Friday, November 03, 2017

Legacy as Practice: How We Come to Creative Fruition in Later Life by Marc Zegans

Portrait of Zegans by John Lawson

Legacy as Practice: How We Come to Creative Fruition in Later Life

 ArtSpark first published this article at

I’d like to introduce you to a novel way of thinking about crafting our legacies. Typically, when we refer to an artist’s legacy we mean what comes after—the objects and influences that trail in the wake of an artist’s passing. But what if we imagined shaping artists’ legacies as an active and deeply fulfilling practice, one that establishes continuity between their creative work in later life and that which lies beyond? What if we saw forming legacy as a process that animates and informs creative expression, not simply as a means of attending to the future care of our work? What if we envisioned legacy as practice—a means of consciously entering and engaging the final stage of our creative careers fully and well.1

Knocking on the Door
At some point, every artist becomes aware of diminishing energy and capacities, and with these changes the proximate finitude of life. Artists reaching this juncture may find less satisfaction in their work, and discover that previously cherished social roles no longer hold particular allure. Such awareness arises in rumblings and ruminations: “How do I continue when the work has lost its light? How do I go on when I’m unsure how long my abilities will continue to hold? How can I persist when my peers are gone and the end is in sight?"

While the appearance of these questions is animated by feelings of loss, dissatisfaction, unease and fear, their presence presumes the possibility of a vitalizing response, one that brings spark and fresh appetite for new and innovative work. If an artist is willing to make significant adaptive changes, such revitalization is indeed possible. The path to productive adaptation entails a release of past socialization and prior ambitions in favor of a return to self.

To this point, meaning for the artist has been defined by various forms of accumulation: discipline, skill, social connection, reward and reputation, and by projection of self through distinctive work, self-promotion, and strategies of influence. As artists enter later life, the desire for accumulation begins to lose meaning and the urge to self-inflation that underwrites the practices of projection diminishes in attraction. When this structure of meaning crumbles an artist may come to recognize that he or she is entering a period of life in which value and fulfillment are found by precisely opposite means.

Rather than continuing to work on old terms predicated by familiar motives, an artist’s late life finds renewal through a conscious and willing transformation of creative identity, a shift from the role of art warrior (or tribal leader) to elder. An elder artist’s task is to shape a living legacy by exchanging ambition and authority for the freedom to offer wisdom, to work with renewed spirit and emotional depth, and to bestow parting gifts while yet alive. This turn to heart and spirit can open a channel to the larger Self and yield creative work of great force and profundity. But the turn does not come easily.

Making the Turn

Though an elder’s role carries immense satisfaction, it’s often hard for artists to imagine operating in such capacity. So they resist—stretching, straining, overworking, and sabotaging the people coming up behind them; struggling to remain relevant, or falling prey to listless depression. Then, the resistance having proved futile, a crack may open, and the artist’s inner dialogue may shift. “I would come to grief if I shared with no one what I have learned. If I relinquish control and open my heart, my work may find new life. I don’t want to be careless about what I leave behind.” And with such acknowledgements the artist lets go, accepts the freedom of great age and begins to learn the practice of creating legacy.
We can see this transition to elder as a process of waking up. The artist who has accepted the elder’s role and who has begun the work of creating legacy has arrived at wry self-acceptance, come to embrace life as it is, and is alert and alive to the moment. An artist so situated speaks with clarity and directness. “I’m no longer building a creative career; I’m finishing the journey. I have nothing to prove, but I’m happy to share what I’ve learned along the way. I’m concerned with using my time well, and with what I will leave behind. I want to work now from my heart and to follow the call of my spirit. I want to die with my brush in my hand.”
So how does this newly awakened artist proceed?

Engaging in Practice
Artists thrive in late life by abandoning claims to status, reputation, esteem and control in favor of fully expressed individuality, and the capacity for deep generosity from which legacy is made. Such artists relax into the moment; discovers humor in their emerging limitations; connect with and channel the larger Self in work that travels through the heart, and bestow wisdom on those who seek it. Artists arrive at this place by developing and expressing what Carl Rogers termed, “…this underlying confidence in themselves as trustworthy instruments for encountering life.”2

In functioning as Rogers’ trustworthy instrument, legacy as practice begins. From the perspective of life as encounter, bestowing wisdom and dispensing one’s gifts become natural extensions of what we might call expressive receptivity.Energy for new work, often embracing novel subject matter and proceeding by different means arises from this same source.

Beyond dispensing wisdom and developing novel work, legacy as practice often entails cultivating a capacity to collaborate with skill and generosity. Artists, particularly those in the performing arts, entering later years often find themselves working with less experienced, less knowledgeable, and less skilled colleagues. For artists still enmeshed in their roles warriors for the craft, this can be a source of immense frustration. (i.e. “I can direct circles around that idiot thirty-year old. Why should I put up with this crap?”)

Artists who have embraced the role of elder meet such experiences quite differently because these encounters represent for them neither an indignity, nor a threat to reputation. Consequently, they proceed with generosity, engaging the possibilities in the moment, embracing the naivety, insecurity and awkwardness that accompany the vital energy of their younger colleagues. By exercising warm sagacity in such situations, they become valued collaborators, passing on their craft by illustration and through gentle suggestion.

Such emergent capacity for collaboration, and the need for older artists to infuse their lives with new sources of inspiration, especially in domains, such as writing and the visual arts, where artists commonly work alone, suggests the need for a robust intergenerational brokering system that pairs older and younger artists. Possible pairings might include: mentorship programs; actively curated project-based associations; intergenerational exhibitions; master-classes; social events and service activities. The need for such intermediary structures presents a robust opportunity for educational institutions; arts support organizations, and philanthropies.

