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Japan: reflections on a study tour

15 May 2015 by Dawn

group photograph

Carol Rogers with other members of the study tour in Japan

Executive Director Education and Visitors, Carol Rogers, reflects on a recent study tour of Japan focusing on engagement with older people.

“I was delighted to be invited by the Baring Foundation, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and British Council (Japan) to a week long study tour in Tokyo, with twelve fellow UK delegates. Our mutual connection is the pioneering work we have developed to enable creative experiences and opportunities for older people, such as House of Memories here in Liverpool. The tour aimed to link us with our counterparts (museums, galleries, universities, theatres, music providers and community settings) in Japan.

We corralled at Heathrow Airport and I was impressed to be introduced to the innovators and leaders of so many great programmes and initiatives I had heard of, as exemplars of great practise with older people across the UK. It was exciting to be amongst my peers – the creators of programmes and initiatives I have looked to for inspiration, guidance and ideas. Immediately my energy was lifted (despite the long journey ahead) … this was going to be a very rewarding and memorable experience.

On arrival, our sponsors welcomed us with an overview of the days ahead. The programme looked wonderful; a rich and diverse week of observation, sharing and learning. The schedule was hectic with early morning starts (this challenged a few of us!), bus journeys, performance previews, dance, visual arts and contemporary music presentations – all connecting with older people. I had not known what to expect from our Japanese colleagues, but from the outset I blown away by the quality of creative practice presented; from local community arts initiatives to the amazing Sitama Art Theatre and Yukio Ninagawa’s Gold Theatre programme (read more on the Age of Creativity website).

The scale of Tokyo’s cultural sector is very impressive, boasting a wide variety of contemporary museums and galleries and during the week, we visited a number of cultural arts venues and noted high visitor numbers. Our Japanese hosts were keen to share their wonderful resources with us and to learn about the UK’s approach developing arts participation programmes for older people. They expressed interest in our varying participation approaches, as well as the exhibitions, music and theatre experiences specifically designed for older audiences. The conversation was thoughtful and their enquiry focused on impact, evidence and research.

Japanese artists appear to exist within a more solitary environment than in the UK. We noted limited opportunity for them to connect across art forms or to create network links to specific audience development issues, e.g. aging population. They were very interested to hear how we have raised the profile and positive impact of working with older people and there was much discussion as to how they might approach this. The highpoint to our conversations was a high profile conference event (hosted by British Council Japan), wherein a hundred delegates made a personal commitment to their future vision for older people in Japan. It would be wonderful to see these talented artists and organisations joining up the creative dots with peers, counterparts and sectors caring for older people. The work we witnessed would make a powerful case for a cultural art / elder care partnership, with a collective aim to achieve wider heath sector recognition and engagement. However, the challenge for Japan’s arts and health community is huge. For example, more than 4.6 million people are living with dementia and the geographic spread of the country presents real barriers for artists and health providers to reach out to those with dementia and isolated older people – let alone one another.

Throughout the week I also noted a limited representation of care providers/care supporters. This lack of engagement with arts organisations reminded me of our early days presenting and proposing ‘House of Memories’ as an important museum resource for the UK health and social care sector. Our journey to success was fuelled by a belief that House of Memories could act as the conduit to align the health and social care sector with the world of museums, arts centres and artists. Similar to our Japanese colleagues, we also felt pressured to justify the impact of our approach within clinical research models which we overcame through our self-belief and determination to articulate the benefits of our work in collaboration with our health care partners. From the outset, our goal has been to integrate ‘House of Memories’ into mainstream health and social care provision – not as an add-on but as an integral part of person-centred, compassionate and dignified care for all older people. We have published three external evaluations for the health sector which has helped secure funding to establish the programme; position the positive impact for older people; and articulate the economic value through alignment with existing health care resources.

Beyond our vision to support people to live well with dementia and to connect with the global aging population, National Museums Liverpool is also focused on extending opportunities for international partnership and collaboration. We have recently agreed to lend a prestigious group of 68 Victorian paintings and watercolours from our collections, to a four venue exhibition tour in Japan.

‘Pre-Raphaelite and Romantic Painting from National Museums Liverpool’ includes some works that have rarely been lent before as well as iconic titles. John William Waterhouse’s Echo and Narcissus, Albert Moore’s Summer Nights and John Everett Millais’ Apples Blossoms are part of the group. Also on tour is Millais’ Sir Isumbras at the Ford, a painting that has not been lent for decades. The 2015/16 exhibition will tour to: Niigata City Art Museum, Nagoya City Art Museum, The Bunkamura Museum of Art, and Yamaguchi Prefectural Art Museum (see blog link below).

Our ambition for House of Memories is boundless and our next step is to tailor the training day, suitcase and app’s capabilities with new museum partners across the UK and internationally.”

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