News: April 2015

Arts for ageing society: Japan study tour

Mim Bernard, Professor of Social Gerontology, was an invited participant on a week-long study tour to Tokyo. Jointly organised by the British Council Japan, the Baring Foundation and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK, this was the first study tour of its kind to explore potential links between the Japanese and UK cultural sectors and to consider ways in which the arts can make positive and long-lasting impacts on the lives of older people.

The Japanese hosts from the British Council arranged a packed programme, including meetings and discussions, presentations and visits, roundtables and public forums, and a major 'future imagining' session with over 120 participants. Throughout the week, and with the aid of simultaneous translation, the group met and had rich conversations with artists, caregivers, policy-makers, researchers, arts professionals, designers, representatives from cultural institutions, the private and business sector, social enterprises, NGOs and community groups active in ageing, as well as with individuals from key ministries and government agencies.

The aim of the week was to open up debate about how the cultural sector in Japan can deliver effective and well-evidenced programmes that will enrich older people's lives; establish cross-sectoral and collaborative projects; and develop the cultural infrastructure to deliver a strong Cultural Olympiad in 2020, when 29.1% of the population will be aged over 65.

Mim was the only researcher amongst the 18-strong group which included colleagues from the funding bodies, as well as the Director of Engagement and Audiences from Arts Council England; practitioners from cultural institutions and organisations across the UK; and colleagues from the British Council and the National Arts Council in Singapore.

A personal highlight for Mim was an inspiring visit to Saitama Arts Theatre where, in 2006, acclaimed international Director Yukio Ninagawa established his Saitama Gold Theatre. Having interviewed 1200 applicants, aged 55 and over, from across Japan, he accepted 48 older people with little or no theatre background onto a year of intensive theatre training. They have been performing on the theatre's main stage ever since. The Baring Foundation and our Japanese hosts are investigating possibilities for bringing Gold Theatre to the UK.

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