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Positive impact of the arts on seniors

Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth at Arts in Eldercare Seminar 2017
06 September 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

1. Good morning – let us give the OTAI dancers another round of applause! Thank you for reminding us not to fall into the trap of stereotyping and limiting our seniors on the type and form of art they can or cannot do!

2. It is my pleasure to open the Arts in Eldercare Seminar 2017 today. In its fourth instalment, the seminar has been bringing together like-minded partners to raise awareness of the value of the arts, and its potential in eldercare in Singapore.

Enriching lives through art and culture

3. At the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), we believe that the arts have the power to enrich our lives. Not only does it improve an individual’s social and emotional wellbeing, it also brings diverse communities together and binds us closer as one. Celebrating our artists’ achievements also strengthens our sense of national identity and pride. MCCY is thus committed to growing a vibrant and inclusive arts and culture sector for Singapore.

Growing arts and cultural offerings for seniors

4. To realise this vision, we must ensure that art is accessible to Singaporeans of all races, all ages and all backgrounds. In particular, our cultural agencies and institutions have been active in bringing the arts to seniors, and seniors to the arts.

5. For example, the People’s Association offers a wide variety of programmes designed in collaboration with artists, which has benefitted tens of thousands of seniors each year. These include community-based classes, ranging from mass line and folk dancing, to more specialised interest groups under PAssionArts, such as ukulele-playing and Chinese art and calligraphy. The National Arts Council (NAC) and the Community Development Councils under PA also have the WeCare Arts Fund, which supports Social Service Organisations (SSOs) in developing customised arts programmes for the elderly. Just two days ago, NAC and the CDCs signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to extend the Fund for another two years, and this will enable them to reach out to even more seniors through the arts.

6. Our cultural institutions have also come on board with a suite of programmes. The performance that you saw earlier originated from Esplanade’s “Footwork for Seniors: Hip Hop Dance Project”. This brought together seniors from COMNET Senior Services[1], to participate in a two-month project that aimed to challenge preconceived notions about what seniors can do. Earlier in March this year, I joined a group of Yuhua senior residents for a workshop at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM). At the workshop, these senior residents expressed their creativity by designing their own HDB apartments, after being inspired by the artworks at SAM’s Learning Gallery. Last December, the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) organised the Silver Heritage programmes, which utilised the museum’s collections in creating therapeutic, arts-related activities for seniors. Our museums and heritage institutions also conduct tours in the vernacular languages, so that our seniors can better connect with our history, art and culture.

7. These efforts culminate in large-scale festivals that feature in our arts calendar. For example, Esplanade’s “A Date With Friends” is an annual festival of performances and activities dedicated to our seniors. In recent years, this festival has used theatre as a means for seniors and their families to discuss issues related to ageing, such as dementia, terminal illness and family relationships. NAC also organises the Silver Arts Festival every year. In its sixth edition, this year’s line-up features close to 40 programmes spanning different genres. These programmes are created and performed by seniors, for seniors and their families.

Investing in capability development of partners

8. To extend the effectiveness, reach and sustainability of our efforts, we believe that it is important to invest in knowledge and capability development of our partners. In addition to staging this annual seminar, NAC has also been organising introductory workshops and networking sessions, for artists keen to work with SSOs. Likewise, to equip its partners in the social services sectors, NAC has made available art toolkits that can be used by staff at these organisations. One example would be the Sensory Art Toolkit, which was co-created with the Singapore Association for Mental Health (SAMH). This toolkit provides therapeutic art activities that help stimulate the senses of elderly clients who may have sensory impairments. Our museums, such as the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and The Peranakan Museum (TPM), have also provided disability and dementia awareness talks and workshops as part of their docents’ training programme.

Strengthening research capabilities to assess the impact of the arts on seniors

9. We are also looking to strengthen research capabilities, as this would enable evidence-based policy-making, and guide us to channel resources to areas which are likely to have a significant impact on seniors. Hence, the latest study commissioned by NAC, and undertaken by Dr. Andy Ho from the Nanyang Technological University is a timely one. Although we know intuitively that our seniors benefit when engaged in the arts, I am glad to note that this is now backed by NAC’s study. The study showed that seniors who engage in the arts do experience a greater sense of holistic well-being[2]. In particular, participation in the arts contributes significantly to the mental health and sense of purpose in seniors, empowering them to live an active and fulfilling life[3]. Participation allows them to have fun as a group and confidence in themselves; now, studies have shown that this is true, and we have statistics to work on.

10. Beyond enhancing individual well-being, the arts can also improve one’s social well-being. Participating in the arts enables them to engage with other people, and 3 in 4 seniors agreed that the arts provided them with a better understanding of people from different backgrounds and cultures. Art has that capability to empower relationships and to facilitate understanding between people. These results validate our work in building a more fulfilled and engaged community through the arts. You will hear more from our keynote speakers on their valuable study results.

Conclusion

11. In closing, I hope that the upcoming discussions and sharing will enable all participants to have a deeper appreciation of the importance of the arts in ageing well. Support us on our journey of making art available, accessible and appreciated by all; and let us continue to work together to make Singapore a more caring and inclusive nation. We can all do that through art.

12. Thank you, and I wish you a fruitful seminar ahead!



[1] COMNET Senior Services (COMNET) supports vulnerable and low-income seniors to live independently and actively in the community. COMNET is part of the services provided by AMKSFC, a community-based social service agency.

[2] Seniors who attend arts events experienced enhanced Social Support (+4%), Physical Health (+3%), and Cognitive Functioning (+3%), as compared to those who do not attend arts events.

[3] Seniors who participate in arts activities experienced enhanced Meaning in Life (+10%) and Mental Wellbeing (+4%) as compared to those who do not participate in arts activities.

Last Updated: 07 September 2017

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