A workshop presented by Annie Montgomery and Maura O’Malley of Lifetime Arts. Museum Summit on Creative Aging, July 29, 2021
Elizabeth Merritt: The marvelous work of Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, Union County Heritage Museum, the Louisiana State Museum, and the other museums participating in seeding vitality arts was guided, informed, and inspired by Lifetime Arts, national leaders in creative aging program development. Next up for our summit, Morra O’Malley, co-founder and CEO of Lifetime Arts, and Annie Montgomery, director of education of Lifetime Arts, will share an overview of the educational model that forms the foundation of seeding vitality arts, help raise our awareness of ageism, and give us a taste of social engagement through arts-making.
Annie Montgomery: Thank you, Elizabeth. Hi, everybody out there. We’re so pleased to be here with you. In a minute, I’m going to pass this over to Morra to get us started, but this is to the best of our ability with 232 of us, we’re going to make this an interactive workshop, so we’ll see how this goes. Actually, what I need is about 10 volunteers. What I would love for you to do is to put your little hand-up signal if you want to be part of these opening activities with us. One thing I do want to give a little bit of warning, we’re going to be digging into how we feel about aging, our own aging, and answering with some yes and no prompts in a unique way where we’ll use our cameras to get a barometer. Just know that you will be in a vulnerable, but safe sharing space, but I just wanted to give you a little heads up. Raise a hand. [Ibrahim 00:01:44], our stage manager, is keeping an eye out for hands raised and he will make you panelists, I believe. While he’s doing that, Morra, why don’t you go ahead and jump into our cliché part because the whole audience can participate with this.
Morra O’Malley: Thanks so much, Annie, and thanks, Elizabeth. Before we jump into our presentation, we want to take a moment to think about our own aging and how we’re growing old and how we feel individually about growing older, and then we’re going to think about how this affects the work that we do in terms of program design and delivery and how this work impacts what we do. We know that there’s lots of cliches about growing older and about aging and often we don’t realize the effect they have on us and on our work. If you would write into the chat any agist things that you heard or said yourself maybe. For instance, “Oh, you look so young for your age.” Or, “Age before beauty.” We’re going to take a look at these and share some of these out before we get into some more activities around ageism.
Annie: Yeah, one of my favorite ones, Morra, is, “I’ve just had a senior moment.”
Morra: Right. [crosstalk 00:02:59]. Or, “You’re so cool for an old person.” Thanks. And, “You look so young for your age.” So, what does that got to do with anything?
Annie: “You’re as old as my mom.”
Morra: God forbid. And, of course, “You aren’t on TikTok or anything else of contemporary life.”
Annie: Oh yeah, my kids love to do the, “Okay, boomer,” to me. That’s a favorite one to tease their mom with.
Morra: Or, “Do you need any help, sweetie?” Don’t call me sweetie.
Annie: Yeah, call sweetie one more time. Right, it’s hilarious though, hilarious may not be the right word, but how common we do these things, right, Morra?
Annie: They kind of are [inaudible 00:03:49] all the time and we work in creative aging. You’d think we’d be a bit wiser, but still, we’re working at this thing, right?
Morra: That’s right. We’re all working at it and it is a lot of work because we’ve been raised in an agist society and we’re not even quite aware of what this impact that this has on us.
Annie: That’s right. Keep those coming in as you come in because part of our work at Lifetime Arts is, before we get into the history of creative aging and program models and designs, the first thing we always look at is ageism and how we feel about aging ourselves, how we look at the older adults in our community, what have been our models for growing older in this country, both culturally, both in terms of the media and our family, and how in fact we’re our own worst agist at times. And, [Melony 00:04:53], it’s okay, you can come back because we’re about to do an activity. In fact, I’m going to ask all of our volunteers that have joined our panelist state to turn on your cameras and join us so we can see your smiling faces. Fantastic. And then, I’m going to invite our panelists here too if they’re still online. I know some of you had to go back to work, but if you’re online and you feel like joining into this activity, please turn on your cameras and play with us. Eli’s very familiar with this work. We’ve done quite a few training sessions together, so I have a feeling he knows where we’re going with this.
But this is what’s going to happen, we’re just going to look at our own ageism as honestly as we can. I’m just going to ask our volunteers for sort of the barometer of the whole audience because I’m telling you, whatever you feel, other people in our audience who are watching us have also felt. I’m going to say a statement. In fact, I’m holding my little glasses case. Look at this trick, look what happens. I disappeared. When we get started, I’m going to ask you to cover your camera with anything in your space. I used my glasses case. You can use your hand, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to say a statement then, and then if you agree with the statement, you’re going to let me see your face so I can start to see what’s the barometer of aging and what have we all been affected by. I’m just going to again ask you all to be as honest as possible.
