Thursday, May 23, 2019

Interview with TU Dance

Good morning
"And the beat goes on................"

Note: This is the third in a series of interviews with Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts grantees delving into their launch, management and continuation of creative aging programs for seniors - this one a beautiful marriage of dance and writing.  

TU Dance: Founded in 2004 by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands in Saint Paul, Minnesota, TU Dance is a leading voice for contemporary dance. The 10-member, professional company is acclaimed for its diverse and versatile artists, performing work that draws together modern dance, classical ballet, African-based and urban vernacular movements.  The TU Dance repertory features original work by Uri Sands, as well as renowned choreographers including Dwight Rhoden, Ron K. Brown, Kyle Abraham, Gioconda Barbuto, Katrin Hall, Gregory Dolbashian and Camille A. Brown. Through celebrated performances of the professional company and accessible dance education at TU Dance Center, TU Dance provides opportunities for everyone to experience the connective power of dance.

Project Description:

Our current project was working with Dancer/Poet Mary Moore Easter and dance/movement instructor Thern Anderson to present the workshop "Dancing Your Story" with Adults 55+.  Our partner organization was Episcopal Homes (A senior living complex down the street from us) who we did the first two workshops with onsite before moving the third workshop to our center.

Here is a sample of the class description and bios of the instructors:
Join Thern Anderson & Mary Easter in a workshop that combines dance and writing. Movement will be explored in concert with writing exercises to create a history or explore some aspect of your life, be it real or imagined.
Students will expand their range of motion through practicing set choreography and creating movement phrases, gaining knowledge of how the human body moves with the understanding that each body holds its own unique history. Students will hone their observation and listening skills to support fellow artists.

Thern Anderson is a dance educator with a wealth of experience teaching children, adults, professional dancers and community groups. Thern brings somatic movement principles and improvisational skills to her teaching of modern dance techniques. In teaching dance to beginning adults, her philosophy is that anyone can dance and find pleasure in movement. Classes include the study of body and spatial awareness, rhythm and phrasing, ensemble dancing, and injury prevention. Students learn through modern dance phrases as well as improvisational structures.

Mary Moore Easter’s first poetry collection, The Body of the World, is forthcoming from MadHat Press in 2018. The manuscript is also a finalist for the Prairie Schooner Bok Prize in 2017. A Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and Cave Canem Fellow, Easter is published in POETRY, The New York Times, Seattle Review, Water Stone, Calyx, Pluck!, Persimmon Tree, Fjord’s Review, The Little Patuxent Review and the 2015 anthology Blues Vision: African American Writing from Minnesota. She holds a B.A. from Sarah Law- rence and an M.A. from Goddard. Born in Petersburg, Virginia to parents on the faculty of then-segregated Virginia State College, she was as immersed in their artistic and intellectual interests as she was in limitations segregation imposed on her black world. She re-rooted as faculty at Minnesota’s Carleton College where she was founder and director of the Dance Program.


Interview:

Barry:  What made you want to pursue a vitality arts program for seniors?  Had you had previous experience with crafting programs specifically designed to appeal to seniors?

TU Dance:  This is our first time offering programs that were explicitly for adults 55+.  We offer adult modern and ballet classes and had received some feedback from some of the older participants that they would love a class geared towards them which made this opportunity with Aroha and Lifetime Arts a great match.

Barry:  Your project focused on elements within the dance discipline.  Can you elaborate?

TU Dance:  Our project highlighted the expertise of our two teaching artists and focused on joining their art mediums of dance and writing to give participants multiple ways to share their stories.  Thern  and Mary began each workshop session in a circle format. Participants created a warm-up based on their name on the first day that eventually became a phrase they danced together as a greeting to each other at the beginning of each class.  Participants explored the movement potential in their bodies by doing improv exercises and dancing set choreography that intersected with their writing assignments.  Through the 8-week workshop, dance phrases and short stories took shape in the forms of solos and trios.  All classes were accompanied by live piano.

Barry:  When you conceived the project, what obstacles and barriers did you identify, and was the reality of designing, then implementing, the project pretty much as expected, or were there elements that surprised you?

