What is your first thought when someone mentions a Senior/Elder Center or Nursing Home?
Did you envision the elderly sitting around, doing little, just passing time until…? Did you see them as audience members at a performance, or just sitting around large round tables eating? Were they napping, or just gazing off into the distance, seemingly not connected to their surroundings?
Hopefully those days will be behind us as a new awareness is sinking in. Actively engaging the growing elder community is key to the growing number of organizations that work with this population. Inter-generational programming (from the 50’s and up, as the baby boomers join the elder sector) is being spoken of across the United States in all areas of the arts.
I was invited to be a Guest Speaker for OPERA America‘s Creative Resurgence conference, speaking to those opera companies (from Canada and the US) whose education departments reach out now to the centers, nursing homes, group homes and special organizations that cater to the older adult. A number of them make partnerships with libraries as well, helping build connections in their communities.
I was asked to attend this conference due to my recently completed pilot project with a senior center in NYC. We had worked on creating a musical experience crafted from the personal stories of our participants. I will talk more about this in the next part of this series.
Ms. Susan Perlstein, an advocate for the creative aging movement, led the day with the credo “Embrace This Moment!” Ms. Perlstein is the Founder Emeritus for the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA). By the year 2030, it is anticipated that there will be over 70 million people over the age of 65, and that the number of those over 85 will double. There is also the chance that many will have to work, if possible, past what we normally determine as retirement age due to the economic realities we face.
There is evidence based research, as first conducted by The Research Center for Arts and Culture (RCAC) that has shown that interactive, participatory arts programs with the older person promotes a vitality in the aging process, helps to build vibrant communities, and has positive results in both the physical and emotional states of the participants. Dr. Gene D. Cohen, the primary investigator of the research, stated that “Art is like chocolate to the brain.”
Entering into fairly new territory in the arts is exciting in the different challenges it gives to professional teaching artists and arts organizations. The methodology we’ve used for youth programs has to be modified, and in many cases whole new approaches have to be discovered for successful programs for those participating. Understanding the various cognitive and physical changes that go on, and embracing the life history and stories that the elders bring with them are only the tip of what needs to be explored.
In Part 2, I will discuss more of my work in the field, and some observations from the conference attendees.
I am available for consulting on Inter-Generational Program Development
as well as Project Management/Facilitation
I am willing to travel or work over Skype with your organization
Please contact me at:
stuart.nager at gmail dot com