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Glen

Glen MURRAY

Year of Award: 2011 Award State: Tasmania Arts - Performing > General
To study community cultural engagement - UK, Ireland, Austria Portugal, USA
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‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’

Choreographer and former dancer with the Sydney Dance Company, Glen Murray visited the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and Europe in 2011 to see how these countries were using cultural engagement to keep older people as active and vibrant as possible.

The prospect of a globally ageing population and its attendant spiralling costs in healthcare and in terms of human misery has led to some intriguing innovations in the arts and health field. In Gene Cohen’s ground-breaking book, The Creative Age: Awakening human potential in the second half of life, he writes: ‘There is no denying the problems that accompany aging. But what has been universally denied is the potential. The ultimate expression of potential is creativity.’

Glen had founded his dance company, MADE, in 2005. He soon became aware that those participating in the dance group were experiencing a wide range of tangible health benefits. Glen did not know of anyone who was working in this area in Australia but he knew there were choreographers doing similar work to his in Europe and the United States.

Glen met many people in the arts and health field in his quest to see what would best enable as many older people as possible to remain happy, healthy and active in mind and body. He attended Ireland’s Bealtaine Festival, a famous country-wide festival that celebrates the powerful phenomenon of creative expression as we age.

As he travelled, Glen pondered the need for older people to have a sense of the future, which sustains their spirits. Negative images of ageing such as ‘the best is now behind them’ promote the idea of obsolescence: once-valued people with little to offer or contribute to society now – in short, with little to live for. But Glen points out in his report that recognition of the creative potential of mature adults is gradually gaining impetus across the globe.

Glen writes that: 'While the need for a sense of future may sound a simple notion I witnessed time and time again the importance of a future to the psychological and physical well-being of a diverse range of mature adults, from those who are still very actively physically and mentally engaged to the frail elderly, those with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia and those suffering horrific mental and physical scars from deployment in various wars.'

Glen repeatedly saw evidence that people engaged in dance, more than any other art form or exercise, tend to stay engaged for longer and then are able to broaden their field of interest to include other complementary areas such as the visual arts. Brain scans of people with dementia have given us the evidence that muscle memory is retained long after other memories have diminished or gone, and creativity, or making something new, enables them to see a future for themselves. Glen saw that people are having transformative experiences through their engagement with dance.

Glen Murray quotes poet A.D. Hope and his description of old age as ‘an autumn bursting of colour and vibrancy’. Glen continues: ‘and I think that is what is possible, especially for creative people. I believe that we can all be creative.’

Excerpt from “Inspiring Australians” written by Penny Hanley (2015)

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