We’ll start easy. Let’s cover up our camera and I’ll do it with you. I’m happy to play. Easy first before we get into the hard stuff. I love chocolate ice cream. If you agree, let me see your face. Great. You get it. Perfect. And cover it up. Next easy one. Summer is my favorite season. Great. A few of us, four of us like summer. Great. Now cover up. Now we’re going to move into a little bit harder questions and I’m going to ask our audience watching, how would you answer these questions? What would be your answers to these questions? “I have been dismissed at some point in my work because people thought I was too young to contribute meaningfully.” Okay, great. Let’s cover up again. “I have been dismissed at some point in my work life because people think I am too old to contribute meaningfully.” Okay, thank you for your honesty. Thank you. And cover up again. “I have tried to make myself look younger by coloring my hair.” Looks like I’m the only one there. Oh, okay, thank you. Okay, let’s cover up again. “I don’t wear clothes that I think I am too old for.” Thank you. Thank you. Cover up again.
We’re going to dig deep here. If you don’t feel like you can share honestly, that’s okay, but think about this. “I feel invisible to potential romantic partners because of my age.” Great, thank you. If I was single, I’d feel that way too. Here we go. “I have been pushed out or worry about being pushed out of my job because I am older than most of my colleagues.” Thank you. You can cover up again. Two more we’re going to do. “I feel incredible when people think I am younger than I am.” Last one. “I feel bad if someone thinks I am older than I am.” And we can all bring our faces back. Thank you for participating. What I want all of us to think about listening to some of these statements, how they land on you. Where is your perspective on this? And it’s going to be different for everybody.
Going further then, how do these perspectives maybe inform the students that come to our class? How do they inform how we design programs? Because ageism impact all of us. Negative messaging about what it means to grow older bombards us. I think as you’ve all heard through the beautiful presentations and the vulnerable presentations today that creative aging programs really have an opportunity to rewrite some of the narratives that we have about growing older. In this session, we’re going to really look at what is behind creative aging. For those of you in the audience that this is new to, we’re going to look at some of the research that underpins this. We’re going to hear a little bit about the model that museums are beginning to work in and organizations across this country are going to work in, and then we’re going to look at a little demo class that you actually are going to come back to, and I’m going to ask you to be volunteers as audience members in the demo class at the end of the session, so keep an eye out for that.
Morra: Ageism is a major barrier to successful aging. It is embedded in our society, in our popular culture and media, and is often self-inflicted. Think of older adults who won’t go to senior centers because they’re full of old people. You may have just experienced a bit of that self-inflicted ageism in our opening activity. As creative agency advocates, we push back against ageism by embracing the notion that growing older is a natural and positive aspect of living. We do not see older adults as other, but rather as our future selves. We are all in the aging club, no one is excluded. Everyone has access to learning and to community. Embracing older adults as learners and creators a challenge for many individuals, but it is especially tough for organizations. This is one of the main reasons why in 2008 we established Lifetime Arts as a service organization to help develop an infrastructure for the emerging fields of creative aging in order to shift traditional senior programming from passive entertainment to engaged learning by promoting arts education specifically to older adults.
Our goal is to help community based organizations as well as large scale institutions and agencies support and delivery engaging participatory programs that respond to the needs and the interests of today’s older adults. So, what is creative aging? Creative aging is a relatively new field that focuses on older adults who are 55 and better. It encompasses a wide variety of practice areas including the art therapies. At Lifetime Arts we focus on the development and implementation of skills based participatory instructional arts programs that includes activities designed to engage the social life. In short, it’s arts education for older adults. Creative aging programs are offered in all disciplines visual informing literary arts, and importantly participants do not require any previous experience in the art form.
So, why is everyone talking about aging? Worldwide, the population is aging due to falling fertility rates. People are having fewer children, and rising longevity. Put simply, people are generally living longer, healthier lives. We do want to acknowledge that as a result of COVID19 there is a projected reduction in life expectancy for older adults by about one year. This is according to the National Academy of Sciences. Overall though, according to the US Census Bureau starting in 2030 older Americans will make up 21% of the population. That’s up from 15% today. By 2034 the number adults aged 65 and older will outnumber those under the age of 18. The demographic shift is not a temporary situation, but it is a permanent shift towards an older population. In our work, we identify older adults as people who are 55 to 100 years old and better. We see older adults including ourselves as whole, intelligent, creative, and social people. Black, indigenous, and people of color, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals constitute a significant and rapidly growing portion of the older adult population in the US.
