Nonprofit Arts Organizations Face Leadership Crisis as Baby Boomers Retire

The world of nonprofit arts organizations must act now to forestall a looming crisis of leadership that will occur as the current baby boom generation of administrators and volunteers starts to retire, according to a newly released report commissioned by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The sixty-two-page report, “Involving Youth in Nonprofit Arts Organizations: A Call to Action,” was prepared by Barry Hessenius, former Director of the California Arts Council. Hessenius cites a shrinking pool of young people, increased competition for their services and a lack of attention to the issue of generational succession on the part of arts organizations as key reasons for the problem.

“The vast majority of arts organizations have too few young people on their boards of directors or staffs, even fewer young advocates and financial supporters, and no means to track their young audiences,” Hessenius says in the report. “No quarter of the arts community can afford to remain silent or fail to participate in crafting a response to this looming problem.”

Moy Eng, Director of the Performing Arts Program at the Hewlett Foundation, said she decided to commission the study after hearing anecdotal accounts from the arts community about the rising age of their audiences and growing concern from them about attracting a new generation to the arts.

“A generation has passed since the arts have been given their due in the California public schools,” Eng said. “In a sense, a new generation is rising that doesn’t even know what it might be missing.  And an increasingly competitive marketplace for fewer young people will only make the arts leadership problem more acute.”

The report has three parts: a survey of youth programs among California’s nonprofit arts organizations, case studies of a dozen successful youth engagement programs in the arts, and a comparative analysis of youth programs in the environmental movement, with an in-depth look at the youth programs of two leading organizations. An advisory committee of leaders from all areas of California’s arts community was created to review the survey and recommend arts organizations to include. The survey tried to embrace the broadest possible range of organizations geographically, in size and by discipline.  A total of 720 organizations comprised our final master list.

The report recommends that national service organizations for the arts craft a plan to increase young people’s involvement in the arts nationwide. Local and regional arts organizations are called upon to budget time and money to involve youth, add young adults to their boards and strengthen ties to high schools and colleges. The report also recommends that funders to support research into young people’s views and behavior regarding the arts.

The full report can be viewed and downloaded here.

About The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has been making grants since 1967 to help solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. The Foundation concentrates its resources on activities in education, the environment, global development, performing arts, philanthropy and population and makes grants to support disadvantaged communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. A full list of the Hewlett Foundation’s grants can be found here.

Search Our Grantmaking

By Keyword