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What Can a “Manifesto Against Ageism” Teach Museums?

Category: Alliance Blog
Ashton Applewhite's book This Chair Rocks is a field guide to spotting ageism and a manual for breaking out of it. In her keynote at the 2020 National Convening on Museums and Creative Aging, she will explore how museums can join in on this mission. Photo credit: Dan Visan on Unsplash.

Prior to the publication of Ashton Applewhite’s “manifesto against ageism,” This Chair Rocks, one reviewer proclaimed that the book would do for our society’s view of aging what Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring did for the environment. Before reading it myself, I found the claim a touch hyperbolic, but I was soon to discover how accurate it was.

Not only is Ashton Applewhite a passionate and engaging writer on the topic of aging, but she is also “one of our own” in that she was an employee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York for many years.

So, it pleases me greatly that she has agreed to be the keynote speaker at our National Convening on Museum and Creative Aging at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, November 5-6, 2020!

In accepting the offer, she emphasized her strong belief in the role that museums play (and can play) in the creative aging movement. Thank you, Ashton! We are keen to welcome you as our keynote speaker in Atlanta!

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This Chair Rocks is the rousing result of years of research and personal experience. The Nation columnist Katha Pollitt calls it “vibrant, energetic, fact-filled, and funny…not just for older people but for our whole society.”

Applewhite begins the book by calling out ageism in our society; she cites numerous examples of how older adults are regularly stereotyped and consequently devalued as the cultural resources they actually are. For instance, she writes, though the mobility solutions many older people require in their homes could lead the way to better “universal design” for us all, “realtors advise removing ramps and grip bars before putting a house on the market, as though no buyer could see accessibility as a bonus.” She also dispels common impressions that older adults are a “drag on our society” citing public health figures quite contrary to that assumption.

Departing from this depressing foundation, Applewhite draws on the ample research in creative aging to demonstrate how impressively agile the older adult mind can become, and how, in turn, it can be a huge asset to our culture, with the invaluable components of experience and wisdom.

A “manifesto” is, by the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition, a “public declaration of policy and aims.” This Chair Rocks is just that, a “manifesto” that leaves the reader to wonder: Why hasn’t ageism been as thoroughly assailed as, say, sexism is? Is it perhaps because we have acquiesced to the myriad forms of it we encounter in our daily lives?

This book has made me far more aware of ageism, but more importantly it has pointed out ways to ascend above its influence and into a much more positive place where we can deal with the problem in the most constructive of ways.

I heartily suggest this book, released just this March, to colleagues everywhere. You will find that your museum’s programs and policies will be the better for it.

AND, remember: Ashton Applewhite will be returning to the museum field for two days in November 2020. Watch this space for more information!


Ad Summa!


Mark Your Calendars: The American Alliance of Museums is holding a national convening on museums and creative aging at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from November 5-6, 2020.

We are receiving excellent feedback on our survey regarding those topics you believe to be of most importance to their work. Let us know your thoughts! It only takes a moment!

Also, we are seeking guest bloggers who would like to share their thoughts and experiences in creative aging efforts. Just let me know if you have something you would like to contribute. It could be anything relevant: an upcoming conference, a program you have developed, a perspective you would like to share, etc. We are greatly enjoying the conversations these blogs are engendering!

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