People are living longer than ever before. In addition, by 2021 it is estimated that 1 in 5 people over 80 will have dementia. Yet the current economic climate has led to reductions in many services, and there is often a lack of meaningful activity available for older people and people with dementia.
Engaging with these increasingly urgent societal challenges, Andrew Newman has asked: what can be done to improve experiences of aging? Can research help to enrich people’s lives?
Spanning three high-profile research projects, and challenging models based on reminiscence and memory, Newman’s current work instead uses creative and imaginative techniques that use visual art to improve the wellbeing of older people and people with dementia. Focusing on people’s sense of self and on reconnecting them with their communities, this important work has significantly impacted upon the theory, practice and policy surrounding aging populations, and on the ways in which we use cultural property in our everyday lives.
The three projects are set out below:
1. Contemporary visual art and identity construction - wellbeing amongst older people 2009-2011
Andrew Newman (Principal Investigator), Chris Whitehead (Co-Investigator) and Anna Goulding (Co-Investigator) Funded by the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme (£260,000)
As part of the seven year long interdisciplinary research programme The New Dynamics of Aging, and drawing on earlier exploratory work (funded by Arts Council England and Channel Five) that explored older people's responses to the British Art Show 6, this high-profile project aimed to understand how the lives of older people can be improved by examining their use of contemporary visual art as content for identity formation processes. In particular, the research project explored how older people critically engaged with art, their ability to control their self-image and related perceptions of wellness.
Involving 38 older people (some of whom engaged with art galleries and some whom did not) and 7 data collection points over a three year period, the project encompassed multiple interviews, focus groups and observations.
The project partners were: Arts Council England, Equal Arts (a charity facilitating access to the arts for older people), Age Concern Gateshead, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, Older People's Assembly and the Institute for Ageing and Health, Newcastle University.
2. Contemporary visual art and the wellbeing of older people: policy and practice
2012 to 2013
Andrew Newman (Principal Investigator), Chris Whitehead (Co-Investigator) and Anna Goulding (Co-Investigator)
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (£125,000)
This follow-on project aimed to take the research results from Contemporary Visual Art and Identity Construction (above) and to translate them into evidence-based arts policy and interventions designed to improve the wellbeing of older people. Through a series of workshops and seminars with academics, policy makers and practitioners, the project:
- Explored the main issues and problems arising from current practice and policy
- Identified effective arts interventions
- Explored a variety of interventions in different contexts, including a creative arts approach trialed with Tyne and Wear Archive and Museums
Building on the close relationships forged between the research team and arts practitioners and policy makers over a number of years, the project included approximately 100 participants, including arts practitioners and carers, older people from a number of organizations (including a sheltered accommodation unit and an over-60s film club based at an independent cinema), Tyne and Wear Archive and Museums, Equal Arts, Arts Council England, Arts Council Wales, Arts Council Northern Ireland and Creative Scotland.
3. Dementia and Imagination: connecting communities and developing well-being through socially engaged visual arts practice
Gillian Windle (Principal Investigator), Clive Parkinson (Co-Investigator), Andrew Newman (Co-Investigator), Victoria Tischler (Co-Investigator), Vanessa Burholt (Co-Investigator), David O'Brien (Co-Investigator), Robert Woods (Co-Investigator), Barry Hounsome (Co-Investigator) AHRC Communities, Cultures, Health and Wellbeing research grant (£1.5 million)
This on-going project aims to address the marginalisation of people with dementia, who often become disconnected from society through the stigmatizing effect dementia has on taking part in everyday activities. Recognizing that many people with dementia wish to remain within their communities, in the home of their choice, near their family, carers and friends and with the support of health and social care services, the project focuses on re-connecting people with their communities, exploring how participation in community arts interventions can increase well-being and connectedness between the dementia community and wider society.
Using visual art interventions as a catalyst for change, the team will work over three areas:
- The North East - with a focus on care homes
- The North West - with a focus on domestic environments
- The Midlands and South - with a focus on NHS settings
Each of the project partners will deliver the same visual arts intervention over a 12-month period to different groups. Assessing changes over time in the well-being and social connectedness of people with dementia, and how these changes can in turn have positive effects in communities (e.g. can facilitate change in societal attitudes and promote participation and inclusion) through social contagion, the processes and outcomes of the research will be assessed using a range of quantitative and qualitative approaches, and will use art both as a tool for analysis and for visual, creative representations of the results.
Critically challenging existing theories and research methods that focus either on reminiscence or on easing the burden placed on caregivers, Newman and his colleagues have instead developed an innovative approach that aims to improve the lives of older people and people with dementia through imagination and creativity.
For example, in Contemporary Visual Art and Identity Construction the team found that participants used the artworks to define themselves in the context of broader society, using their life histories to establish a sense of continuity e.g. after a trip to see Knitted Lives (at the Shipley Art Gallery, Gateshead), one participant started knitting again, re-establishing links to her past and setting up a group for others outside the project. This approach was then developed during Dementia and Imagination, where workshops led by art practitioners for older people and their carers used the art works on display in the gallery as stimulus to create something new.
Newman and his colleagues have also worked to embed the research in a number of ways. For example, they have produced training and resources for carers and arts professionals working with older people, rolled the project out nationally via the Culture and Wellbeing website and incorporated research findings into MA programmes delivered at Newcastle University. A further training video and related materials produced in partnership with Equal Arts will be launched in 2014. Disseminating findings via existing networks and those built during the course of the projects, the team hope to reach community and policy partners, arts organisations, museums, galleries, health and social care practitioners, charities and local government, ensuring the maximum benefit and impact for research, as well as contributing towards the future sustainability of the work.
