The London Creative Age Network (LCAN) is a community-engaged arts success story! The network functions as a peer-led catalyst group and has operated on volunteer power since its inception in 2013.
It was even earlier, in 2008, when five friends (all Leading Edge Baby Boomers) originally met to share ideas about building a community of interest for older adults with creative self-expression and life-long learning as common values. This meeting planted the seeds of what would become known as the London Creative Age Network. It should be mentioned that all of the women were recently retired educators and community leaders in their own rights. They were in the process of redefining purpose and meaning in their lives and intuitively realized the importance of remaining active, engaged and inspired in a creative community.
Over the following years, London resident Kathy Smith took on the task of reviewing best practices and gathering information to share with others. They all learned more about the role of community engaged arts initiatives and healthy aging. In 2009, Kathy attended creative aging webinars conducted by the National Center for Creative Aging and Dr. Gene Cohen. She also spoke with the organizers of the then newly established Edmonton Creative Age Festival. Today the London network has more than 75 supporters including arts instructors, adult educators, artists, performers,and volunteers and raises awareness about creative aging through social media and special events.
In 2015, Kathy received an Adult Education Award from the London Council for Adult Education. In 2016 she was recognized by the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and Minister for Seniors Affairs with the Ontario Seniors Achievement Award.
Ontario Senior Achievement Award, Queens Park, November 2017
The First Creative Aging Project in London
In 2009, the network volunteers joined forces with Laurie Spence-Bannerman, Age Friendly Manager of the City of London Dearness Home, to apply for and receive a New Horizons for Seniors Grant.
Throughout the following year, they brought professionally trained arts educators to meet with Dearness residents and day program clients. The volunteers and staff organized an original musical theatre production written by Lynda Martens and directed by Jim Schaefer about the ups and downs of living in a “nursing home.” The residents were involved with the playwright during the creative writing process and some performed in the play.
Over 280 friends, family and community members attended when the production was performed in a large outdoor tent on the Dearness Home lawn.
A Summer Arts Camp program took place each day for a week around an innovative faux camp fire in the lobby. A day long photography seminar and outdoor adventure resulted in a photography exhibit by the residents called “A Day in My Life.” During the sound poetry workshop with Penn Kemp (London’s esteemed first Poet Laureate), residents recalled stories from the past and transformed the memories into sound poems and soundscapes. A community song and drum circle was started by Sheila Horrell during the project and that program continues to this day.
In 2012, the volunteers helped organize “Senior Star”: a showcase and competition featuring performances by local London older adults. Three extremely talented older adults won first, second, and third prizes.
LCAN Launch Leads to Creative Age Festivals
In 2013, the London Creative Age Network was established as a working group to raise awareness about programs for aging creatively, and to plan/organize Creative Age Festivals at various locations in the city. The festival events are co-sponsored by London Public Library, Museum London and funded by donations from volunteers. After interviews, focus groups, and consultations, a 3-year strategic plan was developed and more community partnerships were established.
With the support and partnership of the London Public Library Community Outreach, 2014 saw the start of FREE Creative Aging spring and fall programs at various library branches around the city. The program line-up included theatre, community choir, dance, drumming, photography, creative writing and storytelling. The participants learned new skills in weeks leading up to the festival, while volunteers organized a community concert to celebrate. From the London Public Library attendance and evaluations, we know the well- attended courses and workshops enjoy a large number of participants from all social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. Building on this success, the 2016 London Public Library Creative Age spring program is now available online.
Organizers of the London Creative Age Festival, wanted to expand this as a model, and subsequently met with community volunteers across SW Ontario. The Thames Centre Village of Dorchester launched its first Creative Age Festival. Elgin County Libraries sponsored events through June 2015. Cambridge Ontario launched their Creative Age Marketplaces. Smith also established more community partnerships with the Council for London Seniors, Age Friendly London Network, Over 55 London, and Third Age Outreach.
LCAN assisted other community groups prepare grant applications for community arts programs for older adults and provided letters of support for similar initiatives.
Expanding the Network
The LCAN volunteers also worked with Museum London to secure a New Horizons for Seniors Grant to organize an 8- month outreach and community engagement project resulting in the first annual ArtSAGE Symposium on October 1st, 2015 – National Seniors Day.
The City of London now includes a series of talks – Creative Aging: Exploring the Possibilities – in their Seniors Satellite program, so older adults in the neighbourhoods can learn more about the benefits of creative self-expression for healthy aging.
At present, LCAN members are exploring opportunities to secure funding and sponsorships to train arts instructors and facilitators. Also, two volunteers organize an ongoing career program for older adults who need or want to work past the traditional age of retirement.
Creative Age London worked with the London Arts Council to develop a training program and pilot projects for London Artists in Residence (LAIR). 4 pilot projects have been completed with 4 more planned for the spring of 2017. The goal for 2017 is to continue to put in place the community, funding, and sponsorship support to sustain the local London programs over the next years to continue improving the quality of life of London’s aging population.
The London Creative Age Digital Network – volunteers have formed a partnership with Campus Creative, at their intergenerational school and community centre located in the old St. Peter’s School – to train instructors, facilitators and volunteers to digitally record events, programs and distribute across our social media platforms to reach out to seniors who may be at risk of social isolation.