Seven Indicators That Millennials Care About Culture

by Cynthia Short

(cul·ture – noun 

  1. the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
  2. the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.) 

Millennials are consistently labeled as unsavory beings, thought to be lazy and narcissistic. Surprisingly, they may be the culture warriors that we all need. These seven indicators that millennials care about culture (and testimony from tried and true millennials) will turn these stereotypes on their heads.  

  1. They Are More Individualistic

My teaching approach/method is considering myself a West African griot (a storyteller, singer, musician and oral historian),” writes Elizabeth “Beth” Reeves, who works at The Springer Opera House as the Lead Outreach Teacher/Education Coordinator. “While I do not have as much knowledge as a griot (griotte), I do consider any classroom that I have a sanctuary for students to come in and leave with responsibility. By always remembering/preserving my roots, it humbles me, while at the same time,  it assists with my innovation with any lesson that I am teaching.” 

As Stephanie Pappas’s Live Science article Millennials See Themselves As Narcissistic Too (And It Bothers Them) reports, much research has proven that individualism is increasing in American culture. Younger generations boast “less empathy” and heightened “self-focus” than those before. “Although this narcissism is often pinned on millennials alone in the popular press,” the article states,  “research going back to the early 1900s suggests that these forces have been in play for at least a century.”

Regardless of whether Generation Y consists of connoisseurs of the ego, or whether narcissism is truly the word for it, upticks in self-focus can lead to increased appreciation of art. The more an individual takes pride and effort into himself, the more he will surround himself with things that define and please him. The same applies to groups. This is why teenagers decorate their spaces with posters and themed merchandise; it’s why offices are thought to be bereft without some sort of unique, defining characteristic to them. Amelia Kennedy from the Art Market Guru states that millennial art buyers are motivated by  “aesthetic appreciation and desire for personal fulfillment.” Collecting art “fulfills the collector’s sense of passion and is also a strategic move in today’s world of branding.” Kennedy also references Alexander Gilkes, who founded the online art platform Paddle8. “Our generation has become somewhat stripped of identity by the homogenizing effect of technology.” “Now,” he alleges, “People want to showcase their own individuality more than ever.”

Photo: Jahson Fuller

  1. Their Internet Patterns Illustrate Their Interests

“Art is powerful, cathartic, ever evolving; yet, it remains the same and true. Teaching and art have the power to bridge lives together who would probably never have come across each other,” states Reeves. The internet works its own magic in connecting individuals. When this magic collides with art, spectacular things happen.

Social media is changing the way younger generations are engaging with fine art and is creating new paths to discover artworks and artists. PR Newswire elaborates on this in its article Are Millennials Interested in Art? Yes, New Park West Gallery Study Finds.

At face value, some might equate internet obsession with a reduction in interest in fine art. Just the opposite is true. Social media has increased interest among younger audiences in art many demographics. According to a Park West Gallery study, 79% of millennials claim that social media enables them to experience art in innovative ways, as opposed to 37% of Baby Boomers. 65% of millennials claim to buy artwork with the intention of sharing it on social media.

 Our Image Is Our Message: As Told by Black Women Artists exhibit 2019

  1. They Are Physically Seeking It Out 

“I always wanted to be what I never saw,” Reeves elaborates. “I never knew a professional black woman working in theatre as a child. It was unheard of. So, I chose this career because I can remain a child (with creativity and play), while evolving into the woman who I was destined to be (teaching). It keeps you young at heart.”

Having access  means little if you aren’t willing to utilize it. The Internet, whilst a powerful tool to aid in the discovery of art, cannot replace actually seeing the art piece. Most Americans (87%) share this belief, stating they prefer to see the art in person before purchase. This is where retail stores, street fairs and auctions come in. “During the auctions we hold around the world,” said Albert Scaglione, founder and CEO of Park West Gallery, “We see more young people every day, and we witness the personal connection that people of all ages have to art. Art was always created to inspire, and people today are craving that inspiration as much as ever.”

Our Image Is Our Message: As Told by Black Women Artists exhibit 2019

  1. They Want To Preserve The Old Ways                                  

‘Do you consider yourself a culture warrior?’ “Somewhat,” Shella Scott responds. As a guidance counselor at Columbus High, she has the privilege of watching young minds blossom on a daily basis. “I think it’s important to tell stories to newer generations so they can understand what it took to get here.”               

Culture is not merely what is current. It is the past as well  It is the historical timeline as a whole. Millennials seems to care greatly about both aspects of it. A New York Times opinion piece written by Christy Wampole, a millennial professor, states that millennials are showing a “nostalgia for times they never lived.” Another author, a millennial herself, believes her generation has a fixation with the past due to anxiety about the future. Reasons aside, 97% of millennials believe that their city should renovate historical buildings in order to maintain their characters while making them more usable, as reported by Millennials and Historic Preservation: A Deep Dive Into Attitudes and Values. 80% prefer to do business with those that support historic preservation than those that don’t and an astounding 71% value local, handcrafted and authentic items.

