Reflections come from Creative Ageing SIG Steering Committee Member – Cathy Bailey, Associate Professor (Northumbria University).
With representatives from the BSG Creative Ageing SIG and the Centre for Cultural Value (University of Leeds), our online symposium ‘Creative and participatory methods for understanding what it means to age creatively’ on 2 July 2020 attracted 136 registrants and generated a real buzz of creativity and a sense of creative methods, ‘becoming’.
By considering non-verbal methods, innovative presentations from the academic, practitioner and public sector challenged verbal and linguistic dominance of traditional research methods.
Emma Harding and Emilie Brotherhood from Dementia Research Centre (University College London) spoke of their work, with participants living with rare forms of dementia. This included creating line drawings to depict how participants perceived their dementia journey and co-producing ‘research poetry’, as well as using bio signals to capture ‘in the moment’ experiences.
Judith Bek (University of Manchester), considered how dance may improve movement and wellbeing in older people. She presented a pilot project with the Body, Eyes and Movement (BEAM) Lab which co-developed dance classes with people with Parkinson’s. The project explored the impact of the classes on motor stimulation (observation, imitation and imagery) and included a photography project. She reflected on the importance of including qualitative methods to reveal further insights and the implications for future work.
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A presentation on cultural activism challenged ageist stereotypes of arts related volunteering (Julie McCarthy with Greater Manchester Combined Authority). I particularly liked Julie’s stance on older people as ‘agents of change, not recipients of assistance’ and her reminder that there are older people with a disposable income that can considerably add to cities’ revenue from the public spend on arts and cultural activities, creating a mixed and more sustainable cultural offer. Reflections on partner and citizen co-production of research, from design to evaluation emphasised the need for strong partnerships, having a clear strategy, with some investment and an ability to take risks.
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Kat Algar-Skaife, DSDC Wales Research Centre (Bangor University) / Wales Centre for Ageing and Dementia Research and Sarah Lord (Age Cymru), reflected on the evaluation of the very successful 2015 project ‘cARTrefu’ aiming to improve the quality of care home residents’ experience of participatory arts activities and their impact on wellbeing. The symposium gave a sneak preview of the project’s animated film, highlighting key findings. There was acknowledgement that evaluation can be messy, perhaps risky and time consuming, particularly when co-produced, but can also lead to sustainable economic, social and cultural gains. Use of tools that capture social and cultural value such as social return on investment (SROI), can quantify such gains and provide good leverage for policy influencers.
Since the conference Age Cymru have launched their cARTrefu animation, which you can view on their YouTube channel here!
All presentations considered the value of engagement with the arts for older people including capturing and being embedded in lived experiences and producing nuanced and diverse findings. Presenters reflected on how creative engagement has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Whilst there is understandable concern about digital exclusion, positive benefits included online delivery opportunity, having the potential to reach many more participants, practitioners and professionals.
Post presentation Q&A session, afforded interesting discussion about how to analyse creative methods and in my opinion, a general agreement that effective co-production of research needs to be based on trust, equality, parity of power and improvisation and that developing these can take time. Interdisciplinarity, cross sector working and the need to challenge some traditional types of data collection methods that might exclude participants, were also raised as critical strategies for developing, ‘doable creative and participatory research methods’.
A recording of the symposium is available on the BSG’s Ageing Bites YouTube Channel – view it here.
You can also access slides from the presentations on our SIG page – here!
The Symposium was supported behind the scenes by our steering committee members:
Dr Emily Bradfield @erbradfield
SIG Founder & Chair / Director at Arts & Minds / Freelance Arts Consultant
Dr Robyn Dowlen @RobynDowlen
SIG Vice Chair / Postdoctoral Research Associate at Centre for Cultural Value
Dr Karen Gray @kcrgray
SIG Secretary / Independent Evaluator
Thanks to our steering committee for editing this blog, alongside our blog editor, Dr Kate Dupis @DrKateTO
To join the BSG Creative Ageing SIG, please click HERE to complete the membership form.