“Everyone in this room’s got at least one big talent, and we’re all here to find out what that is”
Magic Me participant
One time, I was enjoying a Magic Me arts workshop in a care home lounge, ten pairs of older people and children, with a storyteller and a visual artist. Near me Simone, 9, and Magda 83, were comparing notes on the joys and dilemmas of choosing clothes for a special occasion. I realized that I was witnessing within just this one pair, maybe 180 years of life – from Magda’s birth to Simone’s death, two lifetimes, overlapping in this exchange, this afternoon. What a wealth of stories, ideas, dreams! What rich material for a shared creative project!
Over nearly 35 years, Magic Me has developed a practice of intergenerational arts work, based on creative encounters like this one, and some simple principles, which we’d like to share with you.
Whatever the ages of the younger and older generations involved, whatever their situations and reason for meeting, Magic Me believes that everyone has a past, a present, a future and an imagination. Sometimes in our activities, a child leads or shares a skill, sometimes an adult, but our working practice assumes all have something unique to offer, and the potential to reveal hidden talents.
For us, it’s not enough to have a group of people of different ages, working alongside one another on the same activity, however enjoyable that is. Intergenerational is about an exchange between people, where everyone both gives and receives, gains from others’ points of view. The sum is more than the parts and by working together people create something they could never achieve on their own.
At Magic Me relationship building is conscious, not accidental. We don’t leave it to chance that people will find it easy to meet. Activities are designed to encourage interaction – you can’t do them on your own – and there are many ‘ways in’ for different people.
Our younger and older people come together as equal partners with a common purpose. One secondary school group teamed up with an older people’s community centre to design and make play equipment for a local nursery school. The Nursery headteacher gave a talk on child development, participants of all ages shared experiences of their own favourite toys or caring for under 5’s. The unveiling of the new play house was joyful.
Our focus is not on young people serving older people, or older serving young, though both can offer rich possibilities and both happen throughout our activities. During the past two years of pandemic, interactions have been limited, with generations unable to meet in person, and staff under tremendous time pressures. Great delight has been generated, for instance when school children and older residents of a care scheme created and exchanged artworks to decorate their front gates. But for us, there’s something missing, if there is no doing ‘together’. Separate activities run the risk of reinforcing ageist misconceptions about younger or older people.
We are all ageing, not just those whom society labels ‘old. It’s vital that intergenerational activities explicitly challenge the ‘them’ and ‘us’ idea of generations. Practical meeting and making together leads to knowledge and reflection – on how we can all grow as we age, and our future life journeys.
This blog was created for Global Intergenerational Week 2022 #