Next Avenue Readers Find Happiness and Connection in the Arts

The results of a Vitality Arts survey highlight the impact of creative pursuits

Part of the Vitality Arts Special Report

“Because it makes me happy.” This was the top response to a question in a recent Next Avenue Vitality Arts survey on why our readers value participating in a favorite pursuit geared toward the arts.

With the 10-question survey, posted in August on the Next Avenue Facebook page and distributed in our weekly Next Avenue newsletter, we wanted to find out not only why readers find themselves drawn to the arts, but how they participate. We also wanted to discover if, through Next Avenue’s Vitality Arts reporting, they have developed more awareness about the positive impact the arts can have on aging.

Many Types of Arts Activities

Next Avenue readers are an active group. From bowling to book clubs and from choirs to comedy classes, more than 60 percent participate in group activities on a regular basis. Specifically, 53 percent engage in the arts in some way — examples include dancing, painting, acting, writing groups, playing music and more.

And if they don’t know, or want to learn more, about a specific facet of the arts, 73 percent indicated they have considered taking a class with an arts focus.

During the past year, Next Avenue has featured several stories on classes and workshops offering opportunities for older adults to learn about a pursuit they’ve long found intriguing and are now ready to try, such as How You Can Overcome Opera Phobia, Older Adults Paint En Plein Air Where It’s 19 Degrees, and Beating Those Music Beginner’s Blues.

Some readers are already taking action. “Learning to play the piano (on my bucket list) at age 74,” one wrote.

Benefits of the Arts

In addition to the happiness factor, Next Avenue readers believe there are other important reasons to participate in the arts, including the value of connection (“because it’s a good way to meet other people and make friends”) and feeling “a sense of purpose” which speaks to the desire to stay active and remain engaged in a particular area of interest.

One retired reader said, “I am doing a variation of the activities I did in junior high school; i.e. saxophone in the school band, mountain dulcimer in dulcimer jam group, and am currently in a watercolor group. Retirement is like going to day camp with all new friends. I love it.”

Another reader revealed, “I sing in two groups and love it. Was a great way to meet new people when we moved to D.C. from Louisiana to help with our grandsons.”

Like the previous respondent, this reader also values participation in more than one artistic endeavor, adding that “painting landscapes and seascapes have been good for my brain, too.” (For more on the impact creative pursuits can have on the aging brain, read Scientists and Sopranos Partner Up for ‘Music and the Mind.’)

Overcoming the Challenges of Age

One other area we were interested in learning more about was whether our survey respondents believed their age impacts their participation in the arts or other activities.

When asked if they ever felt stereotyped because of age, two thirds responded ‘yes.’ And 53 percent said they felt they’ve been discriminated against due to their age. Just over 60 percent believe that people underestimate their abilities or talents due to age.

To help combat this, one reader indicated that developing a broader social circle has had a positive impact, saying: “Try new things and be open to younger people as friends. I have friends who are 30 years younger who are a delight to me.”

However, we learned that other people’s perceptions are not an obstacle to participating in something new, according to the majority of the Vitality Arts survey respondents. When asked, “Have you ever decided not to try a new activity because you were worried about other people judging you negatively because of your age?” more than 70 percent said ‘no.’

One of our 2018 Influencers in Aging, Dominic Campbell, the co-founder of Creative Aging International, addressed this topic, saying, “Attitudes are influenced by ‘story;’ the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the ones told about us by others. We become the ‘old’ we have in our mind’s eye.”

Concerns about Program Costs

In response to our survey, some readers indicated that  financial constraints can affect their ability to participate in the arts or other activities.

“Some classes are priced way too high, a lot more than I can afford. Example: At my local arts center, classes run from $100 to $400, most in the $150 to $200 range. For 6-8 weeks of classes, how many seniors can afford to take even one class?” noted one respondent.

In our Vitality Arts reporting, we’ve discovered several low-cost options for a variety of activities, including classes and events at local public  libraries. We’ve also featured several stories on creative and inexpensive alternatives to pursuing a passion, such as 8 Tips to Become a Painter at Any Age and The Easy, Inexpensive Way to Make Your Own Movie.

The Value of the Arts is Ongoing

Whether trying something new or returning to a former passion, our readers value the opportunity to enhance this time in their lives by including the arts. Here’s a sampling of what we heard:

“I am trying new things, taking classes, meeting new people. My senior years have been a great way to explore, bring purpose to my life, and just grow!”

“I have always been curious and love learning. I am grateful for retirement so I can spend time on my true passions.”

“Arts have been a rich part of my life since childhood. I don’t expect I will ever stop participating.”

By Julie Pfitzinger
Julie has worked as a writer and editor for more than 20 years; most recently she was a managing editor for the community lifestyle magazine group at Tiger Oak Media in Minneapolis, where she also served as editor of Saint Paul Magazine. Julie can be reached via email at jpfitzinger@nextavenue.org    Follow her on Twitter @juliepfitzinger.

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