Academic journal article Generations

Focus on Creativity and Aging in the United States

Academic journal article Generations

Focus on Creativity and Aging in the United States

Article excerpt

Recommendations to policy makers on arts in healthcare and on lifelong learning and community.

In 1961, the first White House Conference on Aging took place. That gathering set the stage for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act of 1965. Thereafter, the White House Conference on Aging was held every decade to make rccommendations on policy and the growing needs of our aging population. In 1981, the National Endowment for the Arts, through an interagency agreement, made a passionate plea for recognition of the importance of the arts in the lives of older Americans, hut no arts recommendations were incorporated into the rcauthorization of the Older Americans Act.

It wasn't until 1995 that the National Endowment for the Arts worked with the Endowment for the Humanities and the Administration on Aging to sponsor a miniconference on aging that brought a renewed spirit and deeper focus on the arts and their capacity to enrich the lives of older Americans. The White House Committee on Aging took note of the strong positioning of the arts as a quality-of-life issue. It was a historic moment and the beginning of a dialogue that continues to the present. Jane Alexander was the first chair of the NEA to be invited to the White House Conference, where she addressed more than 2,600 delegates. She spoke eloquently of the energy, wisdom, and creative potential that older people bring to the arts, emphasizing that learning and growing are lifelong activities and that the imagination burns as brightly in maturity as it does in youth. Yet, despite the articulate expressions and efforts put forth by those attending the conference and the passage of several resolutions that included the arts, the overall impact on the conference appeared to be small.

Within the decade that followed, however, the field began to see a surge of arts programs in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and communities. It was apparent that the movement for arts in aging was becoming a force to be reckoned with. Debates about how to harness its growth, direct policy and advocacy, and build support from federal, state, and local stakeholders began and continue, with increasing concern.

Fast forward to May 18-19, 2005. The National Endowment for the Arts joined forces with AARP, the National Center for Creative Aging, and the International Music Products Association to sponsor a miniconference on creativity and aging in America for the purpose of making recommendations to the upcoming December White House Conference on Aging.

The miniconference brought together forty-four distinguished leaders from arts education, arts-in-aging initiatives, healthcare, philanthropy, government, and research. Over a period of two days, they listened to elder artists and viewed presentations, studied qualitative and quantitative research, and explored a broad range of best practices and model programs. After much deliberation, they formulated recommendations on two issues important to older Americans: arts in healthcare and lifelong learning and community. The following is a synopsis of the areas and the recommendations.


The report of the miniconference acknowledged the research that indicates that active participation in the arts promotes mental and physical health among older adults living independently in the community, improves the quality of life for those who are ill, and reduces the risk factors in older adults that drive the need for long-term care. Despite these findings, the report said, the arts are not considered part of the solution to the broader societal questions of how to promote health and extend life. Although the use of the arts in healthcare has been growing over the past forty years, most people, including healthcare professionals, are unaware that the arts have a significant positive impact on patients and older adults. The mechanisms for evaluating existing arts in healthcare models are limited and expensive, and there is insufficient funding to promote and disseminate best practices. …

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