June 2022 Accessibility Corner Blog: Creative Aging

“As one grows older, art and life become one and the same.” - Pablo Picasso (Artist until age 91)

Whether being born with a disability or through illness, injury, or aging, we will all experience disabling conditions in our lifetime. Growing older will inevitably change our bodies and minds.

The United States is becoming older and more diverse. In fact, by 2030 over 70 million people in the US will be over age 64 and the number of people over age 85 will double. Older adults are living longer and healthier lives than they did a generation ago. According to data from the CDLE, one in seven Coloradans is age 65 or older. This group has doubled since 2000. This changing proportion will affect our society, economy, and racial demographics. (For more information, check out this Axios article on shifting US demographics.)

At any age or ability, it's natural to want to feel empowered. We all have the desire to connect with others, be healthy, and express ourselves creatively. Growing older doesn’t mean one has to have a lower quality of life. Understanding the concerns and needs of older adults is necessary to create a meaningful, positive impact. With insights into older adults’ lived experiences, artists and organizations can serve this community through creative aging programs.

What is Creative Aging?

The term “creative aging,” in the broadest sense, describes policies around aging that focus on highlighting the creativity of older adults to prepare individuals and communities to manage old age. Programs focus on the evolution of creativity over one’s lifespan and aim to provide meaningful participatory engagement, especially through the arts. (Klimczuk, 2015)

Creating or engaging with art provides physical, neurological, and psychosocial benefits.

  • Studies have also shown that older people who are involved in creative activities are less likely to fall and take fewer medications than their peers who do not. Scientists studied how music can be used to reduce behavioral symptoms of dementia (i.e. stress, aggression, and apathy) as well as promote social engagement.
  • Participating in arts activities improves cognitive function and memory as well as self-esteem and well-being. Creativity keeps the brain active and gives older adults tools to maintain social connections, express themselves, and have fun.
  • NIA’s Division of Behavioral and Social Research has extensive data on the positive and powerful role of the arts, culture, and creativity in enhancing the quality of life for older Americans.

The Creative Aging Movement

As our society undergoes this major demographic shift, this field has grown exponentially. Creative aging has grown into a movement that:

  • centers health, well-being, and community,
  • releases limiting beliefs about aging,
  • celebrates the reality that individuals grow, learn, and contribute to their communities as they age

Many arts organizations, funders, and programs for older adults are providing opportunities to view and participate in the visual, literary, and performing arts. There continues to be a high demand for these lifelong learning programs. Participants value activities designed around their interests and needs - building community, expressing themselves, and more!

Just as Colorado was at the forefront of the disability rights movement, it has been a leader in the field of creative aging.

Colorado-Based Creative Aging Efforts

Think360 Arts for Learning

Think360 Arts for Learning was a leader in this space, starting its Creative Aging program in 2016. Their Teaching Artists conduct many arts-based residencies including creative writing, ceramics, improvisational theater, drumming, and more! The organization focuses on reaching low-income, LGBTQ+, and rural populations. Their programs initially served 65 older adults, and now serve 2,000 older Coloradans yearly.

In 2021, Think 360 hosted the Creative Aging Institute. They shared creative aging knowledge and best practices in addition to training 16 teaching artists from 11 Colorado counties. Upon completion of the program, rural teaching artists received awards to collaborate with local partners to develop creative aging residencies.

They currently have three projects underway in rural Colorado (see below) with more planned for 2022.

  • Multitudes (Mesa County)
    • Mesa County Library’s Palisade Branch is hosting an interactive arts program. Local artist, writer, and teacher Wendy Videlock provides meaningful art experiences and an appreciation of learning and creating among its older residents. Multitudes takes place Tuesdays, 5/3-6/21.
  • Greeting Card Project (Logan County)

In Sterling, Jane DeSanti is leading a greeting card making project at the Logan County Heritage Center. Twelve to fifteen older adults can participate in each session to create cards for residents of a nearby nursing community.

  • La Veta Creative Aging Program (Huerfano County)

A collaborative project between The Huajatolla Heritage Foundation and the Francisco Fort Museum focuses on Colcha Embroidery - an art form deeply steeped in the history of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado Led by Sandy Dolak, the program introduces older adults to this folk art form while teaching weaving skills

Access Gallery

Access Gallery partnered with the Colorado Alzheimer’s Association for the Granny Does Graffiti residency. The residency introduces older adults and their caregivers to the art form of graffiti. Participants learn about tagging their names, color choices, and how to use spray paint cans. This ongoing project explores street art as a viable art form that is immediate and communal in nature.

Butterfly Effect Theatre of Colorado (BETC)

In BETC’s free (inter)Generations playwriting program, BETC teaching artists show high school students and older adults 50+ the basic building blocks of scriptwriting. Participants engage in writing exercises and an intergenerational interview. They then use those interviews to create a short play inspired by their partner’s life experiences.

VIVA Theatre

VIVA Theatre, an innovative community theater group in Boulder, Colorado is dedicated to encouraging healthy, vibrant aging through creative expression. They provide opportunities for older adults to participate in the arts as performers, learners and audience members.

The Future of Creative Aging Programming

According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, there is no lack of demand for creative aging opportunities and no lack of access to partners committed to supporting older adults through the arts.

To sustain the momentum for creative aging programs, we need to continue to:

  1. Have community conversations on health, human connection, and quality of life as we age
  2. Advocate for creative aging practices
    1. Educate arts organizations, medical providers, and organizations for older adults about the concrete health, mental, and social benefits of creative aging! This kind of advocacy helps persuade the medical community and funders that creative pursuits are a legitimate part of healthcare planning for older adults.
    2. The Creative Aging Resource has excellent resources that highlight the benefits of arts education for older adults.
  3. Engage with communities of older adults to learn more about their needs
    1. Address racial and socioeconomic equity in these services
    2. Support care partners for people living with different needs (dementia, people living with hearing loss, varied mobility, etc.)
  4. Expand creative aging programs statewide
    1. Integrate arts into existing services for older adults
    2. Explore cross-sector and geographic partnerships to better support underserved communities
    3. Collaborate with other creative aging practitioners
      1. The Creative Aging Forum at the Denver Art Museum is a network that shares creative aging best practices and resources with Colorado artists and arts educators.
  5. Inform and engage private philanthropy and other agencies working with older people
    1. One example of philanthropy supporting this work is the Next Fifty Initiative. They fund programs and services for older adults, provide resources, and organize conversations for organizations working with older adults. If you’re interested in funding a creative aging program in your community, they are still accepting Flexible Support 2022 applications. Applications are open until all funds are expended.

Taking these steps will support a cultural shift toward supporting older adults and valuing lifelong learning. As Jen Olson from Think360 Arts stated,

When we hear the word "learning" we usually think of youth.  But, human development continues throughout our lives; it doesn't stop when we reach adulthood. Lifelong learning is an integral part of the quality of life as we age, and creative aging provides a powerful avenue for helping folks stay engaged in their own growth and development. We hear repeatedly from participants that they love the permission this work gives them to just experiment without prejudgment, and to discover unexpected ways to be creative.

Let’s foster our community’s creative growth and development by supporting the creative aging movement!

If you would like more information, please click the links below:

Colorado Creative Industries Resources


Thank you to our Accessibility Blog braintrust. Special thanks to our Creative Aging contributors: Jen Olson (Think360 Arts), Damon McLeese (Access Gallery), Heather Beasley (BETC), Sarah Harrison (CCI/OEDIT), and Elise Collins (CCI/OEDIT).


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