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Qualitative Inquiry On The Needs Of Seniors And The Role Of Participatory Arts

A report for the National Arts Council based on interviews with participants of the Silver Arts Festival 2014

By Community Cultural Development (Singapore)

Felicia Low and Suzanah Karim

 

Executive Summary

This report aims to present an understanding of the needs of seniors in Singapore based on the responses of 20 interviewees who were participants of a national senior arts festival, namely the Silver Arts Festival 2014. The interviewees of this study comprise of first time Silver Arts participants, repeat Community Arts Project (CAP) participants and non-Community Arts Project participants. Interviewees were randomly selected by the National Arts Council and invited to participate voluntarily in unstructured interviews, which aimed to elicit their views on the needs of the elderly in Singapore, arts engagement for the elderly and reflections on their participative role in the Silver Arts Festival 2014.

The Council for Third Age has been promoting ‘active ageing’ amongst seniors in Singapore. Seniors upon retirement are encouraged to take part in new life engagements that provide for continued learning, employability and social engagement.  Interview respondents reflected an interest in the arts and viewed the activities of the Silver Arts festival as a way for them to learn something new and to socially engage with others in a positive environment. Common concerns amongst the interviewees include anxiety over expenses to be paid for these activities, as well as issues of health and financial security for their future. All respondents unanimously felt that loneliness and isolation were the main needs of the elderly in Singapore.

The above responses, along with published critiques of the limits of ‘active ageing’, highlight the fact that ‘active ageing’ is likely to take place amongst seniors who have the financial and physical ability to participate in activities of their interest. Seniors who are financially strapped, or physically and mentally unable to actively age are seen to be ‘unsuccessful’ agers. This segregation between successful and unsuccessful agers deepens ageism in Singapore, as the former is more acceptable and appreciated than the latter, further isolating the less acceptable unsuccessful agers from mainstream society. Asian family and religious values also indicate that other forms of ageing activities, such as grandchild-sitting or the pursuit of spiritual fulfillment in later life, is of more importance than leisurely activities of active ageing. Active ageing, and its myriad of activities (including arts activities) is hence not a one-size-fit-all solution to ageing issues in Singapore.

Based on the findings of the report, it is recommended that variations in terms of class, gender, ethnic and religious cultural practices be considered in the design of future activities for seniors. To counter issues of ageism, arts activities could also promote intergenerational intelligence by focusing on the quality of engagement within age-varied groups. These activities could also include themes of deep ageing and engagement with those in the 4th age to counter ‘anti-decline’ narratives that contribute to ageism in Singapore.

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