Monograph: The Arts and Older Americans


Research Abstract
Monograph: The Arts and Older Americans

As America ages, we are witnessing an altered concept of age, one that includes surprising possibilities and unchartered territories - a landscape without a map. Adventure has become a new metaphor for age. As Betty Friedan suggests, age allows us to pioneer and explore new horizons for society and our communities. (It is not surprising so many older adults travel.) Creativity is another emerging metaphor - creating new possibilities so that we age with integrity.

We are on the brink of an unprecedented time in America's history. By the year 2030, 28 percent of the population will be over 60, and the number of those over 85 will triple. This age wave of older adults is influenced by three demographic trends: (1) the baby boomers are aging - those over 65 will increase to 20 percent by the year 2030, hastening the Aging of America; (2) Americans are living longer lives than ever before - life expectancy has risen from 47 to 75 years; and (3) We have shifted from a birthing to an aging culture. In numbers, there will be nearly twice as many older adults in 2030 (70 million) as there are today (32 million). This population revolution presents an extraordinary opportunity and challenge for arts organizations, artists and aging communities.

What are some of the specific ways in which the arts can be involved in this age shift? Here are just a few:

  1. The arts can help us understand and define aging, used as a vehicle to explore the conversation about what it means to grow old through writing workshops, forums, murals, theatre and dance.

  2. The arts offer the opportunity for self-expression amidst loss, for achievement and re-engagement amidst voids and uncertainty. Many older adults face frequent loss in their lives - jobs, health, spouses, friends, leadership positions or income.

  3. The arts can provide ample opportunities for lifelong learning and service to others. Older adults have increased leisure time with their unprecedented longer lives. Volunteerism enriches the quality of life for older adults. Of the 43 percent of all Americans between the ages of 67 and 74 who vollunteer their time and talent, 36 percent of these are age 75 and older.

  4. Arts organizations can expect to have older adults participate and need arts programming. With increased leisure time, older adults are increasingly becoming consumers and users of services.

  5. The arts can benefit from people's contributions and resources. Older adults are creators, mentors, teachers, tutors and advisors, sharing the wisdom that they have gained through a lifetime of experience. As role models, they show us how to age creatively by sharing their unique perspectives on life and teach artists what it is like to grow old.

Throughout this monograph, experts in the arts and aging field discuss and describe a myriad of programs, policy issues and partnerships across the country. They discuss various collaborations with local and state arts agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts, local offices for aging, social service organizations, hospitals, and other community-based organizations. Funding possibilities are interwoven throughout each section. The publication concludes with a resource list of key organizations, books and Internet information.

Americans for the Arts’ Monograph series featured in-depth issue papers on topics that were of the greatest interest to our members and arts professionals at the time. They often still serve as excellent resources for best practices and historic reference for today’s issues. Monographs were produced from 1993–2010. Monographs from 2001-2010 are available for downloadable in PDF format our online store at a nominal fee for nonmembers but free to members. All monographs from 1993-2000 are available for free download via the National Arts Administration and Policy Publications Database.

In this issue of the Monograph, experts in the arts and aging field discuss and describe a myriad programs, policy issues and partnerships across the country.

Periodical (article)
Sherman, Andrea
Americans for the Arts Monograph
Volume 5, Number 8
November 1996

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