TU Dance:  One reason we decided to collaborate with Episcopal Homes was because we weren’t sure we would have a decent number of attendees initially. Both TU Dance and Episcopal Homes were excited about this opportunity and initially didn’t identify any immediate barriers.  However, we did offer the class at no cost to participants to eliminate any economic barriers present. We definitely had a learning curve in regards to how drastically the curriculum and structure would need to change for each population. We realized that the 8-week format, enrollment ideals and culminating event didn’t suit the needs of our seniors with challenging health conditions who needed more support from nurses and aids during the second workshop. We had a great experience, but greatly shifted the program to meet their needs. Afterwards we realized that  we had already worked with everyone at our partner site who was interested, and had been hearing from the general public that the class taking place at an assisted living center was discouraging to some who were not at that stage of their life.  We shifted gears and decided to move the 3rd workshop to TU Dance Center to serve a different population and had a wonderful turn out!

Barry:  Who did you target as participants in the project?  Was recruiting senior participants easy or difficult?  How did you deal with issues such as non-native speaker participants, diversity recruitment, dealing with transportation issues of the senior participants etc.

TU Dance:  Initially we targeted the residents of Episcopal Homes, a large senior living complex, along with those who were in our mailing and social media circle.  Recruiting for the same workshop at a partner site multiple times was difficult but we adjusted as I mentioned above.  We did not run into any non-native speakers and struggled with diversity issues.  Providing programming to people with a diverse cultural background is  very important to our organization’s mission yet this has been challenging with this age demographic.  We have realized that statistically, assisted living homes tend to be overwhelmingly middle class, white women.  Transportation issues with the partner site didn’t apply as most were residents and they could provide their shuttle for the final culminating event at our center.  Quite a few of our participants used local “metro mobility” services to arrive to class.

Barry:  In creating a budget for the project, what line items were included?  Were there expenses that were unanticipated?  Did you leverage additional funding from other sources?  What sources and how difficult was raising the additional funding?

TU Dance:  The dominant part of the budget included appropriate compensation for both teaching artists and the accompanist.  We did include a small line item for notebooks the participants could use for their writing exercises.  Due to the shifting nature of the curriculum, logistics of changing locations and collaborating with the partner organization and teaching artists, the project coordinator ended up spending more hours on this project than were budgeted.  We anticipate that it will require less time from the coordinator going forward after learning from these experiences. We did not require additional funding beyond that which was originally provided.

Barry:  Did you accurately identify the workload and time involved that management of the project ended up taking, and can you describe that workload and the time involved.  How did you develop your team to oversee the project?  What elements did you include?

TU Dance:  TU Dance’s Education and Outreach Coordinator was the project coordinator. We underestimated the time needed to coordinate all the activities related to this project. The project coordinator was involved --alongside with the teaching artists-- in adapting the curriculum and structure for each population we served. This was necessary in order to understand and learn from the experiences, helping us to adapt the offering in future programming. Furthermore, the project coordinator was in constant communication with Episcopal Homes personnel about marketing and logistics, then sharing relevant information with the teaching artists.  The project coordinator was also in charge of the culminating events which included invitations via social media and printed materials, as well as arranging for the space and introducing the teaching artists and providing the respective grant acknowledgement.

Barry:  What kinds of marketing did you employ in recruiting senior participants?

TU Dance:  Due to the collaborative nature of the first two workshops with Episcopal Homes, we approached recruitment and marketing with them to engage their residents. We posted information about each workshop on TU Dance’s website, created paid advertising through TU Dance’s Facebook page, posted flyers at Episcopal Homes and TU Dance Center along with a few other community locations, and sent email promotions using Constant Contact via TU Dance.

Barry:  The Aroha projects mandated inclusion of teaching artists to conduct the training for the senior participants.  How did you go about recruiting those teaching artists, or were they affiliated with your organization already?  Was there anything involved in their training and involvement for this program, that you didn’t anticipate at the outset?  Were there benefits to the teaching artists involvement that came as a bonus?

TU Dance:  Thern Anderson was already a teacher for our adult classes at The School at TU Dance Center. She has an extensive background teaching movement and dance to a vast variety of populations. She has a gentle approach to dance.  We know Mary Easter through her work in the community both as a dancer and writer, but we had not worked with her directly previously.  Thern and Mary happened to have danced together by chance a few decades earlier and were working on a performance project with a local choreographer last year.  I believe that because both teaching artists happened to also be dancers who were 55+ it helped build rapport with their students. TU Dance is proud to be able to provide both Thern and Mary with opportunities to continue to share with the community their expertise and passion.

