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Research exploring older people and the participatory arts has tended to focus on notions of biomedical impact, often coupled with appeals to evasive notions of “well-being.” Rather than suggesting such approaches are invalid, this article proposes the need for their extension and proposes an alternative, critical approach to analysing older people’s experience of arts participation. Based on ethnographic participant observation and intensive consultation with a cohort of older people engaged in a programme of creative music and dance, we explore the complex processes and possibilities of transformation that the participatory arts can initiate, examining how performance can create intriguing linkages between past, present and future experiences. Taking a phenomenological approach to the study of memory, recollection, reminiscence and future anticipation, we discuss how arts participation can “actualise” potential memories in older participants, examining how and why this kind of expressive activity animates the idea of “virtual” selves (after Bergson).
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