The New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) works with more than 40 senior service organizations around Boston to welcome approximately 75 older adult learners onto their campus each week. When the pandemic initially hit, NEC knew they had to quickly adapt to a virtual world and maintain the connection between their older adult students, faculty, college students and community partners. Faculty and staff transitioned their one-on-one lessons to a virtual format and creating innovative and responsive virtual programs for large groups of senior participants.
Since March 2020, the San Francisco Community Music Center (CMC) has developed several new ways to adapt their Older Adult Choir Program (OACP), which serves nearly 400 older adults in senior centers throughout San Francisco, to a successful online learning platform. To keep their dynamic choir communities connected during COVID-19, the CMC worked with their senior center partners, where brick and mortar choirs take place, to create instructional videos on their YouTube Channel, which led to implementing sessions on Zoom.
For the past three years, Dane Stauffer has been teaching a storytelling program series at the Park Square Theater in Minneapolis, MN. Dane was in the middle of teaching the last segment when COVID-19 forced the theater to close. With the theater’s blessing, Dane shifted to an online format and retitled the program: “Storytellers Online: Bringing Our Stories to the World.”
Stagebridge is the nation’s oldest and most renowned theatre company for older adults. Founded in Oakland, CA in 1978 by Dr. Stuart Kendall, the organization’s mission is to enrich the lives of older adults and their communities through the performing arts.
When COVID-19 forced teachers and students at Stagebridge to shelter in place, their programming was between sessions. Staff took time to decide how to proceed with their popular Performing Arts Institute, which offers classes in acting, musical theater, tap and modern dance, devised and playback theater, storytelling, and stand-up comedy.
Teaching Artist, Susan Willerman, has been teaching “Writing From Life” at Morningside Retirement and Health Services in the Washington Heights neighborhood of NYC for 26 consecutive years. The class started as a program of Elders Share the Arts in 1994, and now continues as part of the Teachers & Writers Collaborative. When COVID-19 forced members to shelter at home, Susan and Tiana, one of the members, worked together to develop the most effective ways to continue the program online.
Lifetime Arts Roster Teaching Artist, Greacian Goeke, has taught her signature class, “Free to Move: Expressive Movement & Rhythm for Brain & Body Health,” at the Albany Senior Center outside of Oakland, CA for the last 10 years. The class is an opportunity to, “…interact and explore the expressive language of movement, sharpening both physical and mental agility.”
Greacian and her students were devastated when COVID-19 forced the Albany Senior Center to shut down. However, she immediately reached out to her students to propose continuing online via Zoom.
While our campaign, “Connect Through Creativity Now,” highlights teaching artists, arts and service organizations working within the traditional Creative Aging model (sequential learning, skill-building, social-engagement) while stay-at-home orders prohibit in-person social gatherings, there are a number of other efforts emerging that warrant mention.
In this article, we include others working outside the traditional model, who are using arts education as a catalyst for social engagement and expression during the challenging COVID-19 era.
“Making sure that arts programs for older adults provide social engagement opportunities intentionally connected to the art-making is at the heart of Lifetime Arts’ recommendations, supported by important research. We’ve decided to launch a campaign called, ‘Connect Through Creativity,’ highlighting teaching artists arts, community, and senior service organizations across the country who are diving in to this brave new world of Creative Aging during COVID-19.”
Clown Artist, John LeoNimm, has been a teaching artist working in NYC senior centers for several years. He was one month into teaching clown and comedy skills to older adults at the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, when the senior center closed due to COVID-19. While still uncertain what the closures might mean for the program, he worked fast to investigate ways to move his class online, crowd-sourcing solutions within his teaching artist community on Facebook.
San Juan, Puerto Rico-based Museum de Historia, Antropología y Arte was just finishing up their first year of Creative Aging programming when COVID-19 hit, which left their visual arts program with two remaining classes in the series. Lisa Ortega, Museum Educator, and teaching artist, Raúl Olmo joined forces with Katherine Márquez Torres, Marketing Specialist for the museum, to deliver a two-hour online critique session which was held via Google Hangouts. The program closed with an encore critique class on April 15.