Creative Aging Around the Globe with Maura O’Malley (Audio + Transcript)

July 6, 2022

In spring 2022, Maura O’Malley, Lifetime Arts’ CEO/Co-Founder, was a featured speaker at two international conferences: MuseumConnections Paris where she presented, “Social Impact: Engaging with Older Adults,” and Ageing Artfully: Going Global, organized by the Creative Ageing Development Agency (CADA), where she presented, “Connecting Through Creative Aging: Social Distancing ≠ Social Isolation.” Maura was joined by arts and cultural leaders in Europe, Asia, and beyond to discuss Lifetime Arts’ work in the U.S. and learn about the creative aging efforts happening around the world.

In the audio interview below (11:31 min), Maura discusses: 1.) the innovative ways in which arts and cultural leaders in Europe and Asia are serving their older adult communities and combating social isolation 2.) their interests in Lifetime Arts’ capacity building efforts and advocacy around ageism, and 3.) the emerging opportunities that international engagements are creating for Lifetime Arts and cultural institutions across the world.

About Maura O’Malley

This is a photo of Maura O'Malley. Maura has short, red, curly hair, and is wearing a magenta topi. Credit: Jeremy AmarMaura O’Malley, Co-Founder and CEO of Lifetime Arts, leads the development of Lifetime Arts’ national programming models, training programs and resources for Creative Aging stakeholders including teaching artists. Named a 2017 Influencer in Aging by Next Avenue, she promotes the field of Creative Aging at major national conferences in the arts, public library and senior service sectors. She has informed policy and created innovative programming for adults and children with premiere arts and educational organizations including the NYC Department of Education, Studio in a School and Young Audiences/New York.


Maura O’Malley: The issue of social isolation for older adults was really exposed during these past few years. And it’s not just an American thing. It is a worldwide impact. So I look forward to inviting participation from others around the world who are doing this work and then working with them in other areas of the world to see what we can learn from each other. And I do believe that there’s quite a bit that we can learn from each other. There is no one, as we always say, there’s nobody who does not have an aging population. It is a global and permanent situation.

Jacqueline DuMont: So Maura, in June, you presented at the Creative aging Development Agency Virtual Conference, “Aging Artfully: Going Global,” with arts and cultural leaders and educators across the world. And back in March, you served on a panel with arts and culture colleagues at the MuseumConnections Conference in Paris. Could you tell us what you learned from being in the room with arts and cultural leaders and educators across the world and listening to their perspectives, ideas and efforts in serving older adults in their communities?

Maura: Sure, I’m happy to. It was very exciting to have the opportunity to talk with people who are doing work in creative aging, but in very different circumstances than we are here in the United States. And we heard from organizations and leaders from mostly from England and also from Helsinki, Finland, and another couple of countries, somebody from Japan, about the way that they think about older serving older adults and specifically in creative aging work in arts programming.

One of the big differences that I noticed, which was very interesting to me, was that the scale at which these other organizations and countries are working is very, very different from us in the United States here. We were at a much larger scale in terms of across the whole nation, 50 states. Some of these countries, like Finland, is a very tiny country, but they have established collaborations and and programming that is, in fact, much more embedded, I think, than some of the work that we’re doing in the United States. So, for instance, the city of Helsinki has a municipal position who actually are liaisons between the cultural sector and the senior service sector. So those are paid municipal positions and they create opportunities and networking and programming between these two sectors.

I also found to be fascinating is the clear understanding and passion around the work and the importance of of addressing the needs and interests of older adults through the arts. They were there, all of them also having had done this work for many years. Some of these institutions have been working for ten or 15 or more years around the issues of arts and aging. The interesting thing also for us was that the conversation around ageism, it seems that we that they are very cognizant of the issues of ageism and its impact on programming and program delivery. It doesn’t seem to me that they have instituted the kind of training or conversations around ageism, that of of the kind that we have and that we have included in our trainings and in our our work and advocacy. The issue of ageism as a top priority in helping to change the culture around what it means to grow older.

