What is Creative Aging?

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Creative Aging Arts Education Model:

The Neon Museum teamed up with Sprat teaching artists to present the Creative Aging Visual Interpretation workshop series at Ne10 Studio. Participants from the Doolittle Senior Center joined teaching artists Chase R. McCurdy, Lance L. Smith, and Danny E. Titus for an eight-week exploration of painting, photography, and art history. The signs housed in The Neon Museum collection helped jumpstart conversations on memory, reflection, and the elements of design and color. The series culminated in an exhibition at the Nevada Humanities Program Gallery. Check out this video to see the impact these classes made on both the students and the teachers and how The Neon Museum has harnessed the power of art instruction to spark the imaginations of members of our senior community here in Las Vegas. This program was a part of Aroha Philanthropies’ Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums.

Therapeutic Program Model:

The Fund for NYC Health + Hospitals’ short film, Healing with Harmony: A Music & Memory Story beautifully captures Music & Memory’s positive impact on residents and staff. Music & Memory is consistent with the care that NYC Health + Hospitals provides, helping to create environments that are sensitive to residents’ needs and ensuring that all New Yorkers receive the care they deserve.


Hi everyone, my name is Vinny, and I’m a Lifetime Arts Trainer. I’ve taught creative aging workshops in theatre and improvisation throughout the New York City region. Today, I’m happy to talk with you about “What is Creative Aging?”

Creative aging is a large field that encompasses several kinds of arts programming for older adults. However, in this course, we will use the term creative aging, in reference to Lifetime Arts’ focus in the creative aging field.

We define creative aging as professionally led instructional [00:00:30] arts programs that build skills over time across all arts disciplines. In short, it’s arts education for older adults.

In the model that we advocate, there are at least 8 sequential sessions of 90 minutes each concluding with a culminating event, and we will cover the specifics and details of this in later lessons.

Creative aging is not just a concept, but also an emerging field in which a variety of organizations are providing meaningful opportunities for creative expression through visual [00:01:00] literary, music, and performing arts programming.

These activities are based on scientific research, and they emphasize the factors crucial for positive aging, learning skills, and building social connections. It’s not passive entertainment. While activities like sing-alongs or doing simple short arts and crafts activities can be fun and entertaining, the creative aging learning goals go well beyond what can be experienced in a drop-in art-making workshop. Though the results of participation may [00:01:30] be therapeutic, the goal is instructional. Participants build skills over time in a socially supportive environment. It is very active engagement.

Pullen Art Center, Raleigh, NC Credit: Teresa Moore Photography

Just as you can see from this image [above], people are fully participating and engaging with focus and commitment and connecting socially with one another.

Creative aging is a field that encompasses many areas of practice. As mentioned before, Lifetime Arts focuses on creative aging arts education for older adults, where the goals [00:02:00] are instructional and the programming is sequential. Sequential programming means that skills are learned over time, and each skill builds upon the other.

However, often when people hear the term creative aging, they might think about the robust therapeutic arts programs that exist across the country. There’s tremendous work happening in this area of creative aging, but it is important to recognize and understand the distinctions between arts education, and arts therapies.

This course will be focused on the planning, preparation, and implementation [00:02:30] of creative aging arts education programs.

Therapeutic programs include the arts therapies like dance, music, and visual arts, and many Alzheimer’s and dementia programs fall under this category. Much of this work happens in medical settings, but there are a lot of cultural organizations that are engaging in this work.

Many cultural organizations are designing programs for older adults with dementia and their caregivers. For example, Lincoln Center has a program called Lincoln Center Moments that is a [00:03:00] performance-based program designed for people with dementia and their caregivers. Meet Me at MoMA engages people in the visual arts.

The goal of creative aging arts education programs is different than therapeutic programs. Arts education goals are student-centered, include sequential sessions and active participation, focusing on skill-building, and built on a scaffolded curriculum. Sometimes the results may be emotionally, socially, and physically beneficial to the participants, but the goals remain instructional. [00:03:30]

Here’s just a few examples of arts, education, and therapeutic programs that are currently available to older adults across the country:

Therapeutic ProgramsArts Education Programs
Music & MemoryDances for a Variable Population
Prime Time (MoMA)Young@Heart Chorus
Meet Me (MoMA)Alive & Kickin’
Lincoln Center MomentsENCORE: Creativity for Older Adults

This is not a comprehensive list, and you can find more resources on our website, in this course, and also in the Creative Aging Resource.

