The members of the London and Area Creative Age Network are empowered, action-oriented volunteers and experienced practitioners who help narrow the arts and health research-practice gap with older adult communities. We organize community-based creative aging programs, activities and events in and around London Ontario Canada. Using the resources available to us through community partners, funders and sponsors, we have supported and promoted healthier and happier aging through the arts since September 2009.
We honour the key principles of community engaged arts: mutual respect, co-creation, inclusivity, appreciation of difference and generosity of spirit.
While there is no one model of community-engaged art, its practices can be broadly defined as collaborative creative processes that involve professional artists, social institutions, grassroots groups or individuals – Ontario Arts Council
Community-based, creative aging arts programs can be sponsored or designed with municipalities, neighbourhoods, cultural institutions, art and other non profit organizations, libraries, long term care, retirement homes, seniors’ centres, and seniors apartment communities. Please view the poster and images gallery.
Our network members engage older adults and community volunteers in concept and program development to add support to global and Canadian initiatives of reducing social isolation, eliminating ageism, promoting community engagement and aging in place. We place a priority focus on low-income and rural seniors. We also conduct ongoing surveys and focus groups to find out what older adults want and need in terms of arts education programs, creative activities and community events. To date, most of our programs have been funded through the New Horizons for Seniors Canada, the Ontario Seniors Community Grant program and with incredible local support from the Age Friendly London Network. Our community outreach champions have been Museum London and London Public Library – supporting programs and activities by seniors for seniors. These highly participatory, professionally run arts programs focus on “skills mastery, social engagement and community-building.” As we are enhancing the sense of well-being of seniors in our community, a Creative Age Enterprise Team is exploring a new Social Enterprise initiative.
2006/2007 ~ our founding network members originally came together through community drum circles. We were retired teachers, health practitioners, artists, performers and community organizers. Most were familiar with Community Development methodologies. We formed a performing rhythm/dance ensemble called the Rhythm Sisters performing in area concerts and festivals while teaching world music and sharing through workshops, CDs and DVDs.
2009/2010 ~ we applied through the City of London to obtain a 12 month federal grant for performing arts program enhancements for seniors at the Dearness Home, our municipally-owned long term care facility.
2011/2012 ~ our volunteers helped organize Chartwell’s Senior Star Talent Contest and Showcase. We also started research for creative aging programs, activities and events co sponsored by the London Public Library and Museum London.
Without core or operational funding, we eventually landed on the idea of sparking grassroots Creative Age gathering places within existing communities to inspire and nurture individual and collective creative spirits. These gathering places were meeting and activity rooms, common areas or creative arts studios. We were encouraged by the Creative Aging Society initiatives in Calgary Alberta and the Creative Aging Festival in Edmonton Alberta – see Creative Aging Toolkit
We believed, and still believe, the arts play a major role in the development of any community/neighbourhood, yet arts education continues to fall off the agenda. Creative Aging arts education programs for seniors were nowhere to be found in our area. We also believed creative aging programs for seniors can be de-centralized to foster safe environments for individual expression. Like every child, every senior is different. From a community development perspective, our programs and activities are designed not only to teach skills, but to offer older adults a chance to come together, to dance, to sing, to paint, act, write or whatever they choose in neighbourhoods where they live. Along with senior programs, we sponsor and organize intergenerational programs and activities.
How do we evaluate our programs? We distribute surveys, record comments, track and record attendance and develop relationships with open communications with partners and sponsors. If the programs are successful they will be supported by the local community partnerships but we do allow for creativity, trial and error.
2013 to 2017 our efforts were focused on developing awareness through the local library system, arts organizations, seniors centres, service providers and all social media platforms.
Using the Lifetime Arts Toolkit as a program model, we formed a partnership with the London Public Library to continue programs in neighbourhood branches in the library system. Every year for five years, we organized and offered courses, workshops and community festivals. The library provided public space and promoted the programs. Our group provided programs, volunteers and instructors.
2016/2017 efforts focused on capacity building with the initiation of a partnership project Aging Well with the Arts with the London Arts Council funded by the Ontario Seniors Grant Program and Westminster College Foundation for the recruitment and training/development of 10 professional LAIR artist/instructors and facilitators to work in retirement homes and health settings.
In 2017, three volunteer artists/facilitators also completed the National Centre for Creative Aging (NCCA) Artist-Instructor certificate training program.
In 2017/2018 we started programs and activities with trained artist-instructors in the rural area of Thames Centre.
Research – in the beginning, there wasn’t an abundance of evidence~based Canadian research available. However, we knew the academic and health sectors would eventually get involved when funding became available to them.
Most recently, we have established a volunteer run Creative Age Art Studio and Gallery (2018) and Resource Centre (2019) in a new home-base creative incubator in Thames Centre and moved ahead with our grassroots, community-based arts approach. Thank you to Penny Wearned for leading the studio volunteers. Thank you to New Horizons for Seniors Canada, the Municipality of Thames Centre and the Dorchester Lions Seniors Centre for equipment, supplies, art studio, gallery, auditorium and meeting room space. We serve the Thames Centre and surrounding communities.
We’re still a catalyst group. In the past, our volunteers have seriously considered starting a registered non-profit charity but we prefer to partner with established and existing organizations. We build and maintain community partnerships with local registered charities that will receive and administer funding for the proposed projects and programs. Most of our volunteers are retired and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of coming and going – usually on a seasonal basis. In 2019 we’re organizing intergenerational creative arts programs and activities (July through October). We are helping older adults and elders improve their quality of life and age in place through municipally-owned and operated seniors social housing.
The focus for 2020 is on the development of our committed community volunteers (mostly seniors in the region) to secure the necessary resources and partnerships to sustain local grassroots, intergenerational, creative programs for older adults, youth and children in Southwestern Ontario. This will create meaningful volunteer positions for older adults to inspire, engage and entertain themselves and others. Area seniors centres have started asking about our longer term programs and plans so we’re developing new materials, internet resources and mobile programming to share with older adults where they live.
Tools for ongoing capacity building
Each time we meet with groups and organizations from different sectors, we find new common ground and new ideas for inspirational programs, activities and events for a new generation of older adults.
Note: We believe creative aging takes many forms: academic, social and personal. It includes festivals, conferences, classes, group sessions and individual creative pursuits. It’s an adjective, noun and verb. We aim to develop more and affordable programs by charging fees for services when possible.
Speaking and Consulting Services Available
Getting started: at no cost to your municipality, non-profit organization, residence or group, we will explore the possibility of securing partnerships, funding and sponsorships for creative aging and other community arts programs, events and activities in your neighbourhoods or communities. Speaking engagements and workshop facilitation services available. A portion of all fees for services are donated to sustain our local community-based arts education programs.