Creative Aging in Canada

Article by Karen Close, a resident of Kelowna BC. Karen is the founder of heART Fit: A Spontaneous Process Painting Program that has run for 7 years at the Rotary Centre for the Arts in Kelowna. Karen is also the editor Sage-ing With Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude: The Journal of Creative Aging

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Creative Aging is an invitation to harvest the bounty of your life’s experience and celebrate the power of the arts to transform the aging process. When American psychiatrist and pioneer in the field of gerontology, Harvard MD Dr. Gene D. Cohen, published The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life and later The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, he redefined the aging process. By proclaiming the health benefits of engagement in creative activities to be as beneficial as diet or exercise, Cohen launched the Creative Aging movement. The boomers is a powerful generation that has been waiting for opportunities to break free and express itself more meaningfully as they age. In Canada, this is the generation that launched ParticipACTION and inspired the improved level of healthy living and physical fitness that Canadians enjoy today. The motto of ParticipACTION is Bring Back Play. At its core creativity is about playing and exploring where your imagination might take you. It’s about reliving the childhood joy of discovering.

With a nod to Einstein, Cohen presented the theory C =me2 . Creativity is me to a higher power. When we focus creative spirit on the mass of all we have experienced it transforms and enlarges our sense of self and creates a greater state of emotional health, and well-being. By continuing to present emerging research arguing that creative activities lead people to longer, healthier lives, Cohen and his associates quickly gained supporters in the closing decade of the last century.

The National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) was founded in 2001 and is dedicated to fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging and to developing programs that build on this understanding. There is a consistently growing body of evidence affirming Cohen’s realization that by expressing one’s identity, concerns and aspirations through some form of creative expression, not only does the individual gain an increased sense of well-being, greater quality of life, but together creatively engaged seniors are changing misguided perceptions about the aging process.

Gone are the words, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” with the recognition that if one doesn’t seek new experiences, the brain withers. Cohen’s studies showed that older brains develop in ways that facilitate creative thought and exploration. He called creativity chocolate for the brain because it encourages the growth of dendrites, synapses between brain cells which put the brain into what he calls ‘all wheel drive’. Consider that for many, the senior years are perhaps the first time they have found the freedom to pursue interests and passions that might have been set aside in favour of family and career obligations. With the resources of time and experience, imagine the contribution seniors can make. There is a rich opportunity for wise elders to both learn and teach. Through lifelong learning and sharing from the wisdom of a lifetime, the individual and the community benefit.

In Canada Creative Age Edmonton initiated the movement with their Creative Age Festival, first held in 2008. Word of their success spread. In 2009, The Creative Aging Calgary Society was established and Calgary hosted its first Creative Aging one-day symposium.  These celebrations of creative aging showcase and recognize the artistic contributions of seniors in all areas of the arts; encourage seniors to become more involved in arts programs such as drama, music, visual arts, literary arts, and dance; and raise public awareness of the benefits to health and well-being that older adults acquire through engagement in creative activities.

Sheridan College  located in three Ontario cities – Oakville, Brampton, and Mississauga, has launched the Centre for Elder Research and is eagerly exploring the future of Creative Aging in Canada

“Creative Aging is about possibilities, freeing ourselves of limiting beliefs about aging and embracing the reality that individuals continue to grow, learn and contribute to their communities throughout the life journey.”  Pat Spadafora, Sheridan College Elder Research Centre.

That Creative Aging is part of an emerging ‘grassroots’ cultural evolution in Canada seems apparent.  Although Alberta’s initiatives have roots in the medical and education community, the initiatives in London, Ontario and Kelowna, British Columbia started with community-based libraries and arts groups. Indeed Creative Aging in Canada appears to have its own magical inner rhythm and potential energy. The movement itself is becoming a beautiful dance where the steps are self-acceptance, exploration, reaching out, playing and sharing. Imagine the celebration of vitality that is Henri Matisse’s painting The Dance.


Karen Close, Kelowna BC Editor of Sageing with Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude: The Creative Aging Journal


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