In 2010, people of color made up 20% of the nation’s total 65+ demographic, a figure that will more than double by 2050. Advocates and aging service providers report that LGBTQIA older adults and older adults of color face significant disparities in health and health access, economic security, housing, employment, community support, and more. Through our creative aging work we address these inequalities by aligning with organizations that serve these populations and by advocating for anti-ageist, anti-racist, and anti-ableism programs and services through our training and working with diverse communities across the United States to work to ensure that arts programming is accessible for the full span of diverse older adults and is responsive to their needs and interests.
So, why do we promote arts education programming for older adults? Our model is inspired by the Creativity in Aging study, which proves that arts engagement is especially good for older adults. Dr. Gene Cohen led the study out of George Washington University in 2006. The study was done over three years in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington DC. In each site there was a control group of older adults ages 65 to 103 who did their usual activities and an intervention group who participated in professionally conducted arts and cultural programs. There were 50 participants in both the control and intervention groups in all three sites. Both groups were well matched in terms of functioning at the start of the study. There was an expected decline in this age group, however, instead the shift study showed these results. Those in the intervention group used less medication, had fewer doctor visits, experienced less depression, and overall became much more engaged in activities in their lives.
Cohen and others have discovered that the aging brain is far more classic, reliable than previously believed and that structured learning, especially through the arts can improve cognitive functioning and enhance the quality of life. Dr. Cohen identified the two most important components of a creative aging arts education program. No matter it was delivered, whether in-person, online, or another alternative format, creative aging programs need to include these two main goals: mastery and social engagement. Simply put, learning something new or in more depth and making friends in the process.
To define further, mastery of skills such as learning an art form in depth and having the opportunity to practice and become better at it over time. Social engagement is only truly effective when the same group works together as artists over time. It takes time to build new social connections, and in the case of an established community like a senior center, it may take time to undo some previously held ideas about one another and to start to build new connections through the art medium. Whether online or in-person, creative aging programs have the same focus and the same components. Sequential classes [inaudible 00:17:39] program taught by a professional teaching artist. These are registration based that can be either free or fee based and there’s always a culminating event that’s sharing with family and community. Again, at Lifetime Arts we use the term older adults to denote the 55 and better folks that these programs are designed for. We find that this term as opposed to seniors or elderly is a broader, more inclusive term that different kinds of people engaged in this work and it’s often preferable to the students themselves.
These are some characteristics shared by all adult learners including older adults and they must be considered when planning creative aging programs. These characteristics may not apply to every adult learner, but these are attributes to keep in mind. Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They choose to join a class because it lines up with their interests. Adults are goal oriented. They come with the attitude of, “If not now, when?” They are serious about it and have clear ideas about what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. They are practical and want information. They want to be better at it as they learn. They want to apply what they’ve learned to their lives beyond the class. They have a lifetime of experience and knowledge, which provides limitless material for exploration and artistic expression. As learners, older adults vote with their feet. They don’t have to be there. They will leave the class or just not come back if the class doesn’t fit what they are looking for.
There’s no getting around the fact that we are all aging, and while we assume ability, there are some situations that come up with more frequency as people age. It’s important to recognize these natural changes and be prepared to address them. Often, people don’t volunteer information, for example, if someone’s hard of hearing, they’re not going to necessarily tell you that. There are issues like these that can be handled proactively by considering things like how’s this space set up, how hand-outs are designed, or through non-evasive assessments, which Annie will talk about shortly. Additionally, keeping universal design best practices in place, which support the success of all learners. Creative aging aims to help older adults experience aging as a positive process. The natural process of aging often brings with it a series of losses: retirement, spouses and our friends die, children move away from home. The need to make new connections is critical, and this is one reason that creative aging programs have become so important. They are a powerful intervention of social isolation. Older adulthood is often thought of as a time fraught with regret, isolation, and confusion, but it can also be a time of great opportunity and new adventures in learning.
The positive aging movement uses the term rewirement and defines it as a time when older people might rethink their hobbies and interests and go through a process of reevaluating what’s important to them and how they want to spend their time. Social isolation is a huge problem for older adults, whether they’re living in a high rise in New York City or in a farm in rural Wyoming. This pandemic has exacerbated the problem for everyone, especially for older adults. Recent studies have found that social isolation has physical and emotional health consequences, it’s been called the new smoking. Creative aging programs address and combat social isolation because each workshop session includes social engagement opportunities that build connections between participants for us as learners and eventually as friends. There’s a story that we always think about in reference to this kind of impact of creative aging programs and that is there was an older gentleman in the Bronx who didn’t speak English and his daughter was looking for something for him to do because he was becoming more and more isolated.
