More and more has been done in the last few years to involve older people in the arts and in culture. There has been a real upsurge in London in theatre and dance, choirs and music groups, painting and craft sessions for older people. Great work has been done by groups like The Albany, Entelechy Arts, Green Candle Dance, Jacksons Lane Theatre and others. It’s not only about grassroots participatory events: this 14-20 May the South Bank Centre is putting on the (B)old Festival showcasing artists aged 65+.
On one level, this is simply because people are living longer and you would hope that the cultural sector would be inclusive of older people as participants and audience members. Older people engage with culture for a similar range of reasons to younger people, and people’s motivations are not necessarily quantifiable. But there are also clearly identified personal and social benefits. There is a growing understanding of the psychological, cognitive and physical health benefits of active involvement in the arts for older people. Even simply being able to be an audience member may have a positive impact on someone’s social inclusion and psychological state.
With London’s increasing older population, you would hope that these benefits would be recognised and promoted in policy for culture and the arts in London. The Mayor is consulting on a draft London Cultural Strategy “Culture for all Londoners” (consultation open till 19 June). How age friendly does it look so far? Here are some initial thoughts.
It’s hard to disagree with the overall ambition that “every child, young person and adult deserves the chance to enrich their lives through culture. Every Londoner should feel that the capital’s artistic riches and diverse heritage belong to them. Culture should not be out of reach for anyone, and less formal activities, spaces and venues need to be valued.” That should give space to include older people as cultural participants and consumers. Chapter 2 on the context of the strategy recognises that “Culture can be an important tool in challenging the stigma and discrimination many groups face, from migrants and refugees, to BAME, older and disabled Londoners.” After that, older people are explicitly included in some places but not in each part of the strategy.
For example, the chapter on “Creative Londoners” states its objective as “To support London’s young creatives with more opportunities to develop their talent and skills” and the content is in accordance with this. Yes, creative young Londoners deserve support, but do the GLA think that older Londoners are completely lacking in creativity? It’s really disappointing to see such overt ageism in a strategy called “Culture for all Londoners”.
One very important chapter is “Love London – more people experiencing and creating culture on their doorstep”. There are some mentions of the importance of ageing and disability, and welcome examples of good work related to age from Barking & Dagenham and from Lewisham. It’s good to see consideration and piloting of discount cards and access schemes for people who face barriers in accessing culture – but not for older people so far. One must also welcome the aim of improving disability access at events.
This chapter has a potentially key section on “Culture, Health and Wellbeing” which addresses the benefits of culture for mental (not physical) wellbeing. The first example given in the section is about dancing reducing the risk of dementia. The document says that the Mayor will bring together experts from the health and arts sectors to increase understanding of the benefits, map relevant arts activities and help overcome barriers to health services commissioning arts activities. Will the Strategy actually lead to more arts activities for older people being funded?
Quite logically, the approach to culture and health is that the Culture Strategy will support the objectives of the Health Inequalities Strategy which should be published soon. However when the Mayor consulted on that strategy, we were concerned that the focus on older people was surprisingly weak.
Age UK London will be making a response to the Cultural Strategy consultation to raise the profile of older people in it. Please comment on this blog if you want to take part in the discussion!