2020 Creative Aging Conference offers seven expert ‘Perspectives on Legacy’

Luciano Marano
Posted 11/27/20

Real old age starts when one begins looking backward rather than forward, to paraphrase writer May Sarton.

And the fine folks of Frye Art Museum and Centrum couldn’t agree more, hence the …

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2020 Creative Aging Conference offers seven expert ‘Perspectives on Legacy’


Real old age starts when one begins looking backward rather than forward, to paraphrase writer May Sarton.

And the fine folks of Frye Art Museum and Centrum couldn’t agree more, hence the theme of their 2020 Creative Aging Conference: “Perspectives on Legacy.”

The conference will bring together speakers from multiple disciplines and life experiences and is meant to inspire participants to consider what legacy means to them and how they can meaningfully shape the world for future generations.

The online event is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3 and Friday, Dec. 4 and will feature seven speakers covering a variety of topics on aging well, memory, and creativity; a curriculum “designed for social and healthcare professionals, artists, educators, and lifelong learners to explore the topic of legacy from the perspective of making a positive difference in an imperfect world.”

It is the second such conference put on jointly by the museum and Centrum, last year’s having drawn nearly 200 attendees at its peak, according to Centrum executive director Robert Birman.

The scope of subjects, he said, will likely surprise some.

“I think the idea is to provoke some thought and to stimulate some new thinking for all of us,” Birman said. “The idea of creative aging is meant to be exactly what it says and it’s meant to really apply to anybody. How can we all age creatively?

“It’s not really for retirees only.”

In fact, younger participants may benefit more from thinking ahead about the aging process.

“It’s really meant for everybody to be thinking and be stimulated into thinking more about how they want to steer the rest of their lives,” Birman said. “For some of us, that could be 40 years.”

“While the target audience is older adults and professionals, such as chaplains, social workers, and medical practitioners, I believe younger people would also benefit as legacy work is really a practice of one’s daily life, regardless of age,” agreed Mary Jane Knecht, of Chimacum, manager of Creative Aging Programs for the Frye Art Museum.

The conference fee is $50 for Centrum donors and $75 for others. Visit to learn more and register.

Knecht said the conference was designed to cast a wide net.

“In curating the conference this year I aimed to offer a slate of speakers with a variety of life experiences and from different disciplines in order to offer multiple perspectives on the topic of legacy,” she said. 

“I felt it was important to educate participants by learning of legacy organizations such as Densho which preserves and shares history of World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, and also provide tools and resources for participants to reflect on and to begin to create their own legacies, which will be addressed in several sessions including the keynote by Eddie Gonzalez, associate director [of the] On Being Project.”

Takeaways will vary, as will individual areas of interest, but the program director said for her, at least, that’s all part of creative aging.

“Personally, creative aging means to me pursuing interests, whether educational, creative, or physical exercise, while also being curious and open to new experiences and social interactions,” she said.

2020 Creative Aging Conference program and speakers

“Leaving a Mark: The Healing Art of Remembering Forward” by Eddie Gonzalez, associate director, Civil Conversations & Social Healing

Leaving a legacy is deep work, asking us to respond to big questions such as “What does it mean to be human?” and “How do we want to live?” Legacy can also be a way to take up the hard moral and ethical questions of our time and personally engage in civic work that aims to create the world we want for ourselves and our children while composing a life of greater meaning, purpose, and connection throughout our lifespan. 

Drawing from the archive of the “On Being” radio show and podcast, Gonzalez will invite attendees to interact in this work, reflecting on the past as a way to understand the present, finding wisdom in the legacies of others, and considering how our lives might be used to leave a lasting mark for social and environmental good.

“An Imagination Fully Inhabited: The Living Legacy of W.S. Merwin” by Sonnet Kekilia Coggins, executive director of The Merwin Conservancy

When Pulitzer Prize-winning poet
W.S. Merwin died in March 2019, he left a legacy of unbounded imagination, insight, and literary genius.

He also left another gift: an exuberant, ever-evolving palm forest thriving on the northern coast of Maui, one that he beckoned into being from an “agricultural wasteland” through daily practice and care.

Both his writing and his garden were expressions of his creative ingenuity, rooted in a deep sense of wonder about the natural world, and extending beyond the idea of hope to actively care for this world. Merwin’s living legacy is to leave a question to ask ourselves, and to return to again and again: How can we engage our imaginations to full capacity, both individually and collectively, to envision and enact the renewal of our world?

Coggins, executive director of The Merwin Conservancy, leads efforts to conserve and share W.S. Merwin’s 19-acre palm forest and the ecologically conscious home that he built there with his wife, Paula.

“Past Selves” by Sarah Fetterman, artist

In this illustrated talk, Fetterman will discuss how her work “Past Selves” developed from an inquisitive piece about the transience of memory into a deeply personal mirror to her experience of losing her grandmother to dementia.

“Past Selves” began as dance performance and evolved into a woven tapestry visualizing the layering and loss of memory. As a legacy to her grandmother, “Past Selves” is testimony that the stories and impact of people with dementia have on others will persist long after their own memories fade.

“Keeping Alive the Stories of a Community” with Tom Ikeda, founding executive director of Densho

How will a story be told when the last survivor of a traumatic event is no longer with us? As we approach a period with no remaining first-person witnesses, what can we do to preserve authentic memories? These were the questions confronting the Japanese American community as it saw the disappearance of its elders, who lived through the WWII-era incarceration.

Ikeda will share the experience of preserving and sharing 1,000 interviews and how these stories “rhyme” with injustices we see today. He is the founding executive director of Densho, a nonprofit organization started in 1996 to preserve and share the history of the WWII Japanese American incarceration to promote justice and equity today. He has conducted over 250 video-recorded, oral history interviews with Japanese Americans and received numerous awards for his community and historical contributions.

“Leaving a Trace: Our Legacy Stories” with Carol Kummet, palliative care social worker, and Dr. Katie Schlenker, palliative care physician with UW Medical Center

This interactive session will be an opportunity for conference participants to reflect on and to begin to create their own legacies, as well as learn how to guide legacy work with family members, friends, or patients. Real-life examples will be shared by Kummet and Schlenker from their work with seriously ill patients who have created their own legacies. These examples will show the many creative ways that people have left their imprint on the world, and will be used to generate ideas on being intentional about creating one’s own legacy. The presenters will expand the definition of legacy work and help make the practice a part of participants’ daily lives.

“Imagine NUTOPIA” with Pam McClusky, curator of African and Oceanic Art at the Seattle Art Museum

In 1973, John Lennon and Yoko Ono founded Nutopia, a country with no land, no borders, no passports, and subject only to the laws invoked by the lyrics in the song “Imagine.” Where are the Nutopias in the world today? If you look carefully, there are artistic centers of Nutopian-style thought that take different forms — some micro, some conceptual, and others fully operational.

As predictions of the future often tend toward the grim, these centers in Africa, Australia, Thailand, and Antarctica offer what utopias are supposed to be: a legacy that unleashes new thinking about what might be.


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