She found this drawing class at the local library and amazingly the gentleman sitting next to him, her father, was also a native Italian speaker. They became best friends. At the culminating event, the man who had joined the class said what this program meant for him was hard for him to explain, but he kind of hit the nail on the head. He said, “Sometimes you’re afraid your mind is slipping. Drawing brings it back up again. You realize that your brain is working and you’re going to be okay.”
Annie: At Lifetime, we like to use the acronym SAFE to denote all the elements of a quality creative aging class in terms of design. These elements are skills, assessment, feedback, and engaging socially. To dive into this a bit further, skills. One skill builds into the next skill, sequential and also experiential. The well designed scaffold and arc of a workshop series, we want to see that the skills are built in a logical way that will allow students to more fully understand how one skill leads to the next and contributes to their own art literacy and competency and will be the foundation in which the students begin to see themselves as real learners and as artists. An assessment is really referring to the teaching artist’s ability to evaluate their students so that they can tailor the instruction to match the needs of the learners. Community classes should be as barrier-free and as welcoming as possible to all kinds of learners. This will mean that the diversity of entry points and the experience in the art form will be vast across the students and the teaching artists must assess how each student individually learns and what is the best approach that might be available to each student.
And feedback, this is really the opportunity for students to talk about their work. A teaching artist will develop processes with their classes to ensure that there are opportunities to talk about one another’s work. These feedback strategies will be employed in a variety of ways from teaching artists, but the goal is that the student artist can grow in their learning from the feedback as opposed to being torn down by criticism. I’m going to be adding a link to the Liz Lerman Critical Response Protocol to give you an idea about creative affirmative critical feedback protocols. This is just one example of how you might do this. Teaching artists will have lots of ways to do this, but this is an idea to give you a place to start with some of your teaching artists potentially.
Finally, engage socially. This is really intentional social engagement that is tied to the art making. Teaching artists will create opportunities for their students to engage socially with one another through specifically designed activities that are connected to the art-making and through the skills that they are learning and practicing, but allows them also to connect to one another. This creative aging class demonstration is a theater class that creates original performance pieces based on themes that are of interest to the students. In today’s demonstration you will see the students, the teaching artists, and a staff tech support person participating in the lesson. Please also imagine that you are a participant in the class as I will be asking you to add feedback later in the class.
In this video, you will not see the opening activities that the students just completed, but it was similar to the two activities that we began today’s workshop with where we shared cliches that we have heard about aging and shared our own ideas about what we have experienced or seen around ageism. The warm-up activity serves as a social engagement activity where students share their thoughts and feelings about aging and ageism, the theme of today’s session. They also help the teaching artist assess where each student is that day physically, cognitively, and emotionally, and give an idea to the teaching artist of what kind of support each student may need to successfully engage in the class. The warm-up activity should be connected to the artistic learning in the main activity, either thematically or directly to the skill development the students are learning.
Now you will view a truncated version of the main art-making activity building on our ageism exploration and moving towards creating original theatrical pieces.
All right, everybody, first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to look at this image. [Gallia’s 00:26:59] going to share her screen and we’re going to look at this image together. What I would love for you to do while you’re looking at this image is just share out some thoughts. What does this image bring up for you? How does it make you feel? What does it make you think of? Anything that comes to mind. And as you’re sharing your thoughts, I’m going to just be reporting some words into the chat that stand out to me from what you’re saying.
Speaker 4: It makes me think of someone that is reminiscing as she’s walking by and she’s remembering how youthful and free and independent and mobile she was at one time. And though she’s using a cane, pretty much her spirit and personality probably hasn’t changed.
Amy: That’s what I feel about it also. That she feels like she is this live dancing woman.
David: I absolutely agree. It gives me a lot of hope.
Annie: Great. Beautiful. Now we’re going to move on to our next activity around aging and growing older. The question I have for all of you is, how do you feel on the inside? What is your age internally? Not your actual age, but what is the age that you feel that you are inside? That could be physically or mentally. You could interpret this either way you want. If you had to put an age on your internal self, what would it be? If you can raise a hand, I’ll call on you. Yes, Ed?
