Senior Creative Producer, Jan Ford, recently spoke at the British Society of Gerontology's ESRC Festival of Science about ageing creatively. Here's her story:
Where would I be without creativity?
My name is Jan Ford and I’m Senior Creative Producer with Orchestras Live. Orchestras Live is a national music organisation and we believe that orchestras are for everyone and that live orchestral music has the power to inspire people for a lifetime.
I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on my own creativity, where it came from, identify the pre-requisites for creativity, and why everyone should have access to the skills needed, and the opportunity to be creative.
So firstly, let’s unpack my job – Senior Creative Producer. What does that say about me?
Senior – that I am old! I’d rather say that I have experience.
Creative – that I use my intellectual ability, which has been shaped by creative interventions, to come up with ideas, make creations, invent and make discoveries that that enable people in a variety of circumstances be more creative themselves and therefore improve their wellbeing and that of others around them.
Producer – I am a creative intermediary, I use my creative skills, acquired over many years, hence the title ‘senior’, to give people relevant and inspirational experiences of music that helps them to be more creative.
Orchestras Live collaborates with a huge number of partners and orchestras in schools, care settings, sheltered housing, theatres, concert halls, village halls, museums, libraries, galleries and even prisons. Creativity helps me imagine, conceptualise, visualise, problem solve, communicate and in my life outside work, relax. I’m a ‘culture vulture’. Holidays usually involve something cultural – a gallery, theatre, concert, heritage site, food, wine, etc. I think I am very privileged. Not everyone in our society has the chance to age creatively.
So, I was thinking, where did my creativity come from?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been exposed to art and culture. My parents loved books so the trip to the library every Saturday was the treat of the week. I’d disappear into the basement of Wood Green library, where the children’s books lived, surfacing hours later with a pile of new books – literature and poetry – to devour.
Dad was a keen photographer and constructed a dark room in a cupboard under the stairs. Watching his photographs develop in the orange aura of the darkroom light was magic and I’ve inherited his love of photography and visual arts. There was always a record player – Dad loved Wagner, a love not inherited by me, and Mum: Ella and Sinatra. Mum and I made clothes and knitted – more for financial necessity than creative endeavour. I had an enormous bakelite radio in my room; with a cassette player and with a little microphone wedged against the radio speaker, I’d record the top twenty every week.
I was dragged round galleries and stately homes (much like our kids have been) every holiday not realising how much I would come to appreciate architecture and art. Introduced to jazz, under duress, led to saxophone and clarinet lessons – goodness knows what my parents had to go without in order to fund those – ending up playing in the band I had been taken to see!
I was the first in my family to go to University – took a performing arts degree – and have now been 40 years working in the creative industries. A life full of creativity, fuelled by culture and the arts. It’s part of me, indelibly written in my soul, passed on to my children, and will be with me to the end.
Let’s have a look at my graphic – which is far from the finished item – but summarises some of my thinking so far. I've tried to show how arts interventions and opportunities help us age creatively. Experiencing and learning about the arts gives us knowledge and skills, fires the imagination which makes us more creative people, impacting on our own lives, those of others and society more generally. Our creativity is supported and inspired by our social networks, and of course we need resources – the art and the artists are the resources we need to develop our creativity.
Let’s remember that creativity isn’t art. It sometimes produces art, but it makes life better too – think great inventors, designers, architects, researchers, advances in science and medicine. So it’s art that helps make society more creative which in turn leads to a more innovative and exciting world, building cultural capital – helping us to experience awe and wonder.
Those experiences and education have made me a creative person and I would argue have improved my prospects, got me through some dark days and made me friends for life. I have a pretty unique job that gives me the chance to be creative most days and help others to be too. Whilst my own life journey is indelibly imprinted with creativity, for others, it is not.
Everyone is, to greater or less extent creative – I think it’s part of being human, hardwired in us but just needs help to develop its full potential.
However, some get more opportunity than others. The inequalities and barriers to acquiring and using creativity are many – health, transport, education, money, perception, class, opportunity, experience, geography, etc.
Without help to be creative for more diverse groups at all life stages, we will perpetuate art from the same perspective, for the same people and in the same places.
I think that it’s my duty as someone who has and continues to benefit from creative input to share that, get creative journeys started sooner and enable people to acquire creativity at any life stage or circumstance.
I’ll end with something creative – never written a Haiku before...
Where would I be without it
Lonely lost and sad