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Aspen arts organizations looking to attract millennials

With summer season swinging into full gear, arts organizations in Aspen are hoping to attract more millennials. A new “Millennial Pass” includes discounts on tickets to the ballet and theater, events that typically appeal to an older audience. Getting young people interested isn’t just good for ticket sales, it’s an important step toward long-term viability. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Aspen resident Jessica Moore grew up attending performing arts shows and exploring museums. Now that she’s 30, she wonders where her peers are.

"I don’t see many of my colleagues in audiences at the performances that I go to. I often go on my own because that’s what I enjoy and am passionate about."

She thinks young people may be intimidated.

Credit Marci Krivonen
Jessica Moore is a millennial and works for the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. She thinks some people her age are intimidated by arts events where the average age is much older.

"If it’s something you’re new to and you don’t feel comfortable going to a dance performance by yourself, it could be a little intimidating when you’re looking at an audience that doesn’t look like you."

She attends performances by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Today the troupe is rehearsing for its busy summer season.

It’s one of eight Aspen organizations participating in a Millennial Pass. Moore is Marketing Manager for the Ballet. With the pass, young people can get about half off a regular priced ticket.

"It doesn’t hurt us to reach out to a new group of people who may not have come to the ballet before or if they have come, you know, give them a little discount," she says.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association says the typical Aspen summertime tourist is 47 years old. The chamber created the Millennial Pass to break down one of the barriers in reaching young adults: cost. Julia Theisen is with the chamber.

"One of the goals with the Millennial Pass was to expose a younger, different audience to the programming and making it accessible with things like discounts, and highlighting things that are free."

In addition to the pass, she says hotel rooms are cheaper in the summer and there are freebies like access to the Aspen Art Museum.

Jenna Moe, 28, is president of the Aspen Young Professionals Association. More than cost, she thinks the reason millennials may not attend arts and culture events is because they’re busy.

"I think that a lot of people who live here year-round and work here year-round are stretched thin," she says. "We all have some sort of hobby, whether it’s climbing, running or skiing and then on top of that, a lot of us have one, two or three jobs to support our lifestyle here."

She says the Millennial Pass is limiting because it’s cut off is age 29.

"I think the biggest feedback I’ve heard about it is that the people who are interested in it are 30, 31 and 32. They’re like, ‘What the heck?! I don’t qualify.’”

Pamela Pleasant-Foster is with Arts for Colorado. It's a Denver-based group that advocates for arts and cultural organizations.

"I think the word millennial and values and qualities that that generation represents is right now a hot topic and very much a challenge to every organization," she says.

Nonprofits like the Colorado Symphony are targeting millennials by taking concerts outside the music hall and into the great outdoors. She says it’s an important group to attract.

"If you don’t keep going after the younger generation, and as they progress through life and hopefully become successful, they become your donors and patrons. And, it’s very important that you keep building and nurturing a new audience."

Laura Smith is with the Aspen Music Festival and School, where the average concert-goer is in their 50s. 

"I don’t feel any sense of panic or concern about the fact that that’s not a predominant segment of our audience," Smith says.

But, she says that’s been the case for decades. They’re counting on millennials who may not make up their audience now, to eventually attend concerts and donate.

"I feel very hopeful and confident in terms of the millennials as well as every generation to come, coming to arts and culture as their lives evolve."

Life experience is a factor in who attends, she says. People with a music background tend to show up whether it’s when they’re 25 or 55. Still, the Music Festival is using the Millennial Pass to advertise free seating on the lawn outside of concerts, but it’s not offering up new discounts.

Back in the rehearsal room, dancers with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet continue practice.

Marketing manager and millennial Jessica Moore says whether it’s with a special pass for millennials or any other program, arts organizations should be targeting people like her.

"We haven’t yet found a way to cultivate the next generation of arts goers," she says. "There’s lots of different barriers to entry like cost. People can stay at home and watch whatever they want on TV. Anything you can do to make the live performance experience appealing is something you, as an arts organization, should absolutely be doing."

At the end of the season, she’ll tally how many people used the millennial pass to see just how effective it was.