What is Creative Aging?

VIEW LECTURE (4:37 min.)
View transcript via the “CC” button in the player, or review the enhanced transcript below.


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?”

Arts Education for Older Adults (0:17)

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 arts programs that build skills over time across all arts disciplines. In short, its arts education for older adults.

In the model for which we advocate, there are at least 8 sequential sessions of at least 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, 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.

Passive Entertainment vs. Active Engagement (1:17)

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 be therapeutic, the goal is instructional. Participants build skills over time in a socially supportive environment. It is very active engagement.

Program participants discuss each other's work.
Program participants engage in peer-to-peer discussions about the work.

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.

Differentiating Between Arts Therapy + Arts Education (1:53)

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 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 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 performance-based program designed for people with dementia and their caregivers. Meet Me at MoMA engages families and companions in visual arts appreciation.

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, focus on skill-building, and are built on a scaffolded curriculum. Sometimes the results may be emotionally, socially, and physically beneficial to the participants, but the goals remain instructional.

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

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 on our Creative Aging Resource (website).

These pictures (below) 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 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.

A Quick Comparison of the Two Program Models

View the two short videos below to see how these two program models work in practice.

View an Arts Education Model Example (03:54 min.)

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 E.A. Michelson Philanthropy’s Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums.

View a Therapeutic Program Model Example (4:20 min.)

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.

Reflection Worksheet

Each section of Creative Aging Foundations features worksheets for your own use when planning creative aging programming and writing grants for program funding. A complete set of Creative Aging Foundations worksheets will provide you with a shortcut to an organizational strategy to better serve older adults through anti-ageist approaches, best practices, and key insights on program funding and sustainability.

Download the worksheet for this topic:

Everybody’s Talking About Aging

VIEW LECTURE (5:20 min.)
Access transcript via the “CC” button on the player, or follow the enhanced transcript of this video below.


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

Today, you will learn about the changing demographics of older adults, 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? (0:27)

Well, worldwide, the population 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 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

Equity and Older Adults (1:28)

Additionally, black, indigenous, and people of color, as well as lesbian, gay, 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 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”? (2:32)

Teaching artist and students celebrate artwork created at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.
Teaching artist, Chase McCurdy, with his visual arts class at The Neon Museum in Las Vegas, NV. Credit: The Neon Museum

Who are “older adults”? We are talking about people who are 55 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 — no one is excluded.

Positive and Negative Ways to View Impact of Aging (2:55)

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.

Positive Aging Initiatives (3:12)

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 career after you’ve retired, people are taking up new hobbies, learning new skills, and pursuing their interests.

An image of a group of older adults dancing with an instructor.
A class called, “Flamenco Fiesta” held at the Diana H. Jones Innovative Senior Center in Brooklyn, NY.

Additionally, cities across the world want the prestigious designation of being a World Health Organization (WHO) age-friendly city. Cities like New York City and Portland, Oregon (plus 1000+ cities in 47 countries) 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.

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:

The National Conversation (4:33)

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 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. (Note: The list below is US-based, and is not exhaustive. Review a list of additional organizations, including ones operating outside of the US on the Creative Aging Resource website.)

AARP FoundationLifetime Arts
American Alliance of Museums (AAM)NAMM Foundation
American Library Association (ALA)National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
American Society on Aging (ASG)National Guild for Community Arts Education
Artworks/NEANational Institutes of Health
E.A. Michelson PhilanthropyNYC Department of Cultural Affairs
Goddard House Foundation (Boston)New York State Council on the Arts
Grantmakers in the ArtsThe Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Inc.
Grantmakers in AgingThe May & Stanley Smith Charitable Trust
Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)The MOCA Foundation
Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund (NYC)The New York Community Trust

Being creative about who you are partnering with and who you might seek funding from to support these programs is a key ingredient to piloting a first creative aging program.

Reflection Worksheet + Topic Resources

Each section of Creative Aging Foundations features worksheets for your own use when planning creative aging programming and writing grants for program funding. A complete set of Creative Aging Foundations worksheets will provide you with a shortcut to an organizational strategy to better serve older adults through anti-ageist approaches, best practices, and key insights on program funding and sustainability.

Download the worksheet for this topic:
Access the selected resources cited/referenced in this section: