Second edition of the report by The Baring Foundation, written by David Cutler with new case studies from councils across the UK
There’s a wonderful scene in the film ‘Dead Poets’ Society’, in which the late Robin Williams, who plays an unorthodox English teacher in an exclusive, stuffy New England private boys school, tries to persuade his students of the value of the arts. He gathers his students, the sons of lawyers, doctors, bankers and industrialists in a huddle in the centre of the classroom, and whispers, “Boys … medicine, law, these are noble pursuits, but they merely sustain life. Poetry … that’s what we stay alive for”.
For me, this simple statement speaks to the true depth and power of the arts for older people. This report, and the case studies it describes, provide an excellent summary of the many benefits that the arts can bring to older people in improving their health and wellbeing, maintaining their independence, and reducing the costs of care. However, the report also highlights the impact the arts can have on tackling loneliness; and loneliness has been identified by older people themselves as one of, if not the most important factor affecting their quality of life. It is the profound impact of the arts on the quality of older people’s lives, the meaning that it gives to their lives, that is perhaps of greatest relevance to local authorities. After all, isn’t improving the quality of life (and quality of life chances) of its residents the ultimate raison d’être of a local authority, and isn’t art in all its wondrous forms, together with a sense of purpose, ultimately what we all stay alive for?
Dr Danny Ruta MBBS, MSc, MFPH. Director of Public Health, Lewisham Council. Honorary Senior Lecturer, King’s College London
Image: Moving Memory Dance Theatre Company perform ‘Beyond the Marigolds’. Photo by Matt Wilson