Finally, using Bourdieu’s constructs of field, habitus and cultural capital, Newman and his colleagues have explored notions of identity and well-being through art interventions in a range of peer-reviewed publications. Adopting predominantly sociological techniques rather than those currently associated with humanities, they have significantly contributed to academic discussions that seek to understand the processes of identity formation.
Working to fundamentally change the structure of practice and policy involving older people and people with dementia, Newman’s work is of huge social significance, enriching the lives of people who often have very poor experiences of care and wellbeing.
The following publications are available:
- Newman A, Goulding A, Whitehead C. Contemporary visual art and the construction of identity: maintenance and revision processes in older adults. International Journal of Heritage Studies 2013,
- Newman A, Goulding A, Whitehead C. How cultural capital, habitus and class influence the responses of older adults to the field of contemporary visual art. Poetics 2013, 41(5), 456-480.
- Newman A. Imagining the social impact of museums and galleries: interrogating cultural policy through an empirical study. International Journal of Cultural Policy 2013, 19(1), 120-137.
- Goulding A, Newman A. Contemporary Visual Art and Identity Construction - Exploring Wellbeing Amongst Older People. Engage Arts and Health Special Issue 2012, 30(2), 67-76.
- Newman A, Goulding A, Whitehead C. The Consumption of Contemporary Visual Art: Identity Formation in Late Adulthood. Cultural Trends 2012, 21(1), 29-45.
- Buckley B, Goulding A, Newman A, Pringle E, Whitehead C. Artists, Young people and Galleries, Artists' Insights. Engage Journal 2011, 27, 12-26.
- Newman A, Goulding A. The impact of engagement with contemporary visual art on the wellbeing of older adults. In: Aging Clinical and Experimental Research: VII European congress, Healthy and active ageing for all Europeans - II. 2011, Bologna, Italy: Editrice Kurtis s.r.l.
- Newman A, Goulding AM. The role of social networks in determining the nature of older people's engagement with contemporary visual art and its relationship to wellbeing. In: GSA Annual Scientific Meeting. 2011, San Diego, California, USA: Oxford University Press.
For more information on the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, please visit: http://www.newdynamics.group.shef.ac.uk/
The projects have also featured in the following videos, the first of which was shown at the ESRC’s Impact Awards of the Year in London:
All Our Stories: Research for Community Heritage
In 2013, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) launched All Our Stories, a one-off programme of grants ranging from £3,000 to £10,000 that helped community groups delve into their local histories. From learning more about the key figures in Girl Guiding to a history of the railways, All Our Stories gave everyone the chance to explore the local histories, customs and traditions important to them, and to share what they found with others.
As part of this, the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded 20 universities and museums across the UK to link researchers with community groups considering applying to All Our Stories and then to support groups that had received funding. Working as the Principal Investigator over two phases of this project for Newcastle University, Andrew Newman and his colleagues worked in collaboration with a wide range of groups in the North East of England to co-produce and deliver a wide range of projects and activities. Perhaps most significantly, the project developed equal relationships between the university and local community groups.
The project took place in two phases:
Once awarded the grant, Newman and his colleagues held three open days in the North-East of England. These open days provided an opportunity for community groups to find out about the resources and expertise made available through the university, and for researchers to understand the nature of the potential research projects. The sessions included a number of informal talks, discussions, breakout sessions, one-to-one meetings, a ‘marketplace’ and technology demonstrations.
The team then supported groups through the application process, helping them to construct projects. For example, Durham South Girl Guiding developed ‘Over A Century of Women Leading the Way’, a project that recorded key figures in guiding from the past by asking members to share memories, and photos, of people, events, celebrations, trips, camps and international developments that were ahead of their time in order to produce a DVD, booklet, a County Guiding Timeline and archive handling boxes to encourage further exploration into the past.
Once the applications to All Our Stories had been made, and the grants awarded, Newman and his colleagues worked with around 10 successful local community groups to implement the projects. They did so by first identifying training needs within the groups, and then setting up a number of training days that provided bespoke support. For example, the team put together training on exhibition production, the use of digital media, and how to carry out and present oral histories. They also worked with groups to provide on-going support, visiting groups and community partners to develop learning points, and to help put collections on display.
For example, the North Tyneside Steam Railway Association, based at the Stevenson Railway Museum, wanted to explore the history of railways in the area. Led by association chairman Malcolm Dunlavey, the project titled ‘Our Railway in Years Gone By’ recorded and documented the knowledge, experience and memories of the Association’s volunteers, historians, academics and local communities. Aiming initially to enhance and invigorate the visitor interpretation on the site and to develop the skills of the volunteers to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project, the project also encouraged people from local villages to come forward and share their experiences of collieries and railways. All this research will be compiled in an interactive exhibition, which will open at the Stevenson Railway Museum.
More information on All Our Stories and other HLF grants can be found at: http://www.hlf.org.uk/Pages/Home.aspx A free PDF publicizing the Research for Community Heritage initiative can be downloaded here. You can follow The North Tyneside Steam Railway Associations’ progress here: http://www.ntsra.org.uk/hlf2012.html