A Trustworthy Instrument
The artist creating legacy is facing neither inward, nor outward, but is balanced: accepting and offering, inspiring and expiring, a swinging gate through which life and expression pass simply. This artist is free, vital, unencumbered and engaged. Such an artists accepts fully that he or she does not know how things will end, but sees the openness of the situation as a shaper of priority and as a spur to action.

An artist so situated brings powerful resources to the enterprise, among these: a capacity to look back with awareness; a knowing of how things can unfold; an embodied sense of loss that can direct attention, inform action, and instruct methods; deep grounding in the methods of production, and variety in experience and human encounter. More powerful is the wisdom to see that these are simply resources—tools, available to be used, but not binding on the artist.

The sage artist understands that the art of creating legacy is a process of live engagement and self-determination, informed, but never governed, by accumulated experience and the resources it provides. It is a means of working intentionally and astutely from the heart, accepting what comes, offering what one has, and producing that which is needed. Proceeding from this awakened state, artists, who conceive of legacy as practice, unleash the prospect of producing work that sparkles with vitality, pulses with humor, shines with love, and perhaps finds transcendence. And that is why fulfilled artists never stop working, because for them legacy is practice.

1. For more on the stages of a fulfilled creative life, see Arc and Interruption | Grantmakers in the Arts
“Toward Becoming a Fully Functioning Person,” Carl R. Rogers, ASCD Yearbook, Perceiving, Behaving, Becoming: A New Focus for Education, 1962.
© Copyright Marc Zegans, 2017. All rights reserved.

Marc Zegans is a creative development advisor who helps artists; writers and creative people thrive and shine. He is the past executive director of Harvard University’s Innovations Program and a working poet with four collections in print.  Marc can be reached for consultation at:  His website is

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Podcast: From the Bloc 11 Cafe: Doug Holder interviews documentary filmmaker Olivia Huang

 Huang talks about the documentary she produced " Grolier Poetry Book Shop: The Last Sacred Place of Poetry," at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville, MA. with Doug Holder .

  Podcast: The Grolier Poetry Book Shop: The Last Sacred Place of Poetry  link

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Women Musicians Network 21st. Anniv. Concert. Berklee Performance Center. Nov. 9, 2017

"There's nothing exactly like it. Which is exactly why you'll like it."

That's my feeling--shared by many--about the annual W.M.N, concert. This is always the most diverse concert of the year; for 2017, acts range from pop and R&B, to gospel and Peruvian jazz.

The focus is on Berklee women students and their bands from around the world. Guest acts include the Pletenitsa Balkan Choir, and world-music band Skybridge.

A special guest this year is Eric Jackson, legendary host of "Eric in the Evening," on WGBH radio. Eric will give a short address, and also receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Last year, this concert received a number of major commendations for "Excellence" and "Community Service."

This Thursday, Nov. 9th, you'll see why.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Somerville's Olivia Huang Celebrates the Grolier Poetry Book Shop with a new documentary!


Somerville's Olivia Huang Celebrates the Grolier Poetry Book Shop with a new documentary.

Article by Doug Holder

   In the coming weeks the Grolier Poetry Book Shop will be celebrating its 90th anniversary. This famed bookstore in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been in operation since 1927. It is an all poetry bookstore, and has seen the likes of Lowell, Eliot, Ginsberg, Hall and many other much--lauded poets grace its environs. Olivia Huang, a young filmmaker from  Guandong  China, (a southeast coastal city), who now resides in Somerville, has produced and directed her first documentary titled, "Grolier Poetry Book Shop: The Last Sacred Place of Poetry."

I met Huang at my usual seat at the back of the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square. She is a  serious young woman, and is unfailingly polite. She said she never had been to the Bloc--but was impressed my backroom hideaway--with its fireplace, its ancient bank vault, and well-appointed tables. Huang has been in the states for the past 4 years. She recently received her advanced degree in Digital Media from Northeastern University.

Huang admits that she knows very little about poetry, but a friend of hers is a writer, and she showed her an article about the best bookstores in Boston. The Grolier grabbed her attention. She was surprised by its long history, and its devotion to selling poetry books. She reflected "It is amazing that such a small place can contain so much literary history."

Huang had a number of talking heads in this 35 minute film, including the owners Ifeanyi and Carol Menkiti, Elizabeth Doran, the clerk/manager of the shop, poets like Ben Mazer, Gloria Mindock, Patrick Sylvain, Susan Barba--(The senior Editor of the the New York  Review of Books), yours truly and others.

Huang  told me she researched the Grolier, and tried to get in touch with the former owner Louisa Solano, but due to health issues at the time she was not available. The film mostly deals with the current times of the Grolier, but Huang may do a followup that will concentrate on its rich history.

Huang and co-director Alice Lin, have entered the documentary in the Barcelona Film Festival ( it is a semi-finalist), the Los Angeles Cine Fest, the Red Corner Film Festival, and is hoping for a slot in the Boston Film Festival.

Huang told me she is a painter, and to judge from her portfolio, a very skillful one.

The film has so far been screened locally at Somerville Community Access TV, Cambridge Cable Access TV, and it is soon to be aired on Endicott College TV.

Huang told me the the most important thing she is trying to achieve in her work is telling a good and compelling story. And after viewing this story, I feel it undoubtedly  will whet the viewers' appetite for even more exploration.

Link to the 90th Anniversary Event

Trailer for documentary