As part of Creativity & Wellbeing Week 2020: Positive Futures (18-24 May) the BSG Creative Ageing Special Interest Group are posting some reflections on the role of the arts during Covid-19.

This second blog has been written by Karen Gray (Secretary) on behalf of our steering committee, who invite you to join the conversation…

It certainly feels as if our world and ways of doing things have been turned upside down by Covid-19. We are all being forced to creatively reshape our ideas of what community, participation, and connection are or can be.

As the pandemic has unfolded, we have often been made painfully aware of how it may not be right to say that we are all in this together. Older people have been more immediately affected by the pandemic than anyone, and discrimination around ageing has served to increase existing inequalities. As individuals and families struggle to restart lives and nations to revive economies, the signs are that these inequalities may continue, perhaps at dreadful cost.

As the President and National Executive Committee of the British Society of Gerontology (BSG) have so powerfully stated, simplistic decisions based on chronological age cannot be allowed to stand. 

Creative responses 

Still, the arts have perhaps never felt more essential than when we watched individuals in isolation singing across streets or between tower blocks to connect with others. The responses of artists, makers, and arts and cultural organisations to the crisis have shone through in ways that should bring us hope. In recent weeks, we have seen actors reading Shakespeare, and artists providing virtual education through online masterclasses and televised art clubs. There are world-class concerts, archived performances, and theatre experiences to be had right from your living room, that suit every taste and are typically free or low cost to view. 

Children’s rainbow drawings have brightened windows across the UK. Museums are walking us virtually around their collections even while their doors remain closed. On BBC radio, the Great British Singalong brings thousands of us together in our kitchens every Thursday morning to belt out a good tune. 

20200516_145438Collection of rainbows created by our Chair @erbradfield

However, many artists and cultural organisations, precariously funded in the best of times, are facing an uncertain future.

At the BSG Creative Ageing Special Interest Group, we would like to highlight the work of those who, during the pandemic, demonstrate the contribution that creativity makes to health and wellbeing as we age. It makes a powerful case for further investment and for exploration of its value. 

Members of the public have been writing and sending postcards to older people in isolation in the community or within care homes. Artists have distributed ideas to inspire creativity to keep people connected in their communities or in hospitals. For people living with dementia, activities such as Singing for the Brain, have been taken online. One care home in Norfolk even organised a ‘drive through disco’ as a way for families to safely see their loved ones, and sing with them.

Research and resources

The Baring Foundation is curating a growing list of resources to support arts and creative activities for older people. The annual festival organised by Age of Creativity is going online this year, sharing work and ideas that can inspire, inform, and support.

If you, like us, are interested in the evidence base supporting creative ageing generally, then please peruse this scoping review produced by the World Health Organization in 2019. 

All around us, academics and practitioners are engaged in online conversations, or sharing their work through hashtags such as #CreativeConnections or #ThursdaystheDay. They are cementing links already made and building new ones at a time when they are most needed. 

What happens next?

This is almost certainly a good thing, even if it comes out of a terrible scenario. Turning your ideas upside down is a classic way to inspire creativity. What happens next in the world of creative ageing is partly up to us. 

Important questions must be asked and answered. In particular, there is a need for creative thinking to address age discrimination and to tackle inequalities of access to the arts and culture and to the digital world.  A recent review by the What Works Centre for Wellbeing showed how places and spaces matter for improving wellbeing and reducing loneliness, and how participatory arts and sports are supporting this endeavour. We have much to learn about how to create inclusive spaces for arts participation, connection, and community in a physically distanced world.  

We’d like to hear your questions and your answers to the current crisis. Tell us what you have been doing and what you will doing in the months and years to come. Comment on this blog, or talk to us on Twitter (@BSGcreativeSIG) and we will spread the word.

Use the hashtags #CreativeConnections #CREATEWELL2020 to link in with wider campaigns to raise the profile of the arts during Covid-19.