These pictures are from some of the programming Lifetime Arts has supported in the past in senior centers, libraries, community centers, and cultural institutions.


Lifetime Arts programs are professionally led sequential programs that are participatory [00:04:00] and skills-based. Participants describe the importance of the vital social connections they made in these programs, and how their confidence in the ability to artistically express themselves was reawakened.

Most exciting is that creative aging work applies to all the arts disciplines, painting, dancing, quilting, literary arts, like memoir and poetry, theater, choir, songwriting, and musical instruments. The list goes on and on. [00:04:26]

Headshot of teaching artist, Vinny Mraz. He has short dark brown hair and brown eyes with glasses. He is smiling.

Vinny Mraz, Lifetime Arts Trainer and Teaching Artist

Everybody’s Talking About Aging

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Hello, my name is Annie Montgomery, and I am the Director of Education at Lifetime Arts. Welcome to “Everyone is Talking About Aging.”

Today, you will learn about the changing demographics of older adults and some of the positive aging initiatives that are happening around the country, and how creative aging merges with these efforts.

Why is everybody talking about aging? Well, worldwide, the population [00:00:30] is aging due to falling fertility rates and rising longevity. Put simply, people are living longer and healthier lives. In the United States, average life expectancy has increased by 30 years over the past 100 years. This demographic shift is not a temporary situation, but it is a permanent shift towards an older population.

Here are some stats that [00:01:00] might put it into perspective. Life expectancy has increased by 50% in the last 100 years. Men turning 65 in 2018 can expect to live on average to the age of 84.3. Women turning 65 in 2018 can expect to live until the age of 86.6.

Additionally, black, indigenous, and people of color, as well as lesbian, gay, [00:01:30] bisexual, and transgender individuals, constitute a significant and rapidly growing portion of the older adult population in the United States.

In 2010, people of color made up 20% of the nation’s 65+ demographic, a figure that will more than double by 2050. Advocates and aging services providers say LGBTQIA+ older adults and older adults of [00:02:00] color face significant disparities in health and healthcare access, economic security, housing, employment, community support, and more.

It’s important that our creative aging work addresses these inequalities and that we ensure that arts programming is accessible for the full span of diverse older adults and is responsive to their needs.

Who are “older adults”? We are talking about people who are 55 [00:02:30] to 100 years old “and better.”

We see older adults, including ourselves as whole, intelligent, creative, and social people. We are all in the aging club and no one is excluded. This demographic change is affecting every aspect of our society and thanks largely to the baby boomers, the largest group of older adults, a new view of aging has emerged, and it is positive. [00:03:00]

Additionally, exciting initiatives have sprung up. They recognize older people’s capacities and the need to consider new infrastructure, new programming, and new opportunities to support positive aging. “Aging in place” is becoming the norm, and more and more policies, communities, and health and human structures are supporting older adults’ capacity to remain in their own homes.

Encore careers are becoming more and more common, and along with starting a new [00:03:30] career after you’ve retired, people are taking up new hobbies, learning new skills, and pursuing their interests. Additionally, cities across the world want the prestigious designation of being a World Health Organization age-friendly city. Cities like New York City and Portland, Oregon have been officially recognized as being age-friendly cities by taking steps to make sure that their urban environments are inclusive and accessible for their aging population. [00:04:00]

Creative aging programs are in alignment with positive aging goals. You may have also noticed an uptick of aging issues in the media.

Review selected positive aging websites and blogs:

It is not only older adults who are interested in this work and the benefits that creative aging programming can provide. Creative aging initiatives are happening [00:04:30] at the local, state, and federal levels and they are generating interest, funding, and research across sectors.

Conversations are intersecting between health organizations, affinity groups, private foundations, city governments, arts and education funders, and positive aging funders. Being creative about who you are partnering with and who you might seek funding from to support these programs is a key [00:05:00] ingredient to piloting a first creative aging program.