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Humanities, Arts and Aging: reaching out from GSA to other international scholarly meetings

By Desmond O'Neill posted 06-25-2019 12:48 PM


One of the goals of the GSA Humanities and Arts Committee for 2019 was to explore linkages with other international organisations which host scholarly meetings relating to arts, humanities and aging. As the first of two communications, Theresa Allison and I give an account of how these topics featured at the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics-European Region (IAGG-ER) in Gothenburg, Sweden, in May this year.

As many of you will remember from the very successful IAGG World congress in San Francisco in 2017, IAGG tends to take on the flavour of the national meeting of the host country or region. So, just as IAGG World 2017 resembled a GSA Annual Meeting in many aspects, IAGG-ER resembled the very successful biannual Nordic Gerontology Congress . With 1500 delegates, high quality presentations, efficient organization, excellent catering and a friendly atmosphere, this was an exemplary showcase for gerontology.

Theresa and I took part in organized symposia of humanities-focused oral presentations, mine on architecture and dementia and hers on representations of care capabilities and age. Her panel filled the room (approximately 40 participants) and yielded a highly productive discussion. The other organized symposia with humanities and arts based themes were similarly well-attended with rigorous discussions. Theresa considered that the success of this format (as opposed to poster sessions or individual oral presentation submissions) has to do with the fact that this is a mode of knowledge sharing that is common to humanities and arts research disciplines. Some of the panel content included: (a) music listening and music lessons for people with dementia; (b) an interrogation of the concept of "capability" from the fields of law and communications studies, comparative literature, and  ethnomusicology; (c) research projects co-created with participants; (d) the role of creative arts engagement in later life. Like IAGG 2017, IAGG-ER had a version of the Age Stage, which served as a small performance venue and an opportunity for the host country to share the local culture during the lunch and coffee breaks: Theresa and I appreciated that the Age Stage performances were not scheduled opposite the academic presentations.

A particular interest of ours was how a session with individually submitted presentations would work. The answer was exceptionally well! For example, one session included cinematic analysis of a movie on dementia through a Bergsonian approach, the bidirectional benefits arising from arts activities with older indigenous Australians, an analysis of participation in German museums by older people, and the effects of an arts on prescription program for older Australians. From seemingly very disparate origins, the discussion and interchanges uncovered synergies and similarities, and would certainly further encourage the promotion of individual Humanities and Arts submissions at future GSA meetings. 

 Desmond (Des) O'Neill, Chair and Theresa Allison, Committee Member, Humanities and Arts Committee, GSA