Our community is often focused disproportionately on retaining youth over recognizing the value of our older community members. But thanks to the efforts by Creative Age London, encouraging our older generation to embrace the arts and self-expression is leading to a variety of social, cultural, and health benefits.
“At 65 years old, in our society, you don’t matter,” explained Kathy Smith, the founder and co-ordinator of London’s Creative Aging Network. “If I don’t make a big effort to express myself, you fall right off the radar. People can express that this is who I am and I’m important to society.”
After three years, over 20 events, and approaching its third Creative Age Festival, the group is growing rapidly and gaining a tremendous amount of community support. Initially, the London Public Library embraced the group because it aligned with their internal goals.
“Our library passed a strategic vision where they wanted to be strategic community hubs,” Smith explained. “They thought [a Creative Aging Program] was great and filled a void in programming – the library had stuff for families, kids, teens, but there was nothing for seniors.”
Recently, the London Arts Council has come aboard for many of the same reasons that the library did – the network helps the council fill a void in appealing to the target demographic. And now the network is working with the LAC on grant applications and funding opportunities to expand the program.
“Before it was just the library and Museum London ‘cheerleading’ and now the London Arts Council and the Library have taken a strategic tactic to start funding the program,” she said.
The community benefits start at the personal level, Smith explained. There has been a tremendous amount of research into the correlation between arts and culture involvement and long-term health. And Smith pointed out that it’s not just about attending a play or being involved with adult colouring programs, but rather the benefits come from integrating and implementing the creative process.
The Creative Aging program allows older Londoners to learn how to express themselves and share their stories and views. From concept to execution, the process stimulates participants into embracing the creative process. Programs include dance, spontaneous art, theatre, voice, spoken word (prose and poetry), music, digital photography, and creative writing.
The programs are designed to focus on the individual’s expression. For example, photography efforts involve documenting a day in one’s life; whilst theatre enables seniors to write and perform their stories.
“They go from thought to stage within five weeks, they do great work, and they perform it in front of an audience that appreciates that work,” Smith said.
Smith said she’s been inspired by the work of the late Dr. Gene Cohen, who oversaw a 10-year study that tracked people involved with creative activities and contrasted them with a control group that was not involved. They studied neurological, physical, and emotional markers and found that people who were creative had less depression, fewer visits to the hospital, and had fewer falls. The Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Societies, as well as the Heart and Stroke Foundation are all undertaking or have undertaken studies looking at the correlation between culture and health.
And they’re still learning about their participants. As the older demographic changes, Creative Age Programs are going to need to keep refining their efforts – and how they appeal to potential participants.
“With Baby Boomers aging and being seniors now – the first year of Boomers are now 70 – that 70 is different than 75-year-olds from the previous generation. They have a different attitude, mindset, and motivation,” Smith said. “This group of older adults is not just one homogenous group. They have different income levels and they’re coming from different cultures.”
Smith explained that the group is trying to get the word out through a variety of methods ranging from social media, promotion on community television, and working with their community partners, service clubs, and library supporters. She said it’s also important to ensure that they go to the people, instead of expecting everyone to come to them as mobility and financial issues can be barriers.
For example, they’ve recently successfully live-streamed an event and see this as an opportunity to deliver programming to retirement homes and community facilities.
“We can use technology to bridge the gaps and take it out of the cultural core to all parts of the city,” Smith said.
There are a number of ways people can get involved with the program. “One of the things that we just tested was a creative aging sampler,” Smith said. “It gives people a taste of all the options to see if any one attracts them. People also self-select areas of interest when they choose a course.”
The programs are available in the Library Access catalogue. Interested participants can also visit the organization’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/CreativeAgeLondon/, Twitter feed, or the national Creative Age website (http://creativeage.ca/). They can also contact Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 519 697-2177
“We’re trying to move arts and take it out of a silo where people think it’s special and unique and move it to a more accessible space and take away the stigma so that people can see it’s necessary for health,” she said. “For me, what has kept me involved is that I see the power of using the creative and expressive power of art through life’s transitions. And one of the biggest is their last transition. People at this age are very aware of their mortality and they want to integrate the events of their lives and prepare for that journey. Creativity becomes such a powerful path to follow.
“I understand personally why this is appealing to people going through this life transition and the community is coming together completely and support this.”
Jay Menard is a corporate communications writer and freelance Arts & Culture writer. See more of his work at www.jaymenard.com.