into a single person within 30 years of us.

Degas might not be the most exciting artist, especially for a generation that has grown accustomed to the audacity of Banksy and Damien Hirst, but he still represents art of a caliber not always on display in our area.

In order to have a voice, we have to be at the table. In order to have better choices, we have to show that we are willing to spend money on culture.

It can’t just be at the local film festivals or at Germain Arena. We need to support quality in whatever form it comes in. In the process, we might actually find that we get enjoyment from many of the offerings we previously discarded without a thought.

This article appears in the January 2012 issue of Gulfshore Life.

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