Barry:  How did the collaboration with Episcopal Homes work?  How did it come about?   How critical was it to the success of the project?

TU Dance:  Episcopal Homes is a senior living complex less than a mile away from TU Dance Center.  It spans a few blocks and encompasses numerous living options including independent living to long-term nursing care. Due to our close proximity it felt natural to approach them as a partner.  It is also important to us as an organization to offer programming beyond the 4-walls of TU Dance Center in order to stay connected with our community.  Having a supportive partner actively recruiting participants and supporting the project was essential to the success of these workshops!

Barry:  What criteria did you use to determine if the project succeeded from the organization’s point of view?  How did you evaluate the project during its course and post completion?

TU Dance:  We administered surveys as part of the grant to document feedback but most importantly, it was apparent that the project was a success when we saw the confident, expressive dancers and writers present their work at the culminating events.

Barry:  What lessons did you learn from your experience with the project in the provision of services to seniors in the creative aging arena?  How will you apply what you’ve learned to the sustainability of offering new and additional projects to the senior community in the future?

TU Dance:  Location is important and can become inviting or limiting depending on the group of seniors you are targeting.  We are continuing to approach partner organizations for these workshops as well as incorporating it into the programming at TU Dance Center in order to expand the reach of these workshops.

Barry:  What were the overall pros and cons, logistically and otherwise, in designing, creating, and implementing the project?  What benefits were there to the organization - e.g., new volunteers, new support, new audience members, greater community involvement, media coverage, expanded organization image within the community etc.?

TU Dance:  Although cultivating relationships with partner organizations requires a time commitment, and includes more logistical issues, it is well worth the effort if your goal is to offer this program to multiple populations of adults in this age group.  Benefits included greater community involvement and realization of TU Dance’s mission to provide opportunities for everyone to experience the connective power of dance.

Barry:  Would you recommend that other arts organizations consider creating and launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs?  What are the major considerations arts organizations ought to consider before embarking on the launch of their own programs?  What are the specific considerations in your experience that dance organizations ought to consider in planning a creative aging vitality program?

TU Dance:  We would highly recommend other arts organizations consider launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs.  Consider who in this age group you would like to reach and pay special attention to making sure you are not limiting access by how you market or where you hold your workshops.  Finding the right teaching artist(s) is essential for the program to be successful.

Barry:  What advice would you give those organizations gleaned from your experience?

TU Dance:  Meet each group where they are and don’t be afraid to change plans!

Barry:  Do you intend to continue to offer these kinds of program to the senior community?  Why or why not?

TU Dance:  Yes!  We have received funding to continue this programming for the next year and plan to actively search for ways to sustain future workshops.


Participant 1 Observations:

Profile.  Female.  58 Years Old, currently on disability due to a chronic health condition, but still works occasionally part-time.  She previously worked developing community programming around urban farming.  She describes herself as very active, interested in nutrition, organic foods and farming, writing, outdoors, the Boundary Waters in northern MN, and teaching others to be more connected to nature and the food they eat.

In responding to why she decided to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program, she said:
'She was driven to enroll in this workshop to aid her healing from a chronic disease she was diagnosed with  5-6 years ago.  She was originally introduced to some dance elements in a yoga class.  After her yoga teacher recommending dance she attended one of our adult modern classes at TU Dance Center but found it too structured and difficult to participate while taking care of her health needs. She heard of this programming for adults 55+ and thought it might be a better fit.'

She rated the program very highly and said that it exceeded her expectations.  Benefits included sisterhood and profound healing.  “The Beauty of this class was that there was some freedom with how you move.” She believed this was critical for people dealing with chronic pain issues which is common in older adults.  The use of imagination and making connections through writing and movement along with the live music provided a safe space for people to move. She loved watching everyone unleash their inhibitions go into other creative realms and the ability of the teaching artists to coax them into that was highly skillful. Approaching stories from your life and from childhood and growing up and accessing it in ways other than our brains was profound.

Asked if she would continue to pursue the art form learned in the program?
She said: She would consider joining a class with other people like this if it  was fashioned in a similar way--  free to move how your body leads you and not in regimented ways.  Interest is very high but has to be a unique format.  She does not like the 8-week format. She would prefer an ongoing class without the performance aspect of the culminating event.  She disliked the class when the focus shifted to preparing for the culminating event even saying that it ruined it for her. She did not attend the culminating event.

