Creative Aging

Audience members enjoy a performance during the culminating event of a creativea aging workshop series.
Audience members enjoy a performance by their peers during the culminating event of a creative aging workshop series in a public library. (Photo credit: David Kumin)

There’s no getting around the fact that we all age. The good news is that aging creatively — through the arts — holds the promise of enjoying and embracing the process.

An Emerging, Positive Practice

For just over ten years now, creative aging pioneers have been catalyzing cross-sector collaborations and building an infrastructure that is yielding new research on the benefits of arts engagement. At the same time they have been designing, testing and sharing innovative best practices and improving the lives of thousands of older adults.

Creative aging in its many forms is hopeful, often transformative and usually fun!  In this section, you will explore the underlying theories and current research, learn about the various areas of practice, and review successful programming models.

Programming in Libraries Takes Various Forms

Some creative aging programs in libraries are part of “50+” or “Next Chapter” initiatives, such as the New York Public Library’s Creative Aging in New York Libraries programs. Others are stand-alone series aimed at attracting and engaging diverse older adult residents, such as the programs taking place at the Miami-Dade Libraries.

In some communities the impetus for these programs came from librarians with deep interests in a particular aspect of older adult services and a particular collection. In Hartford (CT), the Director of the Hartford History Collection developed several series of discipline-based, professionally led arts classes for older adults as one means of raising older adults’ awareness of and engagement with the library’s historical resources. In Pittsburgh (PA) the Allegheny County Library System has established an “Intergenerational Academy”, reflecting staff interests in participatory older adult activities and intergenerational programming.

A Move Toward Active, Positive Engagement

Despite the importance of the new views on aging and creativity, a majority of public libraries adhere to a traditional view of “senior services” that focuses mainly on providing information and resources such as Medicare rights, taxes or financial fraud.

Older adult services are often included in “outreach” departments – along with other marginalized groups. Instructional programs are usually limited to teaching computer skills.

While important, these programs don’t address the potential for creativity, learning and social interaction to improve older adults’ health. Nor do current programs take into account the needs and interests of mid-life or active older adults, many of whom are shifting into new phases of life and seeking ideas, activities and resources for positive engagement.

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