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Aging the Creative Way

June 2, 2016 – If you see more grey hair in your venue, don’t panic. The whole population is aging; not just your audience.

As we head into the summer (and needed vacation), CAPACOA is looking back at a busy fall and winter seasons in the areas of arts and health. Let’s begin with aging.

Last fall, CAPACOA collaborated with Arts Health Network Canada to design a workshop on Aging and the Arts. Presented at the Western Arts Alliance Conference and the CAPACOA Conference, the workshop was well received and generated passionate conversations.

Aging and Arts Trivia

Graphic representation of brain plasticity stimulated by the arts.The workshop examined a number of demographic trends as well as fascinating facts on creative aging.

Did you know that there are now more seniors in Canada than children aged 14 and under?

According to demographic projections at Statistics Canada, the number of seniors will continue to increase and they will live longer. By 2045, older seniors (aged 80 and over) will represent about 10% of the total Canadian population. Moreover, seniors will be much more culturally diverse than they are now.

And did you know that people attending cultural events (at least one event a week) lived longer than those who rarely attended?

Research has also shown that community-based professionally run arts programs have real preventative effects for age-related changes in abilities.

Insights for performing arts organizations

Aging brings forth new paradigms, each of which bears impact on programming and marketing decisions. Among other things, there are accessibility issues, affordability issues, and audience segmentation issues. For example, if aging boomers don’t like to be addressed by their age, then marketers need to address them by their values, attitudes, lifestyles. Consequently, segmentation models may need to move away from the traditional indicators of age and income.

Here are additional insights that emerged from the small group discussions during the workshops.

Access considerations:

Graphic insights from the workshop at the Western Arts Alliance Conference.
Graphic insights from the workshop at the WAA Conference.
  • Make sure your venue meets basic accessibility standards, and add more wheelchair seats with companion seats.
  • Implement a walker check system for busy matinee performances.
  • Print house programs with larger fonts or make it available in PDF format through an app.
  • New technologies such as Hearing Loop can transmit sound directly to hearing aids and cochlear implants.
  • The Milton Centre for the Arts has exemplary accessibility policies. They developed the "Stage Fly" mobile app, which allows for the broadcast of American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation or caption services within the theatre.
  • Matinee performance times are key, because some senior centres have their own transportation if it’s the right time. Performance duration must also be taken into consideration. For some people, the 75-minute show is simply too long.
  • Accessibility projects and programs can be opportunities for sponsorships with companies that service older adults.

Adapted marketing and programs:

  • Discounts can be offered to encourage intergenerational outings with grandparents and grandchildren.
  • Many seniors are singles. Have a date night for singles with pre or post show social event. Reserve a row for singles.
  • Food is a pretty common idea for group events, but it might be a particularly important component for programs with seniors considering how challenging food preparation at home, and outings to the grocery store can be for older adults with limited mobility.
  • Present performances in assisted living / retirement residences. These may be the "next gen house concerts". Artist preparation/training for this particular presentation environment may be necessary.
  • There are a number of opportunities for creative aging programming for performing arts companies. For example, Invertigo Dance Theatre, in Los Angeles, has a program called Dancing through Parkinson's. It’s both for people living with Parkinson’s disease and their friends and families. Program participants have become some of their most loyal patrons and ticket buyers - even going so far as to have competitions to recruit new attendees to the company's shows.

Catering to the tastes of older audiences:

  • Catering appears less and less necessary over time. Today's seniors have been exposed to different art forms and are looking for new experience.
  • Diversity in programming is needed. A number of events may appeal to hybrid audiences. Similarly, the same event can be pitched differently to different audiences: seniors are generally interested in product; gen Y/Z, in clever campaigns.

For more information about this workshop and for additional resources on arts and aging, visit the Presenter’s Toolkit.


Recent and Related News

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Where Does Audience Research Takes Us Next?

Tilting Towards Aging


Prepared by Frédéric Julien for CAPACOA and Arts Health Network Canada