How arts and pop culture can help us tell a better story about aging

At the Ashoka Changemaker Summit, social entrepreneurs explore how everyone, regardless of age, can meaningfully contribute

Ashoka
Changemakers

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Ashoka Fellow Anne Basting, Courtesy of TimeSlips

For the first time in history, there are more people above age 65 than there are below age five. Human life expectancy has almost doubled over one century. And this shift impacts every aspect of our lives and society. How can we contribute to positive change as we age? How do we understand the difference between adding years to life, and adding life to years? And how can arts and culture help redefine what aging means in our society?

In places like the United States, aging is often portrayed as a tragic story about decline, loss, and separation. At the Ashoka Changemaker Summit, we spoke with two social entrepreneurs who are using the power of arts and culture to change the narrative. Marc Freedman is President and CEO of Encore.org, an NGO focused on bringing the generations together for mutual benefit. Anne Basting is an artist, scholar, educator and founder of TimeSlips, an organization that creates more opportunities for creative expression among elders and communities. Here are our highlights.

The problem of radical age segregation

In the U.S., natural patterns of intergenerational living have been replaced with what some called “the state of age apartheid.” Separating elders from the rest of society has resulted in issues like ageism and social isolation. But there is hope for a more multi-generational society, Marc says.

Aging is more than a medical issue

Health has become the central framework for how we think about aging and changing demographics. But what about education, arts and culture, and the many things that make up a meaningful life? Through TimeSlips, Anne is creating a more multilayered understanding of what it means to age and ways for everyone — including people with cognitive disabilities — to be creative and meaningfully contribute as social citizens.

Telling a different story about aging

It’s hard for Western cultures to talk about growth and loss at the same time. What if, instead of assuming that aging is tragic, storytellers show how it’s a complex — and perfectly natural — part of being human? This is the goal in mind for Anne, and others, who are bringing journalists together to learn more about the complexities of aging. This generation can change the narrative we see in news media:

How do we redefine aging on the screen? A few TV shows are getting it right.

When it comes to transforming what aging means to our society, we face a failure of imagination, Marc says — If we can’t dream it, we can’t do it. But he’s seeing a positive trend in film and art. Take this year’s award-winning comedy, “Hacks,” and the show “Lupin,” for example. The latter, which features a dynamic duo — a young activist and an older former journalist — who team up to make change, might be the perfect parable for the 21st century and the opportunities that await us. Marc explains more:

And animated films, Anne says, can be powerful tools to reimagine what aging means in our society. Hear why she finds animations particularly important:

Solutions on display

At Ashoka Korea, an experiential exhibit showcases the work of Anne, Marc, and 10 other Ashoka Fellows around the topic of aging. Viewers encounter the entrepreneurs’ stories, find the idea/approach that speaks to them and the Fellow behind it, reflect on (and contribute to) art exhibits, and unlock their inner changemaker. Learn more about Ashoka Space and other programs here.

About the Ashoka Changemaker Summit

The Changemaker Summit “A New Togetherness” is Ashoka’s yearly global gathering. It connects a vast community of social innovators and leaders from business and philanthropy to celebrate inspiring solutions, learn, and collaborate towards systemic change. Tune in every Thursday through December for conversations on Planet and Climate, Equity, and more. The culminating event on December 2 will be hosted in Turin, Italy. More information at https://acms.ashoka.org/

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Ashoka
Changemakers

We bring together social entrepreneurs, educators, businesses, parents & youth to support a world in which everyone is equipped & empowered to be a changemaker.