Creative Encounters at Aspen Court: Part One

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Written by Julian West, Creative Encounters Artistic Lead

Three years have passed since Living Arts – a pilot project to scope the possibilities for working creatively with music, dance and visual arts in a care home. We learned a lot from this experiment, the most important being that there is huge value in working co-creatively with people. A shared moment of creativity can bring with it a sense of kinship and authenticity that many of us search for in our lives. Whether we live in a care home or elsewhere, co-creative, improvised moments can bring us together in shared experience and understanding that is all the more powerful for its transcendence of memory or words. For the team who worked together on the project, creating work ‘in the moment’ with the staff and residents became of paramount importance; we abandoned all attempts to create a ‘product’, and our final sharing of the project became one big improvisation, with residents, staff, artists and visitors all contributing as they wished to.

Between 2016–18, myself and Hannah Zeilig (who had worked with us on Living Arts), were members of the Created Out of Mind research team. This unique opportunity gave us the possibility to delve deeper into the ideas that had been sparked. Together with a group of people living with dementia and their families and friends, we ran a project called With All, where we were able to push and develop our thinking, and try to understand the notion of co-creativity more clearly. Improvisation, flexible structures, equality and a shared approach to leadership emerged as being crucial. We wrote an article about it, which you can read here.

Creative Encounters is the next stage of our work and will be on a much bigger scale. Working as Unmapped, we will spend three years in three care settings. This month we have returned to Aspen Court, our partners for the original pilot project. We are only in week three, but already, we have improvised dances that float as light as air and that connect us to the ground with their rhythmic earthiness. We have played music that is tentative and searching, and improvised songs that are strong and sure of themselves. We have drawn islands, passed flow rings and thrown 100 red noses at each other!

This blog will tell the story of Creative Encounters from the team’s point of view, with a different person writing each week. We hope you enjoy it!