What we do
Bealtaine is Ireland’s national festival which uniquely celebrates the arts and creativity as we age. The festival is run by Age & Opportunity, the national organisation that promotes active and engaged living as we get older.
Age & Opportunity’s mission is to inspire and empower older people to live healthy and fulfilling lives and to influence policy to ensure the active participation of older people in ways that benefit our communities and wider society. Our arts and culture programme aims to ensure meaningful engagement for all older people in socio-cultural life in Ireland, and to influence policy and practice at local and international levels. We do this through a range of initiatives which include: Cultural Companions, Azure, and Creative Exchanges, and the Bealtaine festival.
The Bealtaine festival of the arts and creativity for older people is at the centre of Age & Opportunity’s arts and culture programme.
The Bealtaine Festival
Established in 1995, Bealtaine is Ireland’s largest co-operative festival and the world’s first national celebration of creativity in older age, having inspired a number of international festivals such as Luminate in Scotland, Gwanwyn in Wales and others.
The Bealtaine Festival takes place each May. The ancient festival of Bealtaine or Beltane (held on May 1), marked the midway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, and heralded the start of Summer. The word Bealtaine is still used in the Irish language and translates as the month of May.
The festival brings together people from all over Ireland to foster and inspire creativity among older people and to promote the skills, experiences and exposure that can lead to a rich creative life for all older people. Bealtaine is increasingly recognised as a major innovator in the area of the arts, creativity and older people globally and as a result is also about supporting the arts community to continue to work and to inspire and train other artists to engage in the area of creative ageing and intergenerational work.
How the Bealtaine Festival Works
As a partnership festival Bealtaine works on two parallel and interdependent strands: a strategic programme, curated by Age & Opportunity’s Arts and Culture team, aimed at addressing key strategic priorities for the Festival, and a locally devised and curated national programme made up of hundreds of events organised locally by a wide variety of groups.
Bealtaine’s Strategic Programme
The Age & Opportunity festival aims to address and target particular policy issues that we feel are important (and that link with Age & Opportunity’s wider policies).
- critical opportunities for the greater participation and representation of older people in the arts;
- arts programmes for disadvantaged older people;
- opportunities and peer-to-peer supports for older professional artists;
- opportunities for intergenerational exchange;
- debate and discourse around key cultural issues impacting on older people and other opportunities to influence national and international policy.
National Programme & Nationwide Partners
We know that participating in the arts enhances our quality of life, no matter what age we are, and so we invite hundreds of organisations to take part each year. In this way, for the last 21 years Bealtaine has become deeply embedded in local communities and has grown to comprise over 3,000 events involving up to 100,000 people in towns and villages throughout the country. These partners include artists, arts centres, libraries, theatres, galleries, arts officers, national art and cultural institutions, orchestras, community groups, local authorities, care homes and supported living venues. At the centre of the festival, therefore, are the hundreds of artists and partners that help us create Bealtaine and it is this unique collaboration that makes the festival special year on year.
Each Autumn we organise Bealtaine Gatherings of our partners and collaborators in order to talk about the coming festival, to give people an opportunity to network and learn from each, to show-case good practice, innovations and the challenges of promoting participation.
Age & Opportunity’s Arts and Culture Programme
Creativity is a key factor in how we adapt to change and no more so than in relation to ageing. In fact, studies continue to show health and social benefits for older people who engage in arts and creative activities. Specifically, evidence from a limited number of international studies carried out in relation to the arts and health suggests that the arts and creativity specifically strengthen self-confidence and morale in later life, contribute to physical and cognitive health and enrich relationships through greater social connectivity.
This research supports Irish government policy recommendations in reports such as 2014’s ‘Utilising the Arts in Combating Disadvantage’ which included the call to “Adopt a national policy by which the arts will be recognised as a fundamental means of combating social exclusion and promoting the well-being and inclusion of disadvantaged groups within local communities and at a national level.” This report also proposed giving a “strong consideration to including the level of engagement in the arts as a National Indicator of well-being”. Age & Opportunity and Bealtaine also support the Arts Council’s 2016 – 2025 Strategic Plan under its Artist and Public Engagement pillars.
This acknowledgment of the role of the arts in contributing to our overall wellbeing does not disavow the value of the arts in and of itself, a value which Age & Opportunity emphatically endorses. As such, although the links between the arts, creativity and well-being support Age & Opportunity’s work, we recognise the United Nations backed cultural rights of all older people in having access to (amongst other things) meaningful and engaging arts experiences and we support the underlying and inherent value of the arts as a fundamental tool of human communication and connectivity. Because of this, although Bealtaine is the key pillar of the arts and cultural programme at Age & Opportunity, there are a growing number of other initiatives designed to support older artists and audiences.
Cultural Companions creates local networks of older people interested in the arts and culture more generally in order that they can accompany each other to events. It offers a chance for like-minded people to meet up regularly and go out together - either with one other person or as part of a small group. Its aim is to provide increased opportunities for older people to engage with Ireland's vibrant cultural and arts scene.
If this sounds like something you might like to join in with, contact 01 805 7713 for more information or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Creative Exchanges is a QQI Level 6 accredited training initiative developed through Age & Opportunity’s Active Citizenship and Lifelong Learning programme. The training is suitable for activity coordinators of care home settings, and artists, to help them develop arts and cultural programmes in care settings.
For more information on this programme visit our website here.
Azure is a partnership between Age & Opportunity, the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) and the Alzheimer’s Society Ireland (ASI), to enhance the museum and gallery experiences of people with dementia and their carers. Specifically, Azure explores how people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s, and the people who care for them, can have a deeper involvement in cultural institutions and can participate in cultural activities.
For more information on this programme visit the website here.
Journal and Surveys
Our online international cultural journal is Beosach, which aims to create a better festival audience experience and to create a larger audience base.