Social Club bingo card.
Does Class Influence our Engagement with the Arts?
“Many working class older people who have retired may have very little engagement with the arts at a time in life where they lose their occupation. Alongside this there has been a considerable reduction in social clubs, working men’s clubs and bingo halls which may pose a particular problem for older working class men.”
Our comic explores the experiences of the arts from the perspective of a group of retired middle class professionals. But what role does the arts play for the working class? Dr. Loretta Trickett explains how different lifestyles and social circles can have a profound impact on confidence to engage with the arts as well as opportunities to experience it.
Comic Panel from The Bigger Picture
“Arts funders need to think carefully about how to make the arts appealing to retired people who are not middle or upper class...”
Many working class older people who have retired may have very little engagement with the arts at a time in life where they lose their occupation. Alongside this there has been a considerable reduction in social clubs, working men’s clubs and bingo halls which may pose a particular problem for older working class men (Li, Pickles and Savage 2003). Arts funders need to think carefully about how to make the arts appealing to retired people who are not middle or upper class – gardening, woodwork, dancing, craft classes and film or book clubs are all worth considering and could be included within a social prescribing model with a focus on health. It should be noted that social isolation may be an even more prevalent issue for older men (Independent Age 2015).
Pahl and Pevalin (2005) also take social networks into consideration when considering engagement with the arts. When asked by the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) researchers who was their closest friend, working-class and less-educated people were more likely to nominate kin or partners rather than non-kin. This implies a greater dependence on relatives among the working class, which for those who are childless or without a partner compounds their relative disadvantage in social capital. Consistent with this, Wenger & Burholt (2004) found that loneliness is more common amongst older people in the working class. This together with the pattern of organizational participation suggests they are at a disadvantage for forming friendships which means they may have less social support as they age.
There is also a need therefore to get art into communities; using local venues to display art or exhibits from the arts Institutions and running discussions, writing sessions or painting classes linked to exhibitions or showing a film about the exhibition are some of the ideas offered by our respondents. Venues could include town halls, libraries or community centres.
A good example of this outreach work to engage older people from different classes and ethnic backgrounds and reduce social isolation is provided by ‘People’s Parlour’. This initiative involved a group of artists who made a Victorian hall in Greenwich available to local residents aged 60+. A five-week trial was ran in order to find out who might attend and what types of activities they might be interested in. This was followed up by a round of fund raising with the East Greenwich Residents Association which gained support through the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Arts Council England. This enabled the employment of creative practitioners to run the project for a year. The emphasis was on team-building and bonding between the participants, as well as unusual creative activities including refreshments and pub style quizzes followed by a variety of activities developed over time in close consultation with participants. Examples of activities have included working with textiles, life drawing, spoken word workshops, wood carving, a radio show, lantern-making, gardening, singing and rope-making. Participants have also arranged and performed a short pantomime and hosted a party to which the local community were invited. All members of the group significantly widened their social network locally and people were able to share everyday stresses including caring responsibilities, bereavement and living alone.
In the UK, this interest in widening access to the arts, is arguably a legacy of New Labour and their commitment to ‘democratize culture’ by appealing to the widest possible constituency. Despite these developments, analysis of the findings from the ‘Taking Part’ survey has highlighted that the barriers to physical engagement are frequently psychological and that art is often seen as being irrelevant to people’s lives. For example DCMS (2011) suggests that participation still clearly correlates with socio-economic position. The New Labour vision does not therefore appear to have delivered the increase in participation of some under-represented social groups to art galleries and museums. Indeed, the Warwick Commission (2015) report found that the arts are still predominantly accessed by an unnecessary narrow, social, economic, ethnic demographic that is not representative of the overall population. It is imperative therefore to think about how we can rectify such imbalances whilst learning from some of the successes including the aforementioned work on Creative Ageing to consider where the gaps remain. As the Warwick Commission (2015) pointed out a troubling issue relates to the reduction of arts education in schools where creativity, culture and the arts are being systematically removed from the education system with dramatic reductions in the numbers of young people taking GSCEs and A levels in design, drama and other craft based subjects.
The above is an abridged extract from Trickett, L. (2015). Literature Review on older people and engagement with the arts. Arts Council England (www.thebiggerpictureproject.co.uk)
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Mentioned in this article
DMCS (2011) Taking Part Survey (www.gov.uk)
Independent Age. (2015). Isolation: the emerging crisis for older men: A report exploring experiences of social isolation and loneliness among older men in England. Independent Age (www.independentage.org)
Li, Y., Savage, M. and Pickles, A. (2003). Social capital and social exclusion in England and Wales (1972–1999). The British Journal of Sociology, 54 (4), pp.497-526
Pahl, R. and Pevalin, D.J. (2005). Between family and friends: a longitudinal study of friendship choice. The British Journal of Sociology, 56(3), pp.433-450
Warwick Commission (2015). Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth. Warwick University. (www.warwick.ac.uk)
Wenger, G.C. and Burholt, V. (2004). Changes in levels of social isolation and loneliness among older people in a rural area: A twenty–year longitudinal study. Canadian Journal on Ageing/la revue canadienne du vieillissement, 23 (2), pp.115-1 2 7