My visit to Paris was particularly interesting in that the group that I was working with, I was the only person who was talking about older adults in the general community. Most of the programming that was discussed and the ideas that were discussed had to do with older adults and the sort of medical model of aging and work specifically and exclusively in the area of cognitive loss and dementia programming. And they are doing some wonderful work that was also international. There was somebody there from Denmark and in other countries, but the work that they were all doing and talking about and promoting was specifically around cognitive loss.

So our work at Lifetime Arts was of tremendous interest to them in that we were talking about older adults, 55 and up, and an incredibly diverse group and not specifically the medical model or the cognitive loss area of the work. So they also don’t deal with sort of infrastructure or capacity building in the way that we do here. Very little training for teaching artists or others around how to do this work and what it means. And so there was tremendous interest on the part of the organizations that I was dealing with in in France that just had not had any access to training for their staffs or for teaching artists or for cultural organizations or senior service organizations. So that was also very, very interesting.

Jacqueline: How have these insights and conversations with these leaders and educators inspired you and Lifetime Arts approaches and strategies in engaging partners, clients and older adult learners?

Maura: The CADA forum basically had a kind of a sister city connection where these two cities of Manchester, England and and Helsinki, Finland have collaborated for years around this work and and talking with each other and sharing resources. And that is a kind of a doable partnership. You know, it’s it’s not the entire country. It’s not the entire state, the entire region. It’s two municipalities that share information. And both have been able to influence their local governments to pay attention and to support creative aging programming. So I think that was of interest for us Lifetime Arts to look at sort of smaller scale but long term relationships. And they also have established this annual convening of people who are actually doing the work at high levels. And so that was also interesting. The way that they structured it was it was a half a day virtual conference and it was very sort of consolidated but intense and and valuable. So I thought that was an also an interesting thing to learn from them.

The museum program in Paris was also very interesting, and in just understanding how important older adult patrons are in museums and how much they are aware of the fact that they need to improve their services, they need to expand their thinking. And so it was very enlightening in that way in that people were really cognizant of the work that they have to do. And seeing this other type of a convening at the International Museum Conference that it was specifically dedicated to older adults and the arts and museums service. And so that was a good thing. We’ve been doing that a little bit here in the United States through the American Alliance of Museums. But to see that it’s happening across the world is also impressive and important.

Jacqueline: What do you want Lifetime Arts to communicate to these potential partners, organizations, institutions like you mentioned, museums and senior serving organizations across the globe who are entering this work or continuing to expand this work in their own communities?

Maura: This work takes time and it takes training, and that’s an area of that. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of training opportunities or opportunities for cross-sector conversation around this work and the actual implementation of the nuts and bolts of how the work gets done. And also I think what would be valuable for Lifetime Arts to do is to help them think through the institutional ramifications of doing this work and what it means in terms of staffing and budgeting and fundraising and public access. And that does not seem to be happening. It’s very programmatic based, not so much infrastructure based or involving the sort of practicalities of how do you market to this group? How do you build community partnerships? Who are the other organizations and people in your community and in your city who should be partnering with you? So I think that that’s work that we’ve been developing for years and years at Lifetime Arts, and I think that that is one of the critical aspects of the kind of service that we provide, and that is something that I think has been well received so far in in these international and, you know, foreign opportunities is the idea of actual structure, infrastructure building, capacity building and going beyond just a single organization’s set of programs.

Jacqueline: So looking from a collaborative and global viewpoint, how can Lifetime Arts as well as arts and cultural institutions and all of these senior serving organizations across the world continue to expand this work from discussion to implementation to a sustainable and regular offering and breaking those sort of challenges and barriers that you’ve mentioned in this conversation to make that possible?

Maura: The issue of social isolation for older adults was really exposed during these past few years. And it’s not just an American thing, it is a worldwide impact. And so I really think that these opportunities to share information and it is about sharing and and and continued networking is something that I think will only serve to serve all of us. So I look forward to inviting participation from others around the world who are doing this work and then working with them in other areas of the world to see what we can learn from each other. And I do believe that there’s quite a bit that we can learn from each other. There is no one, as we always say, there’s nobody who does not have an aging population. It is a global and permanent situation. The more we talk with each other and the more that we share resources and information, I think the better off we’ll all be.