Ed: The way I feel about my age is hard to determine because internally in some ways I feel like I could be of any age because I sort of feel like I’m doing a lot of new projects, I’m very active, but I do that with the awareness of my chronological age. Sometimes I sort of feel like I have to get this done because of my chronological age. And then, physically I get reminded of things that are age related, losses of changes. Again, it’s not a specific number, but it’s an awareness that there are changes taking place. I’m trying to mediate that the best way that I can.
Annie: Sure. Thank you, Ed, for sharing. Does anyone else want to share what their internal age?
Amy: I could share. I guess I feel like my actual age, which is 77. I’m very busy. I do a lot of physical dancing and activities and I do a lot of artwork. People tend to tell me that I seem or look younger than I am, but I feel like they’re wrong, that they’re misjudging what a person my age is like. Most of my friends are also youthful, and to me, they’re youthful, they look good, they stay active. My mother lived until 97, so in a sense, I feel like, “Oh, I have 20 more years.” Of course, I may not, but in a way I feel like I have time. Occasionally, there are things about which I think I’m the same as I was at 40, but physically there’s a lot of arthritis that says otherwise.
Annie: Yeah, things change. Thank you so much, Amy, for sharing. Now what we’re going to do is take a moment and we’re going to write down what you just shared. You all shared your internal age and why you feel that way internally, so just write one, maximum, two sentences about what you just shared. It’s okay if it changed a little bit, but let’s just try to get it down on to paper. In a minute we are going to get into breakout groups. What I would like you to do with your partner is, one, decide who’s A and who is B. A is going to go first and you are going to read your sentence. Partner B, you can say affirmative statements about what you loved about the sentence. So, we’re only going to talk in affirmative statements about what resonated with you right now. Then, B, I will need to you to help A decide on two words that really stood out from their sentence. You’re going to just pick two words. Of those two words, you’re going to create a gesture. Don’t worry, that’s a lot. I’m going to walk you through it right now and model it first with two volunteers. Carol, if you could be A.
Annie: If you could think of a sentence first, and then Ed, just share with Carol after she reads, any moments that had impact or resonance with you, okay.
Ed: Got it.
Carol: I feel like my internal age is about 40 and I base this on my constant need and enjoyment of being involved in purposeful activities. I love teaching the arts and I love taking new courses in things that I want to learn more about. I base this on my innate curiosity and spunk.
Annie: Great. Ed, what were a couple of moments that resonated for you?
Ed: A bunch. The two that really jumped out at me were purposeful. I really do think that having a purpose is really important, and also curiosity. I think maintaining that curiosity throughout your life is really a key, so those two things jumped out at me.
Annie: Great, beautiful. What I just put into the chat, and this is what you will do for each other, because you had two points, I distilled that down to purposeful and curiosity because she said that in her first sentence. Put that sentence in your back pocket because we’re going to come back to it. Now we’re going to switch and Ed, you’re going to read your sentence to Carol and we’re going to do the same thing. We’re going to get those two words that ring. Go ahead, Ed, you can read your sentence or two.
Ed: I divided my internal age into two parts. Mentally, I feel about 40 because I’m still doing projects and I’m still thinking ahead. And the physical where I’m reminded daily about things that just get more difficult.
Annie: Great. Thank you for sharing. Could you read it one more time for us? And Carol, you can listen to the two words that ring for you.
Ed: I divided my internal age into two parts. Mentally, I feel about 40. I’m still doing projects and I’m still thinking ahead. The second part is the physical where I’m reminded daily about the things that just get more difficult over time.
Annie: Great. What two words really rang for you, Carol?
Carol: I guess doing projects and thinking ahead.
Annie: Okay, I’m going to say doing projects, I’m putting this into the chat, and thinking ahead. Here’s where we get a little bit theatrical. We’re going to be building these pieces and building them all together in a little while. The reason I’m asking you to pick two words for each other, because those two words are going to be your gesture words. Carol, this time I’m going to have you read your sentence again.
Carol: My sentence?
Annie: Your sentence. And on purposeful, we’re going to create a gesture for the word purposeful. And Ed, you’re going to be Carol’s partner to help her if she has trouble. And then we’re also going to create another gesture for when you get to curiosity, Carol. We’ll take it really slow. First, read your sentence and when you get to purposeful, pause, and we will build from there.
Carol: I feel like my internal age is about 40 and I base this on my need to always be involved in purposeful activities.
Annie: Great. What gesture could you articulate just with your upper body on purposeful? Great. Purposeful. Great. I know you’re reading, so you could even take a pause on purposeful if you need to. Let’s keep moving to curiosity.
Carol: And my need to take courses that fulfill my need for curiosity.
