WHAT I LEARNED FROM A MAGIC ME WORKSHOP
Written by Susan Langford, Magic Me Founder & Director, November 2023
It was the first time the children, a Year 5 group, had visited the care home. They’d prepared for their visit and been excited coming along the road from their school, but all hesitated at the door to the lounge. The bold, curious ones led the way into the room and struck up conversations with residents. Shyer children and older people took their own time.
Ali entered last and by then just one older lady had no young partner. Rosie was excited to meet the children and waved at him, with her left hand. After a recent stroke, that hand was important. Rosie could no longer speak or use her right one. Ali was quiet and often needed support to understand in class, and I wondered how they would go together.
The group were focusing on water as a theme: places, jobs, hobbies, sports that all involved water. Supported by an artist and a poet, they drew pictures and wrote short poems. A school trip to the coast, working in a swimming hat factory, Army drills in terrible weather.
I kept an eye on Ali and Rosie as activities began and checked in after a bit. They were laughing, heads together, poring over papers and pens. As the session ended the artists invited us all to reflect on our time together and share one thing that we had found out during the afternoon. When it came to Ali’s turn one boy, clearly mystified, eagerly asked him: I don’t get it. How do you and Rosie talk to each other? Ali, looked at Rosie, smiled and said to everyone: “You all think that communication is about talking. Me and Rosie, we know better.”
Too often our society focuses on words, valuing the verbal and written word above all other means. Magic Me sparks relationships between people of different generations through the power of the arts. So children and adults can build connections and tell their stories in their own ways – with colour and touch, or movement and sound. Because they know better.
AT WHAT AGE DO WE START AGEING CREATIVELY?
I’m writing having just returned from a rich day of inspiring presentations and conversations at the National Creative Ageing conference, run by Equal Arts in Newcastle. Music, dance, poetry, fashion, it was all happening, demonstrating the power and solidarity of older people coming together. And as good conferences do, it raised many questions for me.
Creative Ageing has become the shorthand in the arts sector to talk about creative arts practice by, with and for older people, defined by Arts Council England as being 55+
I believe the arts are an essential part of life. As makers or audiences the arts can bring joy, challenge, and provocations to see the world in a new way. Working creatively combines thinking, feeling and doing. The arts can help us understand ourselves in new ways, in new situations and at new stages of life, whether working alone or with others.
Post-conference I’m left asking: at what age do we start ageing creatively?
We live in an ageist society, divided and categorized by our number of birthdays. I worry that the phrase ‘creative ageing’ is pulling us into an ageist trap – that of thinking ageing is something for ‘old people’.
Researchers predict that some 1 in 3 children born this year in the UK will live to be a 100. Ageing happens across the whole life span, from birth to death. If we want to be ageing creatively in the second half of life, maybe we should start doing it as early as possible.
A principle of Magic Me’s practice is that everyone, whatever their age, has a past, a present, a future and an imagination. If we want to know ourselves well, to create our best work, a great way is to spend time with people who are different to us, in age, outlook or life experiences. Intergenerational exchange disrupts our habitual thinking, offering fresh perspectives. It can enrich our arts practice and support us all as we age creatively.