On March 18, Magenta Theater hosted a preview presentation of Portland Opera’s 2018 season. It was a wonderful way to introduce opera to the uninitiated and to share with those who already love opera. We took our 4-year-old granddaughter and she loved it. I was so pleased also to see so many young people in the audience. Exposing  young people to the arts is how we can ensure a future where the arts thrive.

There have been a lot of articles written about declining audiences for live performance, museums, and galleries. Almost every nonprofit arts organization is looking for ways to grow and ensure a future audience for the arts. It’s a struggle with so many other entertainment options and with a generation that consumes their arts intake through a screen. Also, many school districts have limited or even eliminated the arts from the school day. Without exposure at an early age, it is hard to develop the love of seeing a play or listening to live music or coming across contemporary art that is unfamiliar.

Two studies have recently been in the news. One addresses a research project in Atlanta looking at the impact of taking 5th graders on arts-focused field trips. The research shows that going on three arts field trips were equivalent to an additional 87 days of learning! And on standardized tests these students had a 12.4 percent gain over those who didn’t go on the field trips or only went on one. The speculation was that these results were primarily due to students switching on their level of engagement and motivation. Of course, supporters of the arts know the arts should not have to be justified by these sorts of metrics. Joy and discovery are gifts in themselves and these added tangible benefits simply strengthen our case.

Another study in the United Kingdom shows that arts organizations must begin catering to an aging population. As the percentage of seniors grows, they will comprise an even a larger percentage of the arts audience. Seniors already spend and engage more with the arts. Who better than this group to introduce children to the arts?

Supporting the arts means more than an occasional First Friday or attending a concert. It means bringing your kids, your grandchildren, neighbor’s children, and friend’s children along with you. Sharing time at a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performance or walking through Portland’s Japanese Gardens with a young person can be a whole new experience and can be one small step toward ensuring the future of the arts. Thanks to Magenta for giving us a wonderful sampling of arias.

— Karen Madsen