Annie: Curiosity. Great. I saw purposeful and curiosity. Can you remember those? Can you put those in your back pocket, Carol?
Carol: Yep, purposeful is this. Curiosity is hmm.
Annie: Terrific. You’ve got it. Now, Ed, we’re going to do the same thing with your sentence.
Ed: Okay. I’ve divided my internal age into two parts. Mentally, I’m about 40, still doing projects and thinking ahead.
Annie: Great. Fantastic. You all have just demonstrated what I now need everyone else to do in small groups. After the teaching artist model, the breakout group, with the two volunteers, Ed and Carol, all the students would be assigned to work in breakout rooms in pairs. The teaching artist can continue to pop in and out of breakout rooms to coach students as they work. I hope you all had fun in your breakout rooms. Before we move forward into creating our group creation, I want us to rewind a little bit. At the beginning of this section of the activity, we looked at that image, correct? And we had a little brainstorm of words of what the image brought up for us. You can actually see them there in the chat. It’s imagination, spirit, remembering, youthful and free, personality, thinks of her woman in the shadow, she feels that she is the dancing woman, and hope.
Annie: Of those words, let’s choose one that we feel really resonates with all of us. What is the one word that feels like it just resonates with all of us? Let’s try to come to consensus. Yeah, Morra?
Morra: I would say spirit. That would be my choice.
Annie: Spirit? How did the rest of us feel about spirit?
David: Yeah, I agree.
Speaker 5: Yeah, I like spirit.
Annie: We like spirit? Okay, great. Now, with the word spirit, what might be a gesture that we could all do together for spirit? I like it, Carol. Can we all try it out together. Yeah. Beautiful. One more time. This is also part of this funny thing about Zoom. We can’t speak in unison ever, doesn’t work. So, I need one person to volunteer to be our speaker of the word spirit. Who could be our speaker? You could still do the gesture, but we only need one person to speak.
Speaker 4: Could we volunteer Carol?
Carol: It’s my enthusiasm.
Annie: Carol volunteered the gesture. We’re going to have somebody else be your speaker.
Carol: [crosstalk 00:39:55]. I just do the gesture. I don’t say the word?
Annie: You can’t because we’re going to do this all together and we can’t all say the word together on Zoom, so we need one person to be the voice for all of us when we’re doing something together. Who could be our voice?
Carol: I’ll do the gesture. Somebody else is going to do the voice.
Annie: Yeah, we’re all going to do the gesture with you. Ed, you be our voice.
Annie: Actually, we’re going to say spirit three times and do the gesture three times in a row. Ed, let’s practice this once.
Ed: Three, two, one, spirit.
Annie: And we do it with him. Yeah.
Ed: Spirit. Spirit.
Annie: Great. And you know what’s something that just happened naturally? Is he said the word and then we did the gesture. Let’s just do it that way because that’ll help with our timing, okay? Let’s try it again. One more time, Ed.
Ed: Three, two, one, spirit. Spirit. Spirit.
Annie: Great. Now it’s time to put it all together into one collaborative piece. Spirit is our connecting word and gesture, so we’re going to start the piece with spirit three times. Then, we’re going to say David’s sentence and then say spirit again three times. Carol’s sentence, spirit again three times. So, you get the idea. Spirit will be the connecting word between everyone’s sentence and we’ll start and end with spirit. Let’s practice. The teaching artist continues to practice the piece with the students in preparation for sharing the work. Changes and refinements would be made during that process with the student’s input. During the sharing of the final piece, what you will see in a moment, imagine that you are also students in the class and we are sharing our pieces together. During the sharing of the piece that you are about to view, please put in the chat any words that you hear that stand out to you to illuminate moments of impact. I call those words that ring. Or, you can write into the chat any images that stand out to you or any other moments of impact that you want to acknowledge.
David: I feel 31. Confident with who I am, but my body has started telling me my choices are not without consequence.
Carol: I feel like my internal is about 40 and I base this on being involved in purposeful activities, always taking new courses to keep my brain functioning to fulfill my curiosity.
Amy: I feel my real age, which is 77. I’m constantly active and busy. I dance. I make art. People say I seem younger, but I feel that they have a misconception.
Speaker 4: I would say I feel 37 internally. There are possibilities, more years ahead of me than behind me.
Ed: Spirit. I’ve divided my internal age into two parts. Mentally, about 40, still doing projects, and I think ahead, but I’m also reminded of the physical, how daily it’s harder to do things. Spirit.
Morra: I feel about 40 internally, a certain level of accomplishment and experience, but also on the cusp of new level of work, which is exciting, but also anxiety producing.
