RenGen on the Road: Here Comes Houston

I will be in Houston on Wednesday to talk about the RenGen, as part of the MetLife sponsored tour. In anticipation of my arrival, Shannon Buggs at the Houston Chronicle posted this article. Shannon is a business writer for the Chronicle and an “open-source” thinker. She blurs lines, collages ideas and enjoys a good mash-up. Very RenGen. When the article appeared, I got an email from my friend Mike Hennel, CEO at Silvon Software saying he’d read Shannon’s article as part of a CEO news service. (I love the Web, don’t you?)

Here is her piece:

How to reach and engage the renaissance generation
By Shannon Buggs

The revolution will not be televised because the revolution is live and direct on the Internet.
A paraphrase of
Gil Scott-Heron‘s classic spoken-word anthem describes Patricia Martin‘s message to community arts and business leaders. Martin, a cultural marketing consultant based in Chicago, is documenting a “cultural metamorphosis” that is part of “the disruption that occurs when the dominant civilization loses its relevance and another rises to replace it.”

And what comes next is the renaissance generation, RenGen for short, an era dominated by people who are “smart, self-expressive, idealistic and cynical all at once,” she predicts.
Martin writes about the phenomenon in her book RenGen: The Rise of the Cultural Consumer and What It Means to Your Business. And she will be discussing her theories in Houston at a May 21 forum hosted by the
Houston Arts Alliance, Americans for Arts and the MetLife Foundation.
I have to admit what Martin is selling — a world-changing cultural shift promulgated by never-say-die baby boomers, Gen Y hipsters and growing-up-too-fast children — sounds a lot like an updated version of the 1970s to me.

And those times were repudiated by the greed of the 1980s and 1990s.
But Martin says the big difference between now and back then is access. The Internet has not leveled the playing field, but it has brought more balance.
People 29 and younger use social utility networks, such as Facebook and MySpace, to promote what they like and bash what they don’t.
“What’s important to the younger generation is their hip-hop music, their poetry and poetry slams, the books they read,” Martin says. “They are not only hungry to consume arts and culture, but they are producing it as well. It’s a perfect circle.”


But it’s a circle that can easily exclude arts organizations and other nonprofits, she warns.
“The RenGen is not an equal opportunity phenomenon,” she says. “The young RenGen, if they can’t find a way to get in there and start working, then they will leave and go start something themselves.”

The solution to the problem is to collaborate with your patrons and volunteers, your competitors, your corporate sponsors. It keeps you connected with the people and institutions that matter to your organization and helps you avoid looking inauthentic or like a culture vulture.
That’s the model of the
Fresh Arts Coalition, a collaborative of 25 small and midsized Houston arts organizations.

The groups pool financial resources and market productions together, even purchasing outdoor advertising. This summer the coalition is present and producing “Fresh Fridays” at the new Discovery Green downtown park to showcase the member groups’ work and attract new supporters. “We are very cognizant that funders are more inclined to give to groups that collaborate because it broadens the audience and maximizes the funds,” says Marita Fairbanks, founder and chief executive officer of the coalition.

Drawing them in. Martin offers these steps nonprofits should take now to meet the RenGen where it lives:
1. Establish a Facebook group and a MySpace page.

2. Understand why your core customer is turning to you.
3. Identify your potential nonprofit and for-profit collaborators.
4. Brag about everything you do. Fake it ’til you make it.
5. Get out of the house and join the chamber of commerce.
6. Rethink the ancient patronage model.
7. Forge marketing deals that mimic sports marketing deals.
8. Be “open source” by allowing people to enter your game and morph and fuse with it without lowering your standards.

“Being open source is a good metaphor for all of this,” Martin says.
Here’s to the renaissance generation having the fortitude to establish a long-lasting aesthetic. May the revolution stay live and direct.


Columnist Shannon Buggs has completed the personal finance planning certificate program at the University of Houston. Contact her at shannon.buggs@chron.com.

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle TOOLS