Having trouble? Let us help.

The Culturephiles

Designing the Total Cultural Experience

Is this the end of arts and culture? Or a new beginning?

Andrew Recinoa

Andrew RecinosPresident, Tessitura Network

TitleDesigning the Total Cultural Experience


Read/View Time5 min

Do you ever feel that arts and culture is permanently under existential duress?

We seem to always await the three horsemen of the Arts-pocalypse: Dying Audiences, Soaring Costs, and of course, Relevance.

And now up rides the Fourth Horseman: Netflix. With high-quality, low-cost alternatives to culture beaming directly to our homes, why would anyone ever leave the house again? The Four Horsemen represent a threat to nearly every cultural organization in the world.

It’s amazing we get out of bed in the morning.

Or is it?

I propose an alternative narrative. I believe the imminent death of arts and culture is greatly exaggerated! Two words back my narrative: Demographics and Behavior.

Demographics: Who is the Audience of the Future?

Let’s start with some basic statistics about humans. How do we segment by generation?

Birth Year

(in Millions)

% Total


Before 1928











Gen X








Gen Z




United States Population by Generation (2018 

You can see that generational populations in the United States break out relatively equally between Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. In arts and culture, we know that Boomers and the Silent Generation make up a lot of our audiences and donors, in part because they are in a phase of their life with more time and discretionary income. To go deep into this data, this informative 2019 study from TRG Arts, among other things, shows that GenX is now on the rise in attracting its share of cultural wallet as well.

If you are focused on balancing this year’s budget, clearly you should cater to those Boomer and Generation X segments.

But what about the long game? Consider the above grid from a different perspective. Of all those generations, how many years will each be able to spend their discretionary income? If you assume that spending begins at age 18 and ends at age 79 (the average age of death in the United States), there are 61 years of lifetime discretionary income to work with.

Looking at it from the perspective of today, it’s clear that not all generations are created equal. The average Boomer has 10 to 15 years of income left to spend on arts and culture; Gen Z has 50 or 60 years to spend.

No wonder we see so many articles about cultivating these generations. Millennials and Gen Z are your audiences of the future, representing half of the current population and holding far more discretionary income potential than the older generations.

Next let’s explore what these generations do with all that discretionary income.

Behavior: What do Consumers of the Future Crave?

According to this study, “78% of millennials would rather spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying something desirable.” And this McKinsey study showed that Millennials spend considerably more on entertainment than either Boomers or GenX.

The studies point to three interlinked reasons for this:

1. Experiences Make You Happier Than Things: As noted in the McKinsey study, “Shared experiences with friends and family have a deeper psychological link to long-term intrinsic happiness than buying products does.”

2. The Power of Social Media: Millennials and Gen Z tend to share every aspect of their lives via social. Experiences provide ongoing streams of content to share with the world.

3. Fear of Missing Out: Propelled by the social feeds of others, Millennials can be quite susceptible to FOMO — missing out on once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list experiences.

So what does this all mean for the future of arts and culture?

A New Golden Age for Arts and Culture

…if we play our cards right.

To recap:

  • The biggest generations crave experiences more than things.
  • The biggest generations have decades of discretionary income to spend on experiences.
  • Arts and culture, one could say, is the original experience economy.

See where this is going?

Arts and culture has the demographic and behavioral advantage to stop the Four Horsemen before they ever leave the gate.

So how do we do it? 

It won’t be easy. Businesses from banks to shopping malls have already figured out that Gen Z and Millennials crave experiences. Alternatives to arts and culture continue to multiply. Still, arts and culture has something none of those have: millennia of practice. The long history of arts and culture is steeped in unforgettable experiences like no other industry on earth.

If the battle for the hearts and minds of these generations flows through experiences, then this battle is ours to lose. To thrive, our industry must design, promote and deliver irresistible, end-to-end, cultural experiences for a new age of consumers. 

In short, we must nail The Total Cultural Experience.

•     •     •

Not long ago, Michael Greer, Executive Director of Oregon Ballet Theatre, and I had a 45-minute lunch on this topic that lasted two hours. Thus began a series of further meetings and very long emails where we expanded on and debated how arts and culture can harness this experience age. (It helps that we both live in Portland.)

The result of these conversations is a series of posts, called The Cultural Experience Framework, that Michael and I will be sharing over the coming weeks. Mine will be shared here and Michael’s on LinkedIn.  We hope you’ll join us on this journey and share your thoughts, input and feedback along the way.

Let’s all endeavor to keep the Four Horsemen at bay and continue our work together toward a new golden age for arts and culture.

Here I am with Michael Greer, having (as usual) a spirited debate.

Top photo by Vlah Dumitru on Unsplash.

Andrew Recinoa

Andrew Recinos


Tessitura Network

Andrew Recinos spend his days in conversation with professionals devoted to advancing the world of arts and culture.

He considers himself very, very lucky.

Show More

Also on The Culturephiles

A tree overhanging a cemetery, with gravestones visible stretching down a hill
book iconThe Culturephiles

How to be a good ancestor

Arts & Culture 3 min

How a conversation with a genealogist changed how I talk with my family

The facade of the Science Museum, London, on a sunny day
book iconThe Culturephiles

Superpowers of Observation

Arts & Culture / Museums 3 min

How a clever museum exec looked up from the numbers and saw the story of the solution.

An overhead view of an audience seated in rows watching a band performing on a stage.
book iconThe Culturephiles

A Call to Arms for Ears

Arts & Culture / Accessibility 3 min

How hearing loop technology is restoring the joys of music to people with hearing loss at The Shedd Institute of the Arts