Speaker 4: Spirit.
Annie: That wouldn’t be the end of the class. That was just a taste of the middle of the class truncated clearly. Following that, we would do a little reflection about the process, how it went, how did it feel? What do you think was a challenge for you? What was a valuable moment? Whatever came up for the students we’d a discussion about. And then, in this case this would be a first step in building a further, deeper, collaborative work, but also building on maybe some of the stories that got seeded in this first session we might build on and preceding sessions. And then, finally at the end of every class we finish with a closing ritual of some kind to acknowledge the work that was created and close together as a community. That’s our demo. I think, Elizabeth, you might want to join us and I think we’re going to get into a little bit of a Q&A and talk about the process of design a little bit.
Elizabeth: Fabulous. I want to bring up one question that came up much earlier in the chat that I just put a pin on it, which is someone asked whether these same principles of engagement generally work when working with older adults with cognitive disabilities or dementia or whether that’s a whole nother practice. Does it work across a range of abilities and cognitive abilities? Do you know if there’s any [crosstalk 00:45:45].
Annie: Some aspects absolutely, there’s some things in terms of expression. Expression, everybody can express themselves. The sequential nature of this class are probably not appropriate for some populations of folks, particular of maybe people that are in moderate to more severe stages of Alzheimers and dementia. It would be too stressful to go [crosstalk 00:46:11], but that does not go without saying that part of the training and the ability of the teaching artist in that assessment piece that we talked about is so key, because it’s a community class. Anybody that comes in and self-selects into the class, we’ll make work for them. If there’s something that hasn’t been volunteered or something I start to figure out, say somebody’s having trouble tracking instructions or something like that, I’ll work all sorts of ways to make this successful. And again, success looks differently for every single student. Just working in my art form sometimes I start from a real oral storytelling place before we get into writing because some folks are comfortable writing, some folks are not comfortable writing. Once I get an assessment of where folks are, we’ll decide how deeply they’ll go into my class or how maybe they go into more of an outline storytelling format.
You kind of address both, and those are only two learning attributes, but whatever the need may be, we try to assess. Go ahead, Morra.
Morra: I was going to say there are lots and lots of wonderful programs across the country to work in the arts engagement with people with cognitive disabilities like Alzheimers and other issues. Timeslips is one of them. That is a very different approach than the work that we do, which is based in arts education, sequential learning best principles. But there are a lot of opportunities and great programs. There’s this great organization called National Organization of Arts and Health and they provide a lot of information and resources about programs that work more in that realm. There are information. We can provide those in the links to that information in the chat, but tremendous amount of work for a very different kind of population.
Elizabeth: And I know the Fry Art Museum has been doing work on that for a long time, so if anybody from the Fry is in the audience, please feel free to drop in links, and anybody else working in that. We have documented a number of, we just collect the names of museums doing good work with older people with dementia and their caregivers, so you can find that on our blog. And if I can get a link in a minute, I’ll post a link.
Morra: Yeah, there are enormous resources available.
Elizabeth: I was wondering, you have worked with this model with a lot of different kinds of organizations, primarily non-profit, but community centers, libraries. Museums are only a segment with the groups that you’ve worked with. Have you noticed that there are any particular challenges or advantages that museums find in applying this model?
Morra: I would say that one of the advantages that museums have is that they are programming organizations in educational institutions and have tremendous resources. Museums collections and archives and staff have expertise in so many different areas, whether it’s an art museum or a botanical garden or a history museum, but generally museums know how to program for community based programs, programming. A lot of other locations that we work with that serve older adults are not generally used to developing programs that engage older adults as learners. Rather, they look at the issues of the problems of aging like credit card fraud and how to apply for Medicare, so it’s a very different focus. The work that we do with those kinds of organizations, senior residencies or senior centers or area agencies on aging, we have a lot more foundational work to do in terms of how to help them enact arts communities who do know how to do programming. There are differences. In museums or libraries or student arts agencies, there aren’t any two that are the same. The model that we work with is extremely adaptable to the circumstances, to the staffing, the ability to pass [inaudible 00:51:04] agencies that we work with. Museums are perfect organizations for this kind of work in our department.
Elizabeth: I think so. Jacqueline submitted a question. She says, “When building capacity and current staff and volunteers to do this type of engagement, what skills and training would you recommend that we focus on?
