Creative Aging in Senior Centers: A Grounded Theory Study Open Access

Creative Aging in Senior Centers: A Grounded Theory StudyThis dissertation uses a grounded theory approach to explore creative aging and the potential for creative aging in senior centers. Creative aging is broadly defined as exploring one’s creative potential in the later years of life. More specifically, creative aging advocates have defined creative aging as professionally run arts programs for seniors with a focus on social engagement and skills mastery. The goals of this research are (1) to describe the current and potential role, if any, of senior centers as settings for creative aging; (2) to provide recommendations for increasing creative aging programs within senior centers; and (3) to build theory related to creative aging as a model of aging. To this end, I conducted interviews with senior center administrators and organizations involved in creative aging initiatives. From my interviews, I found that senior center administrators had similar understandings of their role as administrators, the role of senior centers in society, and the changing demands brought on by the aging baby boom population. Administrators believed that seniors need to remain active and engaged as they age. However, they respected seniors’ preferences for how to remain active and engaged, rather than imposing external expectations on them. Administrators tried to provide a wide range of programs for seniors, with an emphasis on programs that promoted social engagement and wellness.With one notable exception, senior center administrators had limited knowledge of creative aging. Furthermore, arts programs at all but two senior centers were limited. I found that senior centers that had administrators with a passion for the arts and that had certain structural features that allowed for the adoption of arts programs without additional funding were more likely to have robust arts programs. Based on this finding, I provided recommendations on how to increase the likelihood of creative aging programs at senior centers. These recommendations include (1) teaching organizations and individuals in the aging and arts fields about creative aging; (2) building communities of practice around creative aging; (3) locating external funding sources for creative aging programs; and (4) disseminating and encouraging research on creative aging. I also argue that creative aging proponents should clarifying the unique dimensions of creative aging. To this end, creative aging proponents should continue to focus on creative aging as tangible, arts-based interventions for seniors. However, creative aging proponents should also be open to future research on arts engagement and to broader understandings of creativity. To avoid the shortcomings of academic models of aging, I suggest that creative aging proponents also emphasize the normative dimensions of creative aging. To this end, the framing of creative aging should take into account the effects of resources, health, and other variables on the aging process and the heterogeneity of the aging experience. By framing the conceptual and normative dimensions of creative age, I posit that creative aging provides senior centers with an opportunity to meet the demands of baby boom generation and the needs of older and more vulnerable seniors.

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