"And the beat goes on……………."
The arts field has seen tremendous growth in several areas in the past few years - among them Placemaking and Engagement. And now an explosion in the intersections between arts and aging and arts and healing are quickly moving towards a tipping point. And this area promises to be of major importance and bounty to our sector and to society.
Everywhere today there are articles and media accounts of how the arts play a role in creative aging for seniors, and how that role is helping people growing older to live more interesting, productive, satisfying and fulfilling lives, and how that - plus a range of other intersections between the arts and medical care - is helping elders (and younger people too) maintain better health, recover quicker from health problems, and from surgery and chronic illnesses, and in addressing mental issues from Alzheimer's and dementia to depression and anxiety.
A growing body of preliminary research is confirming what many in the arts sector long intuitively believed - that the engagement with the arts on multiple levels is simply good for the body, mind and soul - in very tangible, practical ways.
This dramatic increase in exploring the arts aging / healing intersections is of enormous value to the arts sector for several key reasons:
1. The already measurable increase in research into the verifiable impact of the arts on mental and physical health is likely to dramatically increase as more researchers (including from government agencies, hospitals, medical associations, universities, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, and others) seek to understand exactly how the arts can and do play a role in health and in life satisfaction in later years. As the boomer generation moves towards massive retirement and older age, the sheer costs of health care (to government, insurers, companies, and society in general) is going to astronomically skyrocket. Anything that will be seen, then confirmed, as helping to keep those costs down is going to be of keen interest to a host of service providers - government and private sector. And if, as we suspect, that research largely confirms the value of the arts to health and the aging process, then the wider interest in supporting the arts is also going to grow.
2. The uptick in research activity into the area is going to open more doors for the arts to collaborate, partner and intersect with funders (corporate, government - at all levels: local, state and federal (and even international) - particularly if the research confirms the value of the arts to health and people's attitude. There is going to be substantial money available to pursue arts aging / arts health initiatives in the future, and a lot of that money will be available to support certain kinds of basic arts organization programs and pursuits. As general arts funding becomes ever more problematic, this is an area where the arts might actually see money more freely flowing into our coffers - and not just for the costs of newer, specific programs that target and reach older adults, but for basic operations that will support the arts offerings that would be the underpinning of any programs directed towards the aging / healing intersections.
3. If these intersections turn out to be a mainstay of future health care and of the provision of services to seniors, that fact will increase positive media coverage, public awareness and involvement in the sector and make it axiomatically easier to make progress in the other bookend of the arts - namely in arts education. We ought to be able to make a very strong case for starting exposure and involvement in the arts at an early stage. And more progress on that front, will allow us to then move to making the case for the value of the arts to health throughout one's life an easier proposition to establish. The intersections with aging and health will make these arguments and progress that much easier. The arts value to health has the potential to rival the value of a healthy diet and an exercise regimen as the third leg of the healthy living stool.
4. Proven programs involving older people and the arts may help to address some of the declining audience challenges we face.
Our interest in this area isn't new. As far back as 2001, the NEA was at the forefront of recognizing the potential for the arts to add value to aging and health care issues in a study on Creativity and Aging. And most recently, the Endowment has continued their leadership position in its partnership with the Walter Reed National Military Center exploring how arts therapy and engagement programs improve health and well-being in military healthcare settings.
All over the country, dating back a decade and longer, arts organizations have been launching and refining programs that bring the value of the arts to healthcare and general aging issues - programs that work. The aggregate of all that energy and hard work is now reaching the elusive tipping point.
Currently, one of the organizations leading the charge is Aroha Philanthropies lead by Ellen Michelson and consultant Teresa Bonner. Working with the National Center for Creative Aging they spearheaded an effective (and growing) program to involve state arts agencies in launching creative aging programs. And their recent convening of thought leaders working in the arena, held at the Hewlett Foundation offices in Palo Alto, (and which will be repeated in Minneapolis in early October) was, by all accounts, an impressive presentation of the status of the burgeoning field of arts aging / healing.
I've been following developments in this area for at least a couple of years, and Ellen, Teresa and I began last year to put together a Blogathon Forum to tap into the thinking of some of the practitioners in the field. We invited the following leaders to join a panel to answer five questions, and beginning next Monday, I will post the answers to one question per day over the course of the week.
Here are our invitees:
1. Gay Hanna - Executive Director The National Center for Creative Aging
2. Kyle Carpenter - CEO - The MacPhail Center for Music
3. Robert Booker - Executive Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts
4. Maura O'Malley / Ed Friedman - CEO / Co-Founder & Executive Director respectively of Lifetime Arts.
5. Tony Noice - Adjunct Professor of Theater - Elmhurst College
6. Connie Martinez - CEO - Silicon Valley Creates
7. Teresa Bonner - Aroha Philanthropies
This is but a fraction of the people who have been working in various aspects of this arena, and who have knowledge to share.
Here are the questions we put to this panel:
1. As the Boomer generation is set to retire, the floodgates of older Americans is poised to become a tidal wave. In the past few years, there has been considerable interest in, and activity around, the intersections of art and aging, and arts and healing. Indeed, the arts have been integrated into a wide variety of health care and community settings. Many of these intersections started out as dialogues and discussions, and have grown to become projects and programs involving the arts and any number of partners - ranging from those in the scientific, military, research and medical / health system / caregiver communities, and those in the field whose primary mission is to work with elders to improve the general quality of their lives.
From your perspective, what do you think is the current state of these intersections, what is going on that is working and excites you (both that which you are involved with and what others are doing) and what needs to be done to scale up the "on the ground" efforts to a wider and deeper level? In terms of practical application, where do we go from here?
2. What do you think the role of individual arts organizations across the country is, and might be, in the relationships of art and aging / healing? How can arts organizations who want to be involved in these areas move forward? What are the steps involved, and what are the opportunities and the barriers and obstacles to mounting successful projects and partnerships that will address the aging / healing arenas? Where can existing intersections be expanded, and how? Working artists are crucial to these efforts. What skills do artists need to work in the aging and healing areas?
3. What kinds of research needs to be launched now so as to make the case for the value of the arts in aging and healing programs, and how can we involve the public in understanding and appreciating how the arts are making important contributions to both quality aging and healing? What do funders (public or private) need to know to be more receptive to supporting these efforts?
4. Who else (what other disciplines and interest areas) need to be at the table as we solidify partnerships between the arts and organizations that are concerned with the issues of aging and those concerned with the issues of how the arts contribute to healing? What other stakeholders (e.g., groups like AARP, local health jurisdictions, hospitals and the medical community, academia, pharmaceutical companies etc.) are out there that need to be part of this growing effort? How to we recruit them?
5. In the long run, are efforts in the area of arts and aging / arts and healing best managed by the private sector, by government or by some combination of the two? How will we best coordinate and manage all of the individual efforts that are likely to mushroom as this area begins to really take off? Do we need central clearinghouses, or regional coordinating efforts or are we best off with individual projects initiated on a local basis? Why? What, if any, kinds of national policies ought we develop to guide the coming efforts? How do we develop a standard nomenclature that allows us to speak with one voice?
I think every arts organization in the country ought to consider having a strategy for involvement in the arts aging / arts healing arena, and I suspect every national service provider organization will (if they haven't already) develop materials and resources to help their members to do just that. It is to everyone's benefit.
I hope you will be able to tap into next week's Blogathon Forum on this site.
Have a great week.