Annie: I think from a staff perspective initially, and we just skimmed the surface with it, I think the first work you need to do really is ageism, honestly, because what we constantly get people comment on once they’ve felt this program and really delved deeply into doing these kinds of programming, a lot of the comments we get were like, “Oh, I didn’t know that our community members, our older adult communities, would commit to eight sessions because they’ve only come for a workshop here or there. I had no idea that they could do this.” And that’s an ageist expectation of what your older adult members could be. Or, for example, they’re just ticket buyers or, I’m going to say something terrible, but blue hairs in the audience. It’s like, how do you start to unravel, particularly for cultures, why you’re utilizing and how you’re utilizing your older adult as contributors to your organization, not just as ticket buyers. That’s a piece of the undoing, is there are real learners, contributors, and artists in our community. I loved hearing about the whole first half of the session and looking around and thinking of this work in an EDI context and scale, and part of that is ageism. It really is looking at folks for the contributions they make as human beings regardless of age.
I think it starts there, but then I think the next stop too is a lot of folks decide, and Morra can pop in here, but a lot people will say, “Oh, I think they’re going to love to take this class.” But they don’t actually do any assessment around what their community wants to take and learn about who’s in their community and what kind of classes is it that they’re drawn to, what cultural connections might they need to be making? Who’s the appropriate teaching artist to teach the class? So, a lot of that training and at least thought needs to go into it. Morra, I’ll let you.
Morra: I was just going to say, and we’ll talk about this a little bit later, is that the development of partnerships because older adults are members of every segment of society, so developing appropriate programs means connecting to those other institutions and organizations that serve older adults, and it’s quite varied. Developing partnerships and also asking the questions. You don’t ask the question, you won’t get the answers. What else is happening in the community? What are you interested in? What assets do we have that we can share? All those kinds of things are laying the groundwork for getting to the point where you can actually design a responsible program.
Elizabeth: I just want to read a comment that someone dropped in to make sure that it gets heard. An anonymous attendee just wants to make sure that we clarify that the creative aging program we’re discussing today is not specifically designed as dementia programming. Awesome, yes. Understand that there are specific dementia programs out there. I just wanted to acknowledge and validate that comment.
Elizabeth: I think the earlier question was whether not having been designed for this population a certain segment of it can still enjoy it. I think you addressed that. It just depends on where people are on the spectrum of awareness and ability.
Morra: Exactly right.
Elizabeth: Excuse me if I’m looking away. I’ve got questions through three different platforms, so I’m watching Twitter and I’m watching the Q&A and I’m watching people texting me. Awesome. Any other questions people want to throw over the [inaudible 00:55:24]? I’m looking at chat too. Oh, yes, and the Fry or someone did drop in some of the links to resources from the Fry. Thank you. Great. Let me ask you this, in the work that you’ve been doing with the seeding of vitality arts museums there are doubtless people from museums in this audience who are thinking that maybe they could start this with their own museum, but this is only a short introduction. Let me just ask you as a sort of wrap up for this discussion before we go to break, what would you suggest is the first step that a museum could take if they’re interested in beginning this work and they’re not sure where to start?
Morra: I would say to look at what education programs you already offer. Most museums have education programs and they’re often directed at the K-12 population. What is it that you’re doing in that realm that you’re doing well that involves art making, whatever the discipline? And then, to again look internally as to what you’re offering to older adults because anything that you’re teaching to kids generally in a skills-based format of the nature that we’re talking is totally applicable to older adults. The difference is in the delivery and maybe in the format of the program. As an example, in K-12 arts education programming, you get a 37 minute class period, by the time you get in there and get everything settled and materials given out, and you’ve got 11 minutes of instruction. Creative aging programs there’s a more expansive opportunity to take more time. Also, that allows for not only the instruction, but the intentional social engagement around the work. I would advise museums who are interested to actually look at what they’ve got and also then to look around in their community, not only in their geographic community, but their museum community to see what gaps you could fill with the assets that you have in place.
Elizabeth: Awesome. I’m going to take the liberty of pausing here now because we’ve taken care of the questions that have come in through the Q&A in the chat that I’ve seen. This way we can make up a little bit of the time that we lost earlier in the transitions. I want to point out to everyone in the audience that you will have additional opportunities to engage with Annie and with Morra both in chat during the next recorded presentation and then starting a little after 5:00 when we move to a breakout room. Cecilia, my colleague who is handling drop-ins in chat, if you can also just drop in again the link to the Zoom meeting room that we’ll be moving to a little after 5:00 so that if people want to book that, mark that, or if you have to go out and come back, you’ll know where you’re going. We’ll have a separate room where Annie and Morra will be talking about this kind of creative aging programming and the Lifetime Arts training in particular, so that will be a great time to dig into it with them in more detail.