 As the previous definitions suggest, one cannot speak about culture without giving proper credit to aspects other than art, such as traditions, “social institutions” and “other manifestations of human intellectual achievement.” Likewise, we cannot take note of how much millennials care about culture without looking at their social and political actions.

  1. They Are Redefining Activism 

“I chose this career because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be someone that students knew cared about them. My current job calls for me to be an advocate for social issues that affect our students,” Scott tells us.

Sometimes mocked as “slacktivism,” a term used widely when millennials were berated for their online activism, millennials have used social media to drive an assortment of movements, including Black Lives Matter and Love Wins (From Slack to Act: hia.) Diversify My Emoji is yet another example of a movement that transformed digital interaction into tangible change. launched the campaign to convince a phone making company to include an assortment of races in its emojis. 

Michela Bethune, the head of campaigns for DoSomething, notes that millennials are no longer restricted to traditional forms of civic engagement. She believes that “opportunities for sharing political and social views are much more diverse,” resulting in millennials having many chances to unite with those who think like them, and “push the needle on issues they care about.” Similarly, it’s not enough for millennials to do one major protest. They are undertaking consistent, active engagement in their everyday lives as their faith in the government to do away with vast social problems wanes. The Atlantic article “When it Comes to Politics, Do Millennials Care About Anything?” further illustrates this, stating that millenials boasted 14.5 million volunteers in 2013, and helped double the rate of volunteering in America among 16-24 year olds between 1989 and 2005. The article further states that, according to a 2014 national All-State poll, 83 percent of millennials believe that if Americans gave more time and money to community groups, life would improve around them.

  1. They Have Revolutionized Work Culture 

“As an adjunct professor, I’m teaching college students that acting is doing. I’m also teaching them how to be a professional in the real world,” Reeves says.

Millennials have proven time and time again that they don’t want the distant corporate bosses of the past. They desire respectable leaders who make them feel valued while they work for them. One source proclaims that this generation may be the best thing to happen to any employee aiding program. Millennials encourage companies to evolve. They seem to have taken this ideal workplace environment, with amicable employers, emphasis on personal growth and collaborative environments, and turned it into a reality. Studies show that they are the most likely to voice concerns about an employer’s actions or controversial issues that affect society. 48% of millennials are employee activists, overpowering when pitted against 33% of Generation X and a mere 27% of baby boomers. These opinions have had tangible results, complete with employee protests, such as the fourteen thousand hotel workers nationwide participating in a walk-out, along patient care workers in California doing the same. The reverberations have been felt by Google and Amazon alike. Again, millennials prove that that they are here and demand to be heard (HR Drive’s Millennials More Involved in Activism At Work than Gen X, Baby Boomers.)

  1. They Have Reshaped Politics 

Speech and debate requires students to be very aware of current events, political trends, and societal issues,” says Lyndsey Oliver, who teaches Speech and Debate at Columbus High School. She fosters political engagement through teaching students to be informed on both sides of the issue. “By researching opposing views, students become better informed about all sides of an issue, and whether they change their own stance or simply find a way to understand a different perspective, they’ve had to engage in that discussion and ask questions about why they hold the position they do.” 

Again, culture is a well-rounded term, encompassing everything from art and architecture to government and policies. Millennials are heeding some silent call to arms in all areas, be it teaching or other kinds of activism. Millennials are particularly unable to resist the call to politics when the issues in question affect them, such as the environment, health insurance and student debt. The most racially diverse and most likely to be religiously neutral, they make the most politically independent generation. They have greater expectations of accountability, on the part of the government and its agents. The authors of Government By and For Millennials state that those of this age group are less concerned with “big government vs. small government” as compared to an improved, inclusive and efficient government. Politicians are far from blind to the direction of this wind. Svante Myrick, the one time mayor of New York, was noted to have made transparency a priority, through Facebook and Twitter interaction.“People aren’t used to having unfettered access to public officials,” Myrick said. “But unfettered access is kind of what my generation is all about.” 

Unfettered access and culture, we see. From the web to the classrooms, millennials have dedicated themselves to bettering life at large.They are flawed and perhaps a bit tech-obsessed, but they are human and so willing to help.

“Previous generations may view Millennials as lazy. Therefore, millennials have to work extra hard to prove themselves,” says Scott.” I’ve found that millennials are often very conscientious, and what some may criticize as millennials “killing” an industry may actually be millennials willing to question the status quo and unwilling to perpetuate archaic or unjust systems,” continues Oliver. “I do think that this is an unapologetic generation. I believe we as millennials are using our careers to say what we believe in, while at the same time not settling,” finishes Reeves

The newest generation has much to learn.

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Cynthia Short is a high school senior and past summer Fellow at Black Art in America. She has been writing creatively since the age of 12. She specializes in the creation of poetry. Born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, Short has dipped her feet into the theatre and slam poetry scene. She was a competitor at the 2018 Brave New Voices festival, a national slam competition. Her team won Best of Brave New Voices there. She plans to major in English and become an author. #bravenewvoices  

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