Creative Aging During COVID-19

October 8, 2020

When COVID-19 forced lockdown orders this past spring, professionals working in creative aging and arts education mobilized to discuss the pandemic’s impact on older adults and on the arts community. These groups covered topics such as alleviating social isolation for older adults, teaching artist employment, organizational capacity, innovative programming, online access and technology support, and funding. The following are but a few highlights of these efforts.

Organizing to Supporting the Teaching Artists Who Engage Older Adults

In March, the Teaching Artists Guild (TAG) joined with the Association of Teaching Artists (ATA), the National Guild for Community Arts Education, Creative Generation, NYC Arts in Education Roundtable and the Teaching Artists of the Mid-Atlantic to present a webinar for teaching artists bracing for the impact of COVID-19 on the United States. This webinar is available on TAG’s website, as is a master list of resources from panelists and participants who attended the webinar.

In April, Lifetime Arts produced and launched, Creative Aging 101, a free, one-hour abridged version of our creative aging training in order to support anyone in the field working to combat social isolation in older adults through arts education during lockdown. This mini-course features “Adapting Creative Aging Course Design for Remote Program Delivery” (PDF) a set of guidelines designed to help teaching artists and programmers adapt their curricula for remote delivery. Learn more about this offering and Lifetime Arts’ response from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) blog post: “Social Distancing Doesn’t Need to Equal Social Isolation.” Lifetime Arts also aimed to curate resources that didn’t overlap with the ones already being posted elsewhere.

Throughout the pandemic, the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s Creative Aging Network has actively supported teaching artists, cultural workers, and arts organizations who continue to foster positive aging and social connection for older adults. The Network’s Facebook group serves as an interactive space for creative aging practitioners to share resources, upcoming virtual workshops, presentations and programs, and inspiring stories of successful remote arts learning and social engagement. The Guild has also rebranded their Community Conversations series as virtual co-learning events designed to explore discipline-based topics from dance, music, and theatre programming to arts and K-12 school partnerships to teaching artistry.

This summer, Aroha Philanthropies offered a series of six virtual conversations for members of their Seeding Vitality Arts (SVA) initiative cohort. During these events Lifetime Arts’ provided recommendations and best practices for planning and delivering successful creative aging programs online.

A participant shares their artwork in a virtual workshop of, “La Vida es un Arte 2.0.” Credit: Lisa Ortega-Pol

Aroha had also invited their SVA in Museums cohort to apply for support for programming that would accommodate safe protocols. One of the museums who received a grant was Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte in Puerto Rico. Their virtual program, “La Vida es un Arte 2.0,” kicked off in September, and was taught by museum educator, Lisa Ortega-Pol.

Participant works on pottery in a mask during COVID-19.
A participant during a pottery session at the Union County Heritage Museum during COVID-19. Credit: Steve Bennett

Other grantees, like Union County Heritage Museum in Mississippi, held in-person pottery workshops with strict health and safety protocols in place. Their workshop was split up into two separate groups, and class size was reduced to 10 participants. During workshops, participants were socially distanced in their own workspaces, and wore masks.

In August, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) hosted the 2020 Mid-Atlantic Teaching Artist Virtual Retreat to arts education professionals from across the Mid-Atlantic region to build and strengthen a regional network of highly qualified teaching artists. Access a public playlist of the session recordings on YouTube.

Find Out More About Creative Aging Training + Salons 

Managing A Quick Pivot to Online Programming

Coro Solera, directed by San Francisco Community Music Center (CMC) faculty members, Martha Rodriguez-Salazar and Jennifer Peringer, is one of the 14 choirs in CMC’s Older Adult Choir Program. Credit: Sylvia Sherman

In an effort to highlight the work being done by a selection of teaching artists and programming organizations across the country, Lifetime Arts launched “Connect Through Creativity Now.” The stories in this series illustrate the hard work and ingenuity that has kept older adults connected and creating during this time of social isolation.

While we have focused on those in the field employing the traditional creative aging model (sequential, skill-based learning featuring social-engagement techniques and components), we also acknowledge others working outside the traditional model, who have offered older adults opportunities to create and share. Teaching artists and organizations serving older adults are invited to share their stories with us.

Browse Connect Through Creativity Now Stories

Selected Efforts Outside the U.S.

Below is a limited selection of the many innovative organizations who continue to support social engagement through arts education and advocacy outside the U.S. (If you would like to share information your agency’s activities, please submit via our feedback form.)

Luminate Scotland

‘Founded in 2012 with partners Creative Scotland, the Baring Foundation, and Age Scotland, Luminate is Scotland’s creative aging organization.’ In 2018, Luminate implemented a year-round program to develop creative activities with, by and for older people. To continue arts programming during the pandemic, they created Luminate@Home, an online programming opportunity for older adults led by professional artists, and feature different artforms including crafts, poetry, music and dance.

Creative Age Canada

‘Creative Age was founded by Kathy Smith of London, Ontario, by bringing together a group of talented and creative adults 55+ to form a catalyst network with a mission to improve the quality of life of older adults in the London metro area. For the past 10 years, their facilitators, volunteers and associates have worked with older adults in public libraries, seniors centers, social housing, retirement homes and care homes.’ Since COVID-19, Creative Age has discontinued present and future in-person programs, but are working on promoting computer literacy and virtual activities to older adults in a new and defined program that will benefit a new generation of seniors, caregivers, service providers and community partners.

Age & Opportunity Ireland

‘Founded in 1988, Age & Opportunity is the leading national development organization in Ireland dedicated to improving the quality of life for older adults ages 50-100+. Since COVID-19, Age & Opportunity has provided resources and virtual creative opportunities for older adults, from poetry sessions to dance classes. They also run Bealtaine, Ireland’s national festival which uniquely celebrates the arts and creativity as we age.’ Bealtaine will be virtual this year.

Creative Aging International – Ireland

Creative Aging International, co-founded by Dominic Campbell and Bea Kelleher, ‘works creatively with companies, organizations and individuals worldwide developing innovative programs tailored to place and bringing together best practice for thought leadership. Their work transforms for the better how people view and approach aging – as individuals, as artists, as companies, as governments and as societies.’ Learn more about their approach to the pandemic and their Dawn Chorus project.

Arts and Minds England

‘Arts and Minds is dedicated to helping people living with mental challenges through the arts. They offer arts courses throughout Cambridgeshire. Arts and Minds have continued to offer creative workshops during COVID-19, including “Virtual Creative Cafe,” an 8-week program of online creative activities, and “Creative Care: Invitation to Create,” where artists share invitations each week for older adults to explore the spaces they are in new ways using only the simplest of materials and everyday objects.’

British Society of Gerontology Creative Aging SIG England

‘Established in 1971, The British Society of Gerontology (BSG) provides a multidisciplinary forum for researchers and other individuals interested in the situations of older people, and in how knowledge about aging and later life can be enhanced and improved. The BSG’s Ageing Issues Blog has attracted many contributors on the topics of aging and social engagement during COVID-19. The President of BSG, Thomas Scharf, weighed in on aging and COVID-19 on a Lancet Voice podcast.’ (Scroll down to access ‘Old Age and COVID-19’.)


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