Museums and Creative Aging

By Bill Tramposch, Aroha Senior Fellow for Museums and Creative Aging, American Alliance of Museums

The American Alliance of Museums, with the generous support of Aroha Philanthropies, has launched an initiative that will be of great interest to AASLH members: Museums and Creative Aging. It is a two-year effort seen to be but an initial foray into the combining of research in the “creative aging” field with the huge potential that research has to inform our work in museums and historical associations throughout the country and abroad.

What is Creative Aging?

The term has a number of definitions and, from this author’s perspective, is not quite the best descriptor at that. Creativity can occur at any age, and creative aging examines ways in which to make the very best imaginative use of our older adult years.

One-third of Americans are over 50 years of age, and with every passing day more than 10,000 of us turn 65, with the fast growing demographic being women over 80.  An increasing number of medical professionals believe that many children born today will live to see their 100th birthdays and beyond. Not only is it wise for us to take full advantage of these years, but science is discovering more daily about the propitious health implications of engaging our minds and imaginations in ways that build identity, community, and self-worth. Doctors, in the UK especially, are now prescribing museum visits to patients who suffer from depression and a sense of alienation.

Aroha Philanthropies, a Minnesota-based charity, has joined with the American Alliance of Museums in an effort to build enthusiasm for the potential of creative aging partnerships in our field which includes, of course, museums, arboreta, historical societies, aquaria, etc.  For the next two years it is my pleasure to be what AAM calls the Aroha Senior Fellow for Museums and Creative Aging, and the task ahead will be fourfold:

  • To raise awareness about the pervasive and negative effects of ageism;
  • To instigate change by using the AAM’s extensive network and diverse platforms to disseminate information and tools museums need to implement age-inclusive practices in all areas of operations, including programming, marketing, and hiring;
  • To promote evaluation and research that contributes to our growing body of knowledge on creative aging, and encouraging application of the latest research findings on the benefits of museum participation;
  • And to foster partnerships between museums and organizations devoted to creative aging.

A two-year period is not an extensive period of time, but with collaboration and enthusiasm for the potentials, a good deal can be done.  We urge members of AASLH to acknowledge and embrace the impact that a seismic demographic shift can have upon our work. Taking time to become acquainted with the current literature in this still-nascent field of creative aging will prove both stimulating and profitable in many ways. From my brief experience as fellow, I am continually impressed with how each author’s research and writing in creative aging serves as an open invitation for museums and historical societies, etc, to become involved.

With this in mind, we are focused on five outputs between now and May 2021:

  • Weekly blogs: The AAM website carries a weekly blog on topics related to creative aging and actively seeks guest bloggers. So, if you have thoughts or programs you wish to highlight, please be in touch with me at [email protected]. These blogs can be found under the masthead Ad Summa (onward/upward);
  • Museum magazine: The October 2020 issue of the Alliance’s bi-monthly magazine will be devoted completely to the topic of museums and creative aging, with articles from leading authorities in the field;
  • Annual meetings: The San Francisco AAM Annual Meeting (May 2020), and the Chicago AAM Annual Meeting (May 2021) will include sessions on creative aging. These sessions will be lead by leaders in the creative aging field, coupled with museum leaders who have experiences to share with colleagues;
  • National convening: From November 4-6, 2020, the High Museum in Atlanta will be host to a national convening on creative aging. Keynote speakers and follow-up sessions will explore ageism, the demographic context, the positive health benefits of creative aging programs, funding, and evaluation to name a few. We will also have ample opportunity to see exemplary creative aging programs in action. Watch our weekly blog for more information on this convening.
  • Capstone report: All key aspects of the two-year Aroha/AAM initiative will be summarized in a capstone report which we intend to have completed by the Chicago AAM Annual Meeting. This report will be available online through AAM.

Please take some time to explore the communiques coming from AAM; look into the excellent work of Aroha Philanthropies as they pursue excellence in creative aging programs through a bevy of cohort museums; and chime in if you yourself have ideas and perspectives on this exciting topic. You will find it quite addictive a topic, and I believe you will agree with me that the research from this field is so perfectly oriented towards our work.  We live in the midst of an “age of aging,” and the opportunities to enhance programs for older adult audiences is huge!

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