Business community embraces creative experiences to retain young people: City Awake

With 34 percent of its population between the ages of 20 and 34, Boston has the highest concentration of millennials among the 25 largest U.S. cities (2017 City of Millennials Report). However, the millennial population has been on a decline since 2015, with more young people leaving the city than arriving, according to the latest Census data. (TIME)

Retaining this diverse and talented young workforce has been a significant challenge for businesses across the city. A recent report from City Awake, a program of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, not only found that "black and Latino millennials are most likely to report having incomes insufficient to meet their needs,” it also confirmed perceptions of unequal opportunity for people of color. (City of Millennials)

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce tapped Justin Kang in 2016 to create a strategy for the Chamber to focus on retaining, attracting, and developing young civically-minded talent in the region.

Building community through creative experiences

When Creating Connection joined up with City Awake in 2017, Justin and his team were looking to build stronger connections with young professionals by hosting a series of events just for them.

Through coaching, planning, and support from the Creating Connection team, City Awake identified a set of creativity-minded strategies to build community, including the introduction of arts-based events at their annual Fierce Urgency of Now festival.

“The most successful events [at Fierce Urgency of Now] were the ones focused on arts and culture. We took over spaces traditionally identified with a white and older audience…We marketed the events as a method to build community and belonging. The vehicle was through arts and culture. They were the most well attended events and it showed that it is through arts and culture that people create communities and connections.” – Justin Kang

The new strategies resonated with Boston millennials of color, with more than 200 young black professionals engaging in the creative events planned throughout the festival.

“For many individual young professionals of color, [Fierce Urgency of Now] demonstrated a rare feeling of belonging and connection to Boston… It demonstrated the need for belonging in public spaces and that is how young professionals of color define the inclusivity of a city.”

Broadening audiences and deepening partnerships

In addition to engaging millennials in new ways through these creative events and activities, City Awake used their time during the Creating Connection initiative to build new partnerships with arts organizations across the city.

Those partnerships included working with MASSCreative and ArtsBoston on planning events for the FUN festival, and have since grown into sustained working relationships. Justin Kang is now on the board of MASSCreative, and is helping that team think through how they are engaging millennials in connecting around and advocating for the arts in their communities.

Just getting started

Justin recently reflected on the impact of Creating Connection on City Awake.

“Creating Connection has fundamentally shaped a new approach to thinking about how millennials are attracted to Boston and how they stay here. People are now talking about how arts and culture can define a neighborhood and a city.”

When he thinks ahead to what might be next at City Awake, it seems that creativity will remain core to their strategies.

The Creating Connection model and framework has helped to elevate creativity in City Awake, and in retention strategies for millennials across the city:

“Having Boston be and perceived as a creative place is critical for us to have our necessary workforce of Millennials and Gen Z. Arts and culture is how people connect to a city and to a community. We will continue to use these tactics as a business community to attract and retain talent. That is reflected in our upcoming slate of speakers to having our CEO provide remarks at the Arts Factor 2019 report release.” – Justin Kang