Artists Don't Retire
Gay Hanna (center) at the National Center for Creative Aging's garden symposium with Cynthia Brown of Green Spring Gardens in Annandale, Virginia, and event photographer Ray Fitzgerald. Photo courtesy of National Center for Creative Aging.
This time of year, when the hydrangea bloom, I always think about my grandmother?s student piano recitals held at our local museum, which is now the Chrysler Museum of Norfolk, Virginia. My parents, sister, and I lived with my grandmother in a small house with three pianos and 36 piano students who revolved weekly through the music room doors. Then spring recitals arrived, a time when family and friends gathered to support and encourage what was often a first-time performance, complete with a curtsey or a bow. These recitals and arts exhibitions are blooming across the country---art working across generations---recognizing the emerging talents of youth and the mastery of a life well lived in the arts like my grandmother?s.
Today we are fortunate to have our master artists with us longer, living their creative lives fully and sharing their artistic legacies with multiple generations. The arts know no age, as Joan Jeffri, Director of the Research Center for Arts and Culture at the Teachers College at Columbia University concluded in the recent study Above Ground. Artists do not retire: they remain engaged and participate in studio life despite the challenges that come with aging. Recently, I have been particularly moved by the work of Merce Cummingham, who at advanced age was composing and teaching dance not through his famous leaps across the stage, but with the cumulative wisdom shared through the gesture of his hand.
As the director of the National Center for Creative Aging at George Washington University, I am finding more and more that artists are roles models for aging well, and that living as an artist is a way of being for a lifetime. As Susan Perlstein, founder of Elders Share the Arts and the National Center for Creative Aging, states ? Older people throughout civilization have been considered the keepers of culture. We know that arts and culture build vibrant communities as each generation mentors the next.?
Not long ago, at the height of the cherry blossom season in Washington, DC, the National Center for Creative Aging presented an intergenerational garden symposium, which included a working tour of gardens throughout the city. I was amazed by the variety of settings next to schools and in the vacant lots of the city?s underserved neighborhoods; gardens were springing up everywhere, complete with earth sculptures, mosaics, sculpture, and murals. Once again the arts are working to contribute to a better quality of life, bringing together generations, enticing good food habits with fresh produce and plenty of exercise and---most importantly---encouraging the sharing of stories and building communities.