The dedicated staff and leadership of Johnson City Public Library (JCPL) conducted extensive community surveys and developed new local partnerships to successfully pilot 15 Creative Aging programs over two years. Programs included, “Afro-Caribbean Drumming & Creative Movement,” “Appalachian Music (Banjo and Mandolin),” “Creative Writing,” “Sculpture,” “Photography,” and “Theater.”
Johnson City’s older adult community enthusiastically responded to the Library’s surveys and reported their interest in a wide range of art forms which the Library committed to offering. Fortunately, the Library’s facilities could easily accommodate many of them — including creative writing, storytelling and the music programs. However they could not offer photography, sculpture, nor theater — all of which required equipment and space that the Library simply did not have.
Johnson City Public Library (JCPL) developed relationships with a local university, East Tennessee State University (ETSU) and their fine arts galleries, a nearby arts and cultural organization, the International Storytelling Center, and a professional theatre, the Blue Moon Theatre. These partnerships allowed JCPL to implement creative aging programming that wouldn’t be possible in their own facilities. For example, JCPL offered a sculpture program and photography program which was held at East Tennessee State University, which provided a proper studio space along with access to tools and equipment.
In addition, these partnerships elevated the programming and aided in the administrative task of planning and implementing programs. With JCPL’s partnership with ETSU, they “commissioned graphic designers from ETSU, which allowed JCPL to have their print pieces processed and mailed out from the University’s print shop — creating significant savings in costs and uncounted hours of labor in stuffing, addressing, and stamping approximately 1,500 envelopes.” The partnership with ETSU also connected JCPL with highly qualified teaching artists, who were faculty at ETSU and familiar with ETSU’s spaces and resources; as well as graphic design faculty, who designed an Addy-award winning marketing campaign for JCPL’s program and culminating events. The relationship with ETSU exemplifies what is best in working with community partners; not only was JCPL able to expand its offerings to patrons beyond its own walls, but ETSU fulfilled an important goal of community outreach by utilizing its studio space during summer terms.
Another example of elevating the programming through partnerships is the relationship JCPL built with The International Storytelling Center. With this partnership, JCPL held culminating events for their storytelling and creative writing programs, where participants were able to share their works on a professional stage.
Host Organization Name
Johnson City Public Library
Host Organization Description
From their website: Johnson City Public Library (JCPL) was founded in 1895 by a group of civic minded women known as the Monday Reading Club “for the purpose of studying art, history and literature in general.” It has been in continuous operation ever since. Through both traditional materials and emerging technologies, Johnson City Public Library offers a multitude of learning opportunities and entertainment choices in a dynamic center for the community.
Host Organization Website
The dedicated staff and leadership of Johnson City Public Library (JCPL) conducted extensive community surveys and developed new local partnerships to successfully pilot 15 creative aging programs over two years. Programs included, Afro-Caribbean Drumming & Creative Movement, Appalachian Music (Banjo and Mandolin), Creative Writing, Sculpture, Photography, and Theater. Lisa Williams coordinated the programming. Angelique Lynch taught the sculpture program. East Tennessee State University, The International Storytelling Center and Blue Moon Theatre Company all partnered with JCPL on the programs.
Onsite: JCPL used a multipurpose space. Offsite: JCPL partnered with organizations that provided dedicated artist studios.
Depending on the art form, materials and equipment varied from program to program. Creative writing programs, for example, required simply notebooks and pens. Most visual arts projects, like sculpture and photography required specialized equipment and significant consumable materials.
JCPL leveraged their partnership with East Tennessee State University (ETSU) to commission graphic design for their marketing materials. This relationship gave JCPL access to ETSU’s print shop — saving JCPL time and money.
Seeding Vitality Arts US
Aroha Philanthropies’ Seeding Vitality Arts US enables a diverse cohort of organizations across America to develop and implement high quality, intensive arts learning opportunities for older adults.
The initiative’s goals are to:
- Demonstrate the power and impact of creative aging programs to a broad national audience
- Encourage arts and cultural organizations to develop participatory arts education programs for older adults
- Encourage organizations that serve older adults to develop arts education programming
- Refine and disseminate effective program models
Learning a craft, no matter what age is rewarding. Johnson City Public Library Artful Aging Sculpture classes were a wonderful journey of learning and self-discovery to help senior students reclaim their inner artist. Many students remarked that they had the passion to create, but no direction. The sculpture classes that were developed to encouraged students to discover and take risk creating artwork that was unique and challenging. Learning, creating, and sharing are all key elements to the Johnson City Public Library Artful Aging program. I am honored and thankful for the opportunity to work with the Johnson City Public Library and several local seniors within the enriching Artful Aging program.
I think offering these programs to our community is one of the most important things I’ve done in my career. I’ve seen considerable change in people’s awareness of bias just in the last couple of years, but ageism is the still the “ism” that dare not speak its name. I’m beginning to do more of my professional work around Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, but I don’t see the uptick in awareness of the way people are marginalized as they age. I was challenged, as a librarian, by one of our participants to provide a reading list of books that featured older protagonists in realistic and enjoyable stories that don’t fall back on stereotypes – in other words, “show me characters who look like me.” This task was depressingly tougher than I expected. I’ve also noticed frequent expressions of insignificance by older people – a fatalism that “nothing I do matters NOW.” Because creativity is an inherently joyful experience that directly counteracts those feelings, programs like Vitality Arts are desperately needed.
It’s clear to me that the people who proposed and taught all of this had a firm grasp of the kinds of needs facing “aging” people, and of the ways in which various pursuits of Art could help fill those needs. We don’t need condescending “thumb-twiddling” pastimes. We need community, respect, rigor, and real interaction on sophisticated levels with imaginative, involved people who expect us to be the same. This program gave us all of that. I have a new set of interests, a new community of people, a new interest in BEING a part of my community. Since our class ended, I have made three fairly major pieces based on what I have learned, and I expect to keep doing this stuff. . . it is, in fact, FUN, in the finest sense of the word.
Case Study Details
case study topicsOrganizational Commitment, Partnerships
organization typeArts Organizations, Library System
art formLiterary Arts, Performing Arts, Visual Arts
program site typeArts Organizations, Libraries
population densityRural, Suburban
includes virtual programming?No
8-12 sessions @ 90-120 min.
funding sourcePrivate Foundation