International Creative Ageing – Looking Beyond A Pandemic


I was delighted to be asked to host this uplifting event to start 2021. Not because of any belief in my hosting skills – clearly no one has been to one of my parties – but because I have learnt so much from my colleagues in Helsinki in recent years and because I believe passionately that creative ageing is a movement that is set to sweep the world.

As I write from London, the UK is in the depths of a second wave of Covid 19 with our hospitals dealing with more patients than at the height of the first wave in April 2020. As we all know the consequences of infection are so much worse for older people and this requires severe limitations on their freedom of movement and association whether in the community or in a care homes. In the UK arts organisations and residential care homes moved mountains to respond to the first stage of the crisis in the spring as they recognized that creativity was a lifeline both for care home residents and staff who were making huge sacrifices themselves. I sought to capture a little of this effort in our publication Key Workers; Creative Ageing in Lockdown and After.

It seems hard to believe now but the almost miraculous advent of the anti-Covid vaccines promises a return to normality later in the year for older people and society more broadly. But what should this normal look like? The Baring Foundation is considering starting a national conversation around what a guarantee of culture and creativity in every care home would look like and to launch this in time to welcome in this new, more hopeful era. There is a lot to build on in the UK as Older and Wiser? from Kings College London showed when it examined developments in the last decade while this was the focus of our arts funding But there is much more to do.

I am convinced that a major part of the answer is improved international exchange around creative ageing, of which this event is such a prime example. One of the few benefits of this global public health emergency has been a realisation of how much can be done digitally. In 2019 we published a short report documenting some of the wonderful creative ageing initiatives taking place around the world, including all those taking part in this event The realization that creativity is a human right due regardless of age, along with an ever growing evidence base of its benefits, especially around dementia, is only growing stronger. As will the phenomenon of an ageing world beyond the pandemic.

I believe strongly that there is a need for regular international exchange on creative ageing for learning, inspiration and mutual support. At the moment there is a gap here and international events on either the arts or on ageing have yet to fully incorporate the significance of creative ageing in their meetings. Digital technology means that gatherings do not need to be expensive or labour intensive. So lets commit to taking a lead from the City of Helsinki and To Infinity and Beyond and organize a follow-up meeting in 2022, when the pandemic is becoming a unhappy memory.

David Cutler