Andrew Eaton-Lewis, commissioned by the Baring Foundation and Luminate, has written a report on the numerous projects across Scotland that are, in diverse and sometimes groundbreaking ways, supporting older people in engaging with the arts.
The purpose of this publication is to collect some of their stories in one place – and to speculate on whether these various stories actually amount to one story, bigger than the sum of its parts. Does the combined work of these projects amount to a significant cultural change in Scotland? And if so, how is it possible to build on this?
There are various reasons why such a cultural shift is timely and important, in Scotland and beyond. Firstly, the number of older people in our society is increasing significantly. The Scottish government’s own most recent figures show that the number of people aged 65 and over will have increased by 53% between the years 2014 and 2039. Meanwhile, Scottish Household Survey data shows that, between 2012 and 2015, attendance and participation in arts events increased across all age groups over 45 – and, most notably, by 9 per cent among those aged 75 and over. However there is still much work to be done – the oldest age band still demonstrated a far lower level of engagement in cultural activity in 2015 than any other.
Secondly, there is a growing evidence base that the arts are good for our health. Creative Health: The Arts For Health and Wellbeing, a report published in July 2017 by the UK government’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing presented a persuasive case that the arts help people recover from illness, live longer and more fulfilled lives, and also save money in health and social services.
The many examples it offers include Artlift, an ‘arts on prescription’ service in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, which found that after six months of working with an artist, participants had 37 percent less demand for GP appointments and their need for hospital admissions dropped by 27 per cent. Former UK arts minister Alan Howarth told reporters following the report’s publication that the arts “can help people take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing in ways that will be crucial to the health of the nation.”