“Point of View: Why Creative Aging? It’s More Than Personal—It’s Societal,” is an article written by Maura O’Malley, Lifetime Arts CEO and Co-founder and published by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). In the article, Maura shares how navigating the senior care system for her creative aunt in her eighties expanded her interest in educational arts programming for older adults, and decades later, how Lifetime Arts was born through this research-backed movement. Additionally, she shares the importance of creative aging implementation in museums and how this sector can get involved.
Museums and Creative Aging: A Healthful Partnership, is a landmark report commissioned by the American Alliance of Museums and written by Marjorie Schwarzer. The report is a call to action for museums to change the narrative about what it means to grow old in America. Opening with an overview of aging and ageism in our country, the report documents actions being taken to foster positive aging, profiles the work of museums providing creative aging programming, and shares lessons learned from the Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums initiative of Aroha Philanthropies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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One of the surest (and fastest) ways understand exactly what creative aging programming is all about is to review short cases highlighting exemplary programs offered by organizations that serve older adults.
Lifetime Arts is proud to share this first series of brief case studies, developed expressly for The Creative Aging Resource, featuring the distinguished work some of our partners and colleagues across the United States. These cases have been vetted by the organizations and institutions they feature.
Annie Montgomery, Julie Kline, Nathan Majoros, and David Woehr of Lifetime Arts discuss with host Joe McCarthy the ways in which profiled organizations met challenges with innovative solutions and built towards sustainability.
Browse Exemplary Programs Across Sectors:
Arts Organizations & Community Educators
Public Library Systems
Case Development Process, Insights, and Themes
Developing a case study taxonomy
One of the first challenges we faced when developing this series was creating a taxonomy that would complement and align with the others we are using to classify and tag resources site wide. “We scheduled several meetings to shape the categories, and agreed on the lanes of focus. Once we started writing the narratives, we refined the categories even further,” said Annie Montgomery, Lifetime Arts’ Director of Education who led the process.
From Challenges to Solutions, and Ultimately, Insights
The most focusing aspect of the project came out of the “Challenges” and “Solutions” content. Montgomery said, “Once we created a list of common challenges, the organizational stories came to the surface quickly.” Education Associate, Julie Kline, added, “The challenges the organizations faced only spurred them to be more creative with their programming, and more expansive in their reach to the older adults in their community. The Challenges/Solutions approach acknowledges that there will always be challenges when creating new programs; it’s really a question of how you approach the challenges that arise.”
Partnerships Help Resolve Challenges and Expand Impact
Partnerships emerged as one of the common solutions threading its way through several of these cases.
Johnson City Public Library (JCPL) solved their space issues by connecting with not one but several key community partners. “The Fullness of Time: Exploring the Arts and the Gifts of Aging at Johnson City Public Library,” describes how the library system tapped several community partners including: East Tennessee State University (ETSU); the University’s fine arts galleries; the International Storytelling Center; and the Blue Moon Theatre.
Connections between JCPL and ETSU’s faculty, some of whom were highly-qualified teaching artists, cut down significantly on costs and inefficiencies. ETSU’s design faculty also designed an ADDY award-winning campaign for the program.
Integrating Creative Aging into Mission
Working on a different, much larger scale, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) developed solutions that worked their creative aging programming into their overall mission. Both Kline and Montgomery were particularly enthusiastic about how LACMA’s journey translated into a case study. “I think LACMA is very interesting as they went through the intensive process of creating a ‘Theory of Change and Logic Model,’” said Montgomery. “This process was integral to building a solid infrastructure for sustainability and positioning within the museum’s mission.”
All of these cases show that even in the best of circumstances (and pre-COVID-19), adjustments will likely need to be made and flexibility is paramount in executing an organization’s programming.
We hope that these and other cases featured in the Creative Aging Resource will provide a roadmap for others considering bringing creative aging programming to their communities.
Want to Share Your Own Creative Aging Work with the Field?
Please use the Submission form to submit information about your own creative aging work. Thank you.