The conversation

How have perceptions of creative ageing transformed in the past decade?
Museums Association
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Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt is the author of the Older and Wiser? Creative Ageing in the UK 2010-2019, a report published last month by the Baring Foundation
Damian Hebron is the programme manager, social health, at Nesta and a trustee of Magic Me, an intergenerational arts charity
Dear Damian: 
A decade ago, the idea that older people might enjoy or benefit from engagement with the arts and culture was regarded as quirky. But over the past 10 years, there has been increasing recognition that creative activity in older age is rewarding, helps to build resilience, health and wellbeing, and overcomes social isolation. 
Public demand has grown through the popularisation of creativity in the media. Many arts organisations and some older people’s organisations are responding to this demand. 
Best wishes, Rebecca
Dear Rebecca: 
Cultural organisations have woken up to the potential of the over-70s as audiences and participants (not to mention volunteer supporters). And the wellbeing benefits of cultural participation are far more well known. What is more, many cultural institutions (and funders) have begun to acknowledge and act on the health benefits of engagement for dementia, Parkinson’s and other chronic conditions. 
Despite this, the population of older people living without cultural opportunity has grown over the past decade. Local authorities have had to make massive cuts to spending on culture and on social care. Day services have gone and people in care homes have far more severe needs. More people are living in isolation and without access to culture than a decade ago. 
Best wishes, Damian
Dear Damian: 
Cultural organisations also include older people as board members, and the more pioneering ones involve them in shaping the activities in which they are involved. And let’s not forget people returning to creative activity – or discovering it for the first time – as artists in their own right. 
The unevenness of access to cultural activities and the impact of public spending cuts reinforces entrenched inequalities in society. Activities are often offered against all odds, and steps are being taken to overcome such barriers as transport and timing. 
Best wishes, Rebecca
Dear Rebecca: 
It is important for organisations to think about how and why they deliver activity designed for older participants. Some creative ageing projects can maintain or even exacerbate inequality. The best ones put older people at the centre. 
Not enough work with older participants is co-designed. Without this, the same types of people (but just older) will continue to access culture (and its benefits) while others will continue to be excluded. We must think about ageing in terms of intersectionality. 
Best wishes, Damian
Dear Damian: 
How right you are. Inequalities can be reinforced by the projects themselves, and organisations need to be mindful of this. One of the areas that the Older and Wiser? report identifies as needing work is in increasing the diversity of activities and participants across class, gender, ethnicity and sexuality. 
Attention must also be paid to the frailer members of our communities who might not be able to access activities; this will require more one-to-one work in people’s homes, which has cost implications. Policymakers and funders will need to give this serious attention, as the field of creative ageing continues to evolve. 
Best wishes, Rebecca
Dear Rebecca: 
“Evolve” is the right word. People entering their 70s now came of age in the 1970s, and are technologically literate and savvy. This field of practice will need to remain dynamic and responsive to shifting needs and concerns. 
The real strides will come in intergenerational work and creatively drawing on the experience, skills and wisdom of older people to engage with the questions around the climate and connectivity. There are some brilliant practitioners in this space and it is great that the work is so much more visible now. There is huge potential. 
Best wishes, Damian

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