Asked if, as a result of the program, she might become involved with the sponsoring organization in other ways - say as a volunteer, or audience member, or financial supporter or?
She said she had been to 8-10 TU Dance performances in the past and has always loved modern dance.  She will say that because she lives on disability and has low-income that paying for classes is challenging.  She shared a story of how her partner gave her some money for her birthday and she chose to donate $20 to a few organizations she supported, and TU Dance was one of them!  She also made a point to mention that as she ages and due to her experience with chronic health issues, daytime classes are better, as by the time evening comes she is too exhausted to attend a class.

Asked what advice would she give to other people who might be thinking of participating in this kind of program, she offered?
“I would say that it would be totally worth giving it a try!”  One of her friends showed up for this workshop and she said that “My people would be interested in this sort of thing.” She wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people with chronic and disabling chronic illness especially for people who are trying not to re-injure."
______________________________________
Participant 2 Observations:

Profile.  Kelly is a 73 year old former Mental Health professional, now retired, male, interested in
music, exercise, workshops, and being around people.

Asked why he decided to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program?
"I was Intrigued with the title."

Had you participated in any arts program like this before?
"No.  But I love to dance.  I had written poems in the past.  I loved playing with Andrew, the piano player, and I liked Thern and Mary they were very good at encouraging us."

Did it meet - or exceed - your expectations?
"It exceeded my expectations!"

What were the benefits of participation?
"Letting go, getting in touch with being in my body, movement. We had lots of different people. People in wheelchairs, people that were brave, people dealing with difficult situations and we were all dancing."

Were there any negatives to participating?
"No. When they danced I was having an off time so then I just played my harmonica."

Will you continue to pursue the art form that you learned in the program?
He started to recite a poem he wrote in the workshop by memory: “My room is filled with pictures on the wall …….Pictures remind me I’m a part of the all.”

What advice would you give to other people who might be thinking of participating in this kind of program?
"I would say go. Bring your body and practice letting go."


Thanks to Kaitin Kelly Benedict and Abdo Sayegh Rodriguez at TU Dance, and to the participants.

More interviews in the Series in a week or so.

Have a good weekend.

Don't Quit
Barry








Sunday, May 19, 2019

Interview with the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council on its Vitality Arts Program

Good morning
"And the beat goes on.................."


Note:  This is the second installment in a series of interviews of Aroha Philanthropies Creative Aging [Vitality Arts] grantees that seeks to capture insights into launching and managing an arts based creative aging program for seniors.  The series highlights how different organizations organized, funded, marketed, evaluated and managed similar broad programs in an effort to provide background and information to arts organizations leading to the launch of their own programs targeting seniors.  This one is an excellent insight into how a Senior Center can work as a partnership with an arts organization.  And while it chronicles and details a program in northern New Hampshire, the experience and lessons learned ought to be readily applicable to a wide variety of diverse constituencies and locations.  Senior Centers are, IMHO, particularly ripe for partnerships with arts organizations, and bring a lot to the table in terms of community engagement, audience and support development and funding leverage collaboration. Highly recommended advice and insights.  More interviews in the series to follow in the coming weeks.



Background Thumbnail:
The Grafton County Senior Citizens Council (GCSCC) has served older adults and adults with disabilities for more than 45 years and now includes senior centers and programs throughout a large region of north central and northwestern New Hampshire. GCSCC, supported by a combination of public and private partners, provides a range of life sustaining and life enhancing community services for more than 8,000 clients a year.

The council seeks “to develop, strengthen and provide programs and services which support the health, dignity and independence” of older adults and adults with disabilities, including daily home delivered meals,

Among the services provided by the Council each weekday are:

  • Home delivered meals - 141,488 home delivered meals to 853 adults last year
  • Congregate meals, providing a nutritious meal plus a chance for participants to visit with friends and engage in other senior center activities. Last year, GCSCC centers served 71,025 meals to 3,433 diners from every community in Grafton County.
  • Transportation, provided by 11 lift-equipped buses for older adults and adults with disabilities who need a ride to medical appointments, shopping, the senior center, or other destinations. Volunteer drivers are also available to provide rides, especially for medