We don’t need your traditional legitimate taste, or, how the youth are redefining culture
In the past few weeks, interesting commentary on the state of youth and the arts has come out of two studies: Australia’s TheatreSpace Preliminary Report, and Norway’s Changing Relations: Class, education and cultural capital. Encompassing vastly different research practice, focus, and intent, they nonetheless together have interesting things to say about how we define culture in relation to young people, and how young people define themselves in relation to culture
An article provocatively titled Are The Arts Irrelevant to the Next Generation? speaks to the Norwegian study which showed that between 1998 and 2008 there has been a “marked decline in interest and use of almost every form of culture that is identified with traditional legitimate taste” (emphasis mine). The study took on a much broader glance at relationships between cultural knowledge and interests with economic backgrounds, but through a study of university students the ideas of a generation can be drawn.
The Norwegian study points towards a shift in interest towards musicals, to pop/rock concerts, and to crime/suspense novels, and appreciated the shift towards “privatisation of cultural consumption”. While these are all (to a greater or lesser extent) a part of “popular culture”, I take consistent umbrage with the exclusion of these from “traditional legitimate taste.” What is it about these which means they not of “legitimate taste”? What is it about the new which is illegitimate? What is it about the non-traditional which instills fear? What is it about the traditional – the opera, the baroque – which legitimises its place in culture, be that theirs or ours?
The TheatreSpace report, a study of nearly 3000 young theatre-goers in the Eastern state capitals, confuses things somewhat by buying into the current arts definition of “youth” as aged 14-30 – and thus conflating reports from high-school students with those in their twenties. While the notion of studying youth and culture is one I obviously appreciate, a high-school student attending a weekday matinee with their class is having a vastly different relationship to the work than a “young professional” attending on a Friday night with their friends. The study tends to skew towards the high-school, curriculum-based experience. Is the artistic community served by assuming all youth are having the same experience?
Adelaide’s Lament: Pent-up Frustrations
However much I talk about youth issues in Adelaide, it is in many ways a city where it is great to be a young maker of things – because the generation above us is missing. They’re living in Sydney or Melbourne. It’s much easier to find yourself noticed or to raise your voice above the din when there isn’t much of a crowd which needs to be broken through. But how is this impacting on the younger and emerging generations of artists? Is the cultural drain, coupled with a lack of venues where independent artists can present – and where audiences interested in independent work can attend – and Adelaide’s insularity having a negative impact on the quality of art produced?
In both Brisbane and Sydney this year, I saw work by people who were once based in Adelaide, but now these writers, directors, actors, and stage managers, live and create work in other cities for other audiences. This work ran the gauntlet from among the best (The Seagull) to among the worst (Woyzeck) I saw this year, but the point is I couldn’t have seen it at home. I don’t blame them – I’m not planning on sticking around forever – but this has a two-fold effect on the cultural ecology of Adelaide. Not only are we losing these artists and these voices, we’re also losing the effect these artists can have on the generation who follows them: the knowledge base and the talent which can be shared is lost.
It is, of course, a self-perpetuating cycle. The “brain-drain” creates its own pull, the more creative people that leave, the more others feel they need to leave, too, to find new opportunities, be them creative, employment, or creative employment orientated. Then, particularly in the case of arts administrators, as people start to return to Adelaide to raise their families, having worked interstate almost becomes a prerequisite for many higher level jobs. There is, it seems, even the perception that you must leave in order to advance in a career in Adelaide.
It is not only the artists who leave, it is the other people interested in punctuating their lives with arts and culture outside of the festival context. The more these people leave, the harder it is for artists to find audiences, and the more artists leave to move interstate.
The pull of the Adelaide artists in Sydney or Melbourne grows ever stronger, the pull of Adelaide grows ever weaker.
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