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Praise Be to AARP

Category: Alliance Blog
There are plenty of organizations for museums to look to and partner with as they explore creative aging, including AARP. Photo credit: Chris Lawton on Unsplash.

One of the many benefits of advanced age is that one can become a member of AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons. But despite the name, the word “retired” seems to be losing its applicability, if one reads any of AARP’s publications. For example, the latest issue of AARP The Magazine features a section entitled “Age is the Gift,” with an introduction that reads:

“More years provide us with more time to bond, more time to create, more time to find our community—and also enough perspective to know a good thing when we’ve got it.”

I would be hard-pressed to sum up the spirit of creative aging in a more eloquent way. The article goes on to highlight some people who, while remarkable, are in today’s world less and less unique. Here are some of the people they highlight:

  • Sueko Nakamura, 71, and Yoshi Shiroma, 97, are pictured in their karaoke costumes. They are heading out for the evening with a firm belief in the Japanese concept of “ikigai,” which roughly means “reason for getting up.” They get up, they stay up, and they are invigorated by their participation in activities that are fun and engender community. Even karaoke! They live in Okinawa, which boasts of having more than nine-hundred residents over ninety years of age. Rock on, Sueko and Yoshi!

    So, why not some mission-related karaoke in your museum? Bring it on!

  • Wu Difang, 66, and Long Junyou, 75, are featured in a spotlight on the two-dozen dance halls in the Chinese town of Chongqing, most of them filled with older people who, we’re told, prefer the 8:30 to 11 a.m. slot for dancing! Despite the couple featured, the text assures us that one doesn’t need to be accompanied to dance the night away!

    So, colleagues, why not some mission-related dancing in the galleries and halls? We have done it in museums I have headed, and it’s a gas!

  • Next is Marilyn Church, 79. We can’t quite see her because her back is to us as she leans into a painting she is finishing. A retired courtroom artist, Marilyn is now holding her own court in her New York loft apartment, painting pieces that evoke mystery, “ambiguity, and abstraction that is all my own,” she says.

    So, how about adding more art studios in our workshops and halls, eh? Let’s do this not “for” the older population but “with” them!

These three examples are great illustrations of what an increasing number of active older adults are up to lately. The number is only likely to increase as the population of older people in our midst grows. Think about it; there are huge opportunities here.

And, as you are thinking about it, take comfort in the fact that we in museums do not have to “go it alone.” All we need to do is lift up our heads, look around, and join in! There are many other kindred efforts happening around us. One example is the Age-Friendly Communities initiative, a joint brainchild of AARP and the World Health Organization, which has already been successfully initiated in twenty nations and one-thousand communities.

Age-Friendly Communities is based on the understanding that, as populations age, there are myriad ways in which they can stay active and healthy. The initiative works with communities to ensure that older adults are provided with, and can contribute vibrantly to, well-planned communities that work to enhance their opportunities. It all adds up to increased health and happiness for the beneficiaries.

So, if you are considering expanding your museum’s programs for this rapidly growing demographic in our society, I suggest you start by seeing if your own community is already engaged in the Age-Friendly Community effort. And if they are not, why not get the ball rolling yourself?

AARP is a master at addressing the health and wellbeing of older populations, and we are very thankful for the rich context they provide for the creative aging work we are undertaking with museums!

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