The ageing population offers the opportunity for museums to think about, and reflect on, how they work with people in the later stages of their lives, and the perceptions they have about older people, their interests and their needs. Whilst older people are an established audience for museums and galleries – with significant and powerful work taking place around memory and reminiscence, health and wellbeing and the arts – there appear to be a number of unconscious assumptions that museums make about older people that shape the activities and opportunities available to them. In particular, museums have the tendency to assume that the best of older people’s lives are in the past (judging by the significant focus placed on memory), they focus on their health conditions (e.g. dementia, stroke), see them as passive consumers of talks and lectures, or as a free workforce in the form of volunteers.
Whilst these activities are undoubtedly very beneficial to some older people, what if museums did things differently? We know that older people benefit greatly from creative and cultural activities, with evidence from Age UK’s 2018 report Creative and Cultural Activities and Wellbeing in Later Life and Equal Art’s Hen Power project.
How might museums build on their work with older people and extend it, thinking of new ways to engage older people?