Showcasing of the Role Art plays in the Lives of Older Adults

Winston Park resident’s work on display with Sheridan College’s Creative Campus Gallery

The original landscape paintings created by Ken Cox are of the highest quality, while the art he creates today from his home at the Village of Winston Park take on a more modern use of colour and are almost abstract in their beauty. The aging process has done little to slow his creative energy.   

“I was painting back in England as a kid,” Ken explains, and over the years he’s been in and out of periods of creativity. “It just came back to me,” he says, of his current desire to once again tap into the artistic outlet that has remained a big part of his life. He was quite proud, then, when earlier this year Dr. Kate Dupuis, the Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging with Sheridan College’s Centre for Elder Research, connected the village with Catherine Hale, the curator of Sheridan’s Creative Campus Galleries. Today, two of Ken’s original works are on display in the gallery at Mississauga’s Hazel McCallion Campus, showcasing his talent and the unique partnership that is allowing for a deeper exploration of the role arts play in a healthy aging process.

“It feels good to know my paintings are in a gallery,” Ken says, noting that he also has work showcased in the Winston Park gallery.

Ken’s passion and skill, Kate says, is a prime example of how older adults can continue to make their mark in their communities, regardless of age. Her focus in this new position at the Centre for Elder Research is to examine the connection between arts and aging and explore the impact artistic expression in its many forms can have on health and wellness. Ken Cox and his passion for painting is but one example of how these connections might look.  

There are gaps in the research and literature when it comes to questions of how older adults access art and arts activities, Kate says, and part of her quest in the realm of “creative aging” seeks to answer some of these outstanding questions. What role does art play to support wellness in the Villages, for example, and what about those older adults living independently in community settings?

The position is still fresh and Kate is still mapping out strategies for both working in the villages and in the wider community. A recent environmental scan of recreation activities in the villages, for example, illustrates what opportunities are offered for Schlegel Villages residents to access the arts. Next steps are to discover what activities residents suggest are still missing.

“There is strong evidence to suggest that taking part in the arts can be very beneficial for older individuals’ cognitive well-being, their mental health and their physical well-being,” Kate says. “We wanted to see what’s out there.”

In the process she’s examined artistic offerings in more than 70 neighbourhoods across the villages, discovering everything from painting classes to creative colouring to visits from symphonies and Elvis impersonators. Connecting Ken’s work with the McCallion Campus gallery was just an added bonus in the early stages of her new role with Sheridan.

Perhaps showcasing Ken’s work in a high-traffic space in a college campus will help shatter the myths and stereotypes among younger generations that suggest talent and creativity whither with the passing of time, Kate suggests.

“I’m hoping that the younger students are looking at this particular type of artwork from a more strengths-based approach to aging,” she says. “Regardless of what age we are or where we’re living, older adults are able to find meaning and purpose in their leisure activities.”