Guest Blog by Martin Dawber
Picasso’s maxim that “we don’t grow older, we grow riper” underpins the welcome truism that age is no longer a barrier in the creative arts.
Luckily we now live in an inclusive age that provides many different ways for older adults to express and enjoy their creativity by fostering a sense of shared experience that celebrates the diversity and history of their lives.
Research has already shown that getting hands-on with creative activities can be incredibly fulfilling, boosting health and wellbeing. This is particularly beneficial to the elderly, where regardless of skill level it is the taking part that counts.
The 2017 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing found that participating in the arts is essential to healthy ageing, mentally, emotionally, and even physically.
This is supported by AGE UK’s ‘Index of Wellbeing in Later Life’ that confirms “creative and cultural participation is the top-most contributor to wellbeing in older age”, citing participation in enjoyable, meaningful activities being the biggest direct factor for wellbeing and health.
Tamlin Conner, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, concluded in her recent national survey “doing creative things today predicts improvements in well-being tomorrow.”
The Southport Contemporary Arts network, set up in 2009, fully embraces these sentiments.
SCA opened The ArtHouse on Eastbank Street in 2012, providing a permanent space for showcasing local artists. Recognising that Southport is home to a host of different art practitioners, from all ages and backgrounds, working in various disciplines and skill bases, SCA expanded from its base at the ArtHouse and quickly established further studio spaces at ClayWorks and ArtsLoft in order to meet the demands of an expanding local community of artists and makers.
Taking up a new creative activity in later life can often loom like a daunting prospect. However, SCA’s programme offers plenty of creative options, where the experiences gained throughout life can eventually be allowed to step into the limelight to take centre stage. Whether as a natural progression or an outlet for untapped opportunities, each individual is now able to explore their creative side working at their own pace. SCA certainly believes that creativity forms a vital part of self-development for all who are willing to ‘have a go’.
The diversity of SCA’s portfolio of workshops now includes ceramics, knitting and crochet, textiles (including printing), life drawing, oil painting groups, mixed art classes, an autistic friendly group, felting, young creatives group and portraiture/life drawing. The opportunities seem endless.
Echoing contemporary artist Grayson Perry’s observation that “Art, like Science and Religion, helps us make meaning from our lives, and to make meaning is to make us feel better”, SCA has always promoted that being in a positive mood goes hand in hand with artistic creativity.
SCA Director, Norrie Beswick-Calvert, who has always encouraged creativity in the community, believes that people should incorporate more creativity into their lives: “SCA has run classes in a wide range of visual art and contemporary crafts for over 10 years now, and we have seen, first hand, the positive impact that getting involved, talking about, designing and making 2D and 3D pieces of original work, has on all ages. We know that time out, in a creative and supportive environment, gives people the opportunity and confidence to immerse themselves in learning and developing new skills and can boost their mental wellbeing.”
American activist Betty Friedan’s observation that “aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength” is certainly borne out in SCA’s current membership.
Norrie said: “We feel that our older students really benefit from working in a mixed aged, group environment, where they are challenged and stimulated by our tutors and the class as a whole. It is also the case that they bring as much to the classes as we give them; sharing skills and also perspectives on life that we all benefit from in so many ways. Often, however, they are so critical of their endeavours, and so, it is immensely satisfying when they create work that they feel confident enough to showcase in the Gallery.”
Jeanne Milbourn is SCA’s oldest student. Taking full advantage of the classes on offer, at last month’s Autumn Open exhibition Jeanne was successful in finding a buyer for her ‘Autumn Leaves’ painting in the same week as her 90th birthday.
She said: “My art and creative textiles have both helped me stay mentally positive, especially through the COVID Lockdown, when I was able to use both, to keep me busy and sane. Going to my classes, mixing with other lovely, creatively minded people helps me keep a sense of myself and reminds me that there is value in my ideas and skills. I think also it keeps me interested in new things and confident to talk to all different age groups, which I think are important to looking forward and enjoying life.”
Jeanne also attends the Creative Textiles workshop run by Formby artist/designer, Jo Landy, herself a mature student from Liverpool John Moores University’s School of Art and Design.
She said: “Every week I see in my class how important being creative with like minded people is, inspiring each other and swapping ideas. Being engaged in making and learning has massive benefits for the mental and physical health of both student and tutor. Jeanne is my oldest class member and never fails to surprise me with her enthusiasm and willingness to try anything new- she is an amazing example to us all.”
Marie Kershaw, 87, who drives from Lytham to attend the weekly Ceramics classes confirms that “if I didn’t come to the class I would sit at home in my workshop without speaking to anyone for days. By coming to the class I meet interesting people, have the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas and get feedback on my work.”
By dedicating time to creative endeavours, whether alone or in a group situations, certainly helps to keep the mind alert and is proven to have a positive impact on self-esteem. If you feel that you would also benefit from attending any of the SCA classes, please call into The ArtHouse for more information about the current series of workshops or visit www.sca-network.co.uk.
The ArtHouse, 65 Eastbank Street, Southport PR8 1EJ, is open Tuesday – Friday 10.00-15.00. Saturday 11.00-16.00.
In line with current Government guidance, the SCA team have introduced strict measures to keep visitors to the Gallery as safe as possible: There will be a policy of 5 visitors at a time, with social distancing once inside, and hand sanitiser dispensers at the door to use on arrival.