Look at any cultural institution and you will most likely find that the age range for which their programs are appropriate begins at about 5 or 6 years old. It was true of the NY Philharmonic when I was education director there (it has since expanded to include 3 and 4 year olds), and it is true of most opera and theater and dance companies in the U.S. today. Children who are younger are generally considered "unready" for the sophistication of the work and the attention span required to sit still and comprehend. As one parent said recently, "If you bring very small children, you just get shushed the whole time." Even in children's theater there is a certain expectation of quiet and focus. The theater companies may be OK with a toddler's interjections, but more often than not, the other parents are not. "They are too young - they should be at home," read the other parents' thought bubbles. (I am not proud to admit that these are phrases I have both thought and said as the parent of older children.)
This is a problem. Neuroscience teaches us that children's brains are developing from the very beginning. Our own experiences teach us that singing to children and playing with them is crucial to their growth and well-being. Mothers and fathers and caregivers of all types need support in these early years - opportunities to immerse themselves in reading and playing and singing. But cultural institutions just play the part of the exasperated father who says to his wife, as the children run rings around them: "You raise them until they are smart enough to have an intelligent conversation with me, and I'll take it from there."
I'd like to suggest there is another way. Create works of art that are custom made for audiences of babies and their caregivers. Flip all the equations. Create works that are rich in sensory experience but do not require absolute stillness or quiet. Create works that allow for improvisation and unpredictability, and cast them with performers who care first and foremost about children. Create works of art that are beautiful and imaginative and willing to play a secondary role in the overall experience. You read that right - the work of art itself cedes its place as the primary focus of attention. Create works that are incomplete without the children's actions and responses.
Along with many colleagues, we have been working on these kinds of projects in the U.K. and in Scandinavia and at Carnegie Hall - operas for babies - and it is a particular and challenging kind of artistic creation. And it only happens when cultural institutions are willing to make room for the youngest children. We are particularly lucky that Carnegie Hall has opened a space for them.