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Arts and Health Australia

Art is like Chocolate for the Brain (Dr Gene Cohen) - Active Ingredients for Successful Living in Later Life

It was my privilege to meet psychiatrist and geriatrician Dr Gene Cohen in 2006 at the Society for the Arts in Healthcare conference in Chicago. Gene inspired my commitment to the specialist area of creative ageing, within the broader arts and health field. His well-known catchcry "Art is like chocolate for the brain" is an evocative reminder of the power of the arts to transform and regenerate people's lives.

Dr Cohen's landmark study 'Creativity and Aging: The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults (2001 - 2005), although based on a small sample, was pivotal in exciting interest in researching the beneficial effects of the arts and creative expression in ageing well.

Creative ageing is increasingly being seen as an effective and cost efficient means to combat the challenges that society is facing with an accelerating ageing population and extreme pressures on health and community services.

Importantly, creative ageing places 'the person' at the centre of health care and emphasizes the human right for all to enjoy quality of life. This is particularly relevant in supporting people with disability, a life threatening condition such as dementia or at end of life.

This presentation aims to provide an overview of developments and innovations in creative ageing internationally over the past decade and showcase creative ways to celebrate life as we age and to live well, whatever the circumstances.

Erich WellerMargret Meagher

Margret's forty-five year career in arts management roles has encompassed gallery and events management, marketing communications, the performing arts and cultural tourism. She developed a specific interest in arts and health in 2002 and subsequently established Arts and Health Australia (AHA) as a national networking and advocacy organisation. One of AHA's key initiatives has been organising an annual international conference to bring policy makers, stakeholders, practitioners and researchers together to exchange information and facilitate collaborations and connections (www.artsandhealth.org).

In 2009, Margret established an aligned entity Creative Ageing Australia to offer specialist services and programs for ageing well strategies.

Most recently, Margret has been pivotal in the formation of the Australian Centre for Arts and Health, designed as the peak body for arts and health in Australia and the nation's representative within the international arts and health arena.

Over the past decade, Margret has written and presented extensively on arts and health at national and international conferences, across a range of subjects including the design of health environments; arts and chronic disease (such as dementia and depression); healthy ageing through the arts; creative communities; medical humanities; the value of public art; local government arts and health strategies; improving the workplace through arts and health; international arts and health research and evaluation.

Margret has also conceived and implemented arts and health programs in a variety of settings, including creative ageing strategies for retirement villages, community cultural development programs at local government level and arts and health programs in hospitals and aged care facilities.

As a member of the New South Wales Ministerial Advisory Committee on Ageing (MACA), Margret has been instrumental, with her colleagues, in developing an arts and health and creative ageing focus for the NSW whole of government ageing strategy, led by the NSW Office for Ageing within the Department of Families and Community Services.

In 2011, Margret received an inaugural Distinguished Fellowship Award by the Society for the Arts in Healthcare (SAH) for her contribution to the international arts and health sector. (SAH is now known as the Global Alliance for Arts and Health.) Margret is a member of the editorial board of the Arts and Health Journal, established by SAH and published in the UK and a member of the advisory board of the International Health Humanities Network.

University collaborations include an adjunct role as Senior Lecturer/Research Academic at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales in Sydney. Margret is also working with Charles Sturt University to establish the Port Macquarie Hastings region as a centre for excellence in the field of arts and health, ageing and the creative industries.

Margret has advised medical colleges on how health professionals can utilise the arts to enhance communication and diagnostic skills and achieve lifestyle balance, and was a member of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Research Foundation Board between 2005 and 2010. She contributed to the Churchill Fellowship Trust's Arts NSW judging panel from 2006 to 2010 and was a strong advocate of arts and health practice with a number of fellowships awarded in this category during her term.

Margret is currently engaged in a three year local government project in the Port Macquarie-Hastings region entitled 'Hello Koalas'. The project is centred around the value of creating and exhibiting public art in fostering community health and wellbeing and intergenerational collaborations.

Inspired by the 'Larkin with Toads' sculpture project in Hull, UK in 2010, the Hello Koalas public sculpture project is also engaging with arts and health colleagues from around the world to create a virtual trail of creatively inspired koala sculptures.