This is the third in a series of posts publicizing Aroha Philanthropy’s call for proposals for Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums, funding the development and implementation of high quality, intensive arts learning opportunities for active older adults.. Previous posts introduced the grant opportunity, and shared the experiences of the Newark Museum in an earlier round of Vitality Arts. Today art educator Meg Nicoll tells us how the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art used Aroha support to engage with “perennials.” Aroha is encouraging museums of all types to submit proposals. Applications are due August 1, so get cracking!
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass was fortunate to be one of 15 organizations that formed the inaugural cohort of Seeding Vitality Arts, an Aroha Philanthropies’ initiative out of Minneapolis. So we were thrilled to learn that Aroha is now partnering with The Alliance to expand creative aging programs throughout the museum field. It’s an exciting opportunity for our colleagues to engage older visitors in new and important ways.
We’re now in our second year of the grant, and have learned so much about the interests and needs of these under-served museum patrons. The grant also gave us the opportunity to build important partnerships with local organizations and generally improve the accessibility of our spaces and programs—both goals we had set for ourselves at the outset.
The Carle focuses on the cultural importance of children’s illustrated literature through exhibitions, art-making, and extensive programs with visiting scholars, artists, and writers. Though 70% of our audience are families with young children, 30% are adult visitors drawn to the timeless art and stories in picture books. Located in rural Western Massachusetts, the Museum is surrounded by beautiful farmlands and five well known colleges: Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The area has become a retirement community of choice, with a growing population of adults over 55.
When we learned of the Seeding Vitality Arts grant opportunity, we were intrigued. Older adults make up the majority of our major donors and volunteers, and often take advantage of our adult programs. But while we offer adult lectures, exhibition receptions, and teacher workshops, we rarely offered art-making workshops specifically for adults, let alone a workshop series. We knew the audience was out there but questioned if we would be a successful host organization for ongoing classes. Would these adults find us a natural fit for their needs?
And we were pleasantly surprised. During our first year of the grant we offered three eight-week Create with The Carle! art classes for adults—collage, printmaking, and bookmaking—all taught by teaching artists. We wanted the classes to connect with our collection, so we included time visiting our galleries and a special behind-the-scenes collection tour with our chief curator. Each class quickly filled up and needed a waiting list.
We definitely met our goals: participants built their art skills, found inspiration in our collection, had a great time expressing themselves visually, and shared those experiences with each other. Just as important, we discovered that the connection between participants and the museum did not conclude with the end of the classes. Many have attended other programs and events and joined our membership program, and a few have come on as volunteers.
Create with The Carle! art classes made us look hard at our space and its accessibility, especially The Carle’s Art Studio, which functions as a drop-in space for the public whenever the museum is open. After assessing the studio with each of our teaching artists, we made updates to ensure it was welcoming, safe, and comfortable. We replaced stools with chairs with backs and arms. We put out two walkers since the Art Studio is down a long hallway from our main entrance. We rearranged the tables to create ample working space for individuals to explore materials, and provided spaces for participants to store their artwork and hang their coats.
For the second and final year of the grant, we’ve moved to offsite locations by developing partnerships that will help us reach new audiences in a sustainable way: one is a local residential living facility and two are senior centers. By partnering with other organizations to deliver classes, we’ve been able to share costs and the marketing and communications around classes, while supporting one another with logistics. Classes still include one visit to the Museum so we can continue to build lasting relationships with participants. By taking the classes offsite, we’re connecting with audiences who are not as familiar with us. Our relationships with the teaching artists have also became increasingly important. They’ve connected us to other arts organizations and artists in the region, and brought their own network of audiences to the program.
Being a part of the Seeding Vitality Arts initiative has been incredibly helpful to The Carle as we transition from a young institution to a mature and sustainable one with broader reach and impact. We’re confident we can continue to offer adult programming at The Carle, both on and offsite, offering creative programs that deliver meaningful experiences to an ever-growing audience of older adults.
As Art Educator at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Meg Nicoll collaboratively designs, develops and manages programs for the Art Studio. Available to The Carle’s thousands of annual visitors and open during all regular Museum hours, the Studio is a space where visitors engage in open-ended projects that emphasize experimentation with materials and personal expression. She is interested in working with artists, educators, and people of all ages to create opportunities for art-making.