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Aging Well: Expanding horizons and exploring creativity

Exploring your creativity later in life provides tangible benefits for your health and wellness.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

Research has shown that older adults who engage with the arts in a group setting — anything from dancing to a poetry group to singing in a choir — enjoy tangible benefits in multiple areas of health. This has to do with feelings of mastery, and with social connection. 

“This research, combined with Dr. Gene Cohen’s description of life after 50 as a time of potential and inner growth known as the Creative Age, forms a foundation for using creativity to support personal wellness,” says Caroline Edasis, director of community engagement for Mather. Mather is the organization that’s bringing The Mather, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better, to Tysons, Virginia, in 2024. 

Susan Fine agrees. An artist with a studio and gallery in Washington, D.C., she plans to move to The Mather. She explains that, after a successful career in health care, “I went to Glassell School of Art at the Museum of Fine Art Houston when I was 60. And I so enjoyed the experience! You can be more creative the older you get — child-rearing responsibilities and traditional work may recede, and you open up to other things. There are so many directions you can go in art; I focus on painting and mixed media.”

Midge Scelzo, who is also planning to move to The Mather, has a similar story: “I worked in banking for 25 years, then as CFO for tech startups. In 2009, we moved to Florida and I started a new CFO job… but I realized I wanted to get back to art. I wanted to challenge myself.” She joined a group of artists and started painting. “I’m loving it. It uses a different part of my brain. I’m still that finance person — detail-oriented and organized — but art relaxes me, and I can tune out the world.”

 Creativity as Wellness

Mather encourages residents in their existing communities — not just those who are established artists — to try creating new art forms in Open Art Studios. These studios, which position arts engagement as a vehicle for wellness, not just recreation, inviting both lifelong and new artists to explore their own Creative Age in a welcoming group setting. 

“While working in diverse media including ceramics and mixed media/painting, participants often realize alongside their peers that they have an untapped expressive ability, a new love for a specific media, or a personal project to pursue,” says Caroline. “One of our master’s-level facilitators, trained in art and psychology, is present to support each individual’s creative journey, and that person helps transform the group into an uplifting community in which residents learn more about each other and themselves.”

Inquiry-Based Art Viewing

Mather also has a signature approach to art appreciation — one that mirrors how contemporary museum practices are evolving. Rather than teaching or encouraging art appreciation with lectures from an expert such as a docent, they focus on inclusive, inquiry-based art-viewing techniques. 

“Did you know that the average person spends 17 seconds looking at a work of art in a museum?” asks Caroline. “In our visual literacy programs, we often spend a full hour describing an image, sharing stories conjured by the work of art, or even creating group poems in response to the work. These techniques focus on the interests, experiences, and curiosity of viewers to deliver intellectually stimulating content while challenging us to bring culture down from the pedestal and into our lives.” 

“This method is a great way to improve people’s cognition, and their interest and engagement with life,” says Eileen Mandell, who plans to move to The Mather when it opens. Eileen, who is currently the community relations director at 1st Stage theater in Tysons, has been immersed in the world of theater as well as studied and practiced various art media. “I’m looking forward the creative arts programming that The Mather will offer,” she says. “I’m a creative person in general, and I want to act as an art maven there.” 

The Mather has already formed relationships with local arts organizations, and plans to offer inquiry-based art experiences for residents on-site in museums, theaters, galleries, and more.

Mather recognizes that creativity is about much more than visual art. They encourage everyone to recognize aging as a time of great creative potential, whether through music, poetry, storytelling, dance and movement, or even gardening — the sky is truly the limit.

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be.

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