LONG LIVE ARTS; Cultural Participation by Older People

EU Conference  May 20-22, 2015                                                                      

The Hague, Netherlands

Wednesday May 20, 2015 

I arrived at the Mercure Hotel - blurry eyed and half asleep.  After settling in, David Cutler from the Baring Foundation, a supporter of the Long Live Arts Conference, and I walked across a large open square bordered by two theaters, City Hall, whimsical sculpture, hundreds of bikes and bikers zipping across the square. I was not sure how to walk across the plaza without risking my life to a bike. We reached Den Haag City Hall, a majestic white modern office building designed by American architect, Richard Meier. This was not the Hague that I remembered from 1983, the last time that I visited Holland. Now Den Haag is a growing metropolis of old and new.

At City Hall, in a small conference room, the policy group met. I was fortunate to be there to hear about the recent changes in policy from the countries represented in the EU.  Basically, the EU has been under economic pressure to reduce its spending and government has looked to cut funds to aging and to the arts. The first speaker from Den Haag put it simply.  “We have been used to the government supporting all social and cultural services. Now we will have to look to public/private partnerships as other countries have done.” 

Interest in creative aging has developed over the past few years. The Bealtaine Festival in Ireland has helped galvanize and inspire countries to celebrate their heritage as older people share their stories and their art with others. The United Kingdom has fostered large projects for healthy aging across the aging continuum.

In summary, participants wanted to address the need for a central data location for research, practice and policies. The EU policy leaders were mandated to create a Cultural Manifesto for the next EU Conference to be in Brussels next year and will be working on this document over the next year.

That evening we gathered at the Cafe Pavlov for drinks and snacks. It was our first opportunity to get to know each other. 

Thursday May 21, 2015

You could feel the excitement and curiosity as people gathered at the theater in its modern open lobby space. I found my way to the stage to set up, while the Surinam women singers rehearsed their opening song. Hedy D’Ancona, the elder Ambassador for the Long Live Arts Partnership in Europe and former Minister of Culture and Member of the EU Parliament was the MC for the Conference. In her warm, witty style, she welcomed everyone and reviewed the plans for the two days. Each keynote speaker was introduced by their favorite music. I was delighted to open the conference with “Dancing in the Streets.” Participants enthusiastically listened to news from the WHCOA mini conference on arts and aging, NCCA Creative Age Conference and to hear about creativity and aging in the United States. Bob Collins, Chair of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, gave a thoughtful talk about the importance of culture from caveman to the present. Andreas Kruse, a German music professor, played Bach on the piano, and spoke about the aging brain and arts. 

We, then, split into workshop sessions. Workshops focused on research, practice, and policy and crossing borders. I wish that I could have been at all the workshops at the same time. I attended three afternoon workshops. TANDEM partnership establishes long-term projects between cultural organizations in the field of community arts. For example, Equal Arts from Gateshead, UK and Arts in Care Foundation from Amsterdam, NL are now at 52 places in the Netherlands and UK, bringing creative arts into care homes. The next workshop I attended highlighted an intergenerational visual arts project in a care home in the Netherlands. The artist discovered how to work with the staff residents and community, producing an extraordinary book of the stories across generations. 

The next workshop that I attended was called Aging Well - Creative Engagement Tools. Encounter Arts designed an inventive, innovative community project that surveyed needs of older people in the community of Torbay, UK. They opened up public conversation by placing “Aging Well” sofas, table, and a creative arts survey form on the table.  They discovered what was important to the people of Torbay regarding creative activities for older people in their community this project won the national UK lottery (6 million euros) to implement the results over the next six years!

After the workshops, all participants gathered for the celebration by older performers, musicians, storytellers and intergenerational choral in the theater. Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands was a guest. Gabbi Masters, the conference coordinator, and I walked the Princess into the theater. Yes, I had the honor and pleasure of escorting Princess Beatrix to a front row seat and chatting about creative aging with her. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Field trips were arranged for the morning. They included theater residencies, music school programs, film showing, dance for health classes, and museum programs - all focusing on older adults.

The Gemeentemuseum invited participants to better understand late life work of artists, Monet and Modrian and to learn about how they reached out to older adults. I loved learning about the late works of artists and then seeing their arts-in-education program. 

How arts serve the baby boomers in the US.

In the afternoon, Stuart Kandell founder of Stagebridge Theater and former NCCA Board member, and I presented on United States programs engaging baby boomers. We spoke about older adult learning principles and described best practice in lifelong learning and engaged participants in how to find story through sense memory. Participants included funders, policy makers, artists, art organizations, and health care organizations.

I was surprised to discover that in general, teaching artists were not trained before entering a project. The NCCA on-line artist training may now have more EU participation. It seems that artists and organizations apply for funding and are awarded support by the review committee who are just learning about the field.

Arts and Health Care Models across the US

Stuart and I conducted a workshop on best practice in arts and health care. The main question raised by the participants focused on involvement with Age Friendly communities anyhow to bring arts into the homes of older people. Many EU cultural organizations are part of the United Nations WHO initiative for age friendly communities. We were able to give examples of how to reach into homes with legacy works model.

The conference came to a close announcing the NCCA The Creative Age International Conference in 2016. The ambassadors to the NCCA conference from Europe reported about their experience. Mia emphasized the importance of public private partnerships as EU government funding decreases to arts and aging programs. A US film on Agism and Creative Aging was shown and then a slide show review of the Long Live Arts Conference. A great warm and welcoming exchange took place. Next steps included deepening partnerships between EU countries with programs, research and policy and gathering next year at the Long Live Arts Conference in Brussels, Belgium and joining the NCCA convening in Washington, DC. 

By the end, I had been transformed and felt how fortunate I am to have pursued my interests in life story and passing on of our histories and cultures. Gratitude to all those present and back in the United States for having embraced creative aging.

We are helping to make the world a better place to grow old in.

I look forward to growing our EU partnership.

Best regards, Susan