Being encouraged to contribute an event to the 2015 Luminate Festival of Creative Ageing was the beginning of the Autumn Voices project. So, I am delighted that Anne Gallacher, Luminate’s Director, accepted my invitation to be a Guest Blogger.
For just over 5 years I have worked for Luminate, running the annual Scotland-wide creative ageing festival; since 2014 we have also offered a growing programme of year-round developmental activities. Luminate was set up because evidence shows that we engage less with the arts as we get older, and yet if there’s one thing that Luminate’s work has proved it’s that our creativity doesn’t reduce with age. The inspiring work that Robin Lloyd-Jones is doing on the Autumn Voices project is proving that too.
The term ‘creative ageing’ is used increasingly not only in the UK but also internationally, as a term that encompasses the many ways people can engage with the arts and creativity as we move into our ‘Third’ and ‘Fourth’ ages. I have seen numerous examples of people in later years continuing to develop creative work, or rediscovering a skill they haven’t practised for many years, or experimenting with new creative activities and artforms for the first time. The idea that we can’t learn or create new things as we get older is simply not true, and yet – in my experience – that view is widely held.
The dancers in PRIME – Dance Base’s semi-professional older people’s company – present high quality work by professional chorographers, and will appear again at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The Wise Guys at Highland Print Studio in Inverness – all of whom took up print-making later in life – create, exhibit and sell beautiful work; a print by one of the Wise Guys hangs on my wall at home. And people for whom the arts have been their principal career carry on creating – for example our festival has featured work by writer and artist John Byrne, ceramicist Carol Sinclair, photographer Robin Gillanders and visual artist Joyce Gunn Cairns, and this year we’re looking forward to new choreography by the iconic Lindsay Kemp. Autumn Voices focuses on writers, but there are numerous examples across the artforms.
Projects in health and care settings also make clear that creativity lasts a lifetime, with beautiful work being created by people who are perhaps becoming frail and may also be leading isolated lives. There is increasing evidence of the positive health and social impacts of participation in the arts, and this recognition is leading to a growth in artist-led programmes in care homes and day centres.
But what if you discover – or rediscover – a talent that you want to take to a professional level in your later years. How do you do that in your 50s, 60s or 70s? What are the challenges and rewards? Earlier this year Luminate worked with Magnetic North Theatre Company, Cove Park and a-n the Artists Information Company to run a 5-day residential Lab for older emerging artists working in any artform. We had over 130 applications from all over Scotland for only 6 places. The quality of the work that was submitted with those proposals was extremely high, and the selection process very difficult. The selected 6 artists have all fed back very positively on their experience of attending the Lab, and we will shortly be publishing a report by researcher Francois Matarasso which explores the impact of the programme. This report will be available this summer, and the reason for referencing it here is to reinforce the breadth of the picture of creative ageing.
I have always found it hard to talk about Luminate’s work in a soundbite because it’s complex and diverse, and for me that’s the joy of it. During our October festival I can find myself spending an afternoon at a tea dance, and the evening watching a piece of professional theatre exploring the impact on an older person of losing their life partner. The next day I might find myself at a reading of poetry by older writers, and then joining a care home choir rehearsal.
Society is ageing, and this brings new opportunities and challenges as each of us moves through the decades. But we remain creative and – whether you’re a professional artist, an experienced amateur, or a participant in your local art class – I believe our lives are richer for the opportunity to nurture our creativity regardless of age. If Luminate had a slogan it would be that ‘creativity has no age’, and I’m delighted that Autumn Voices is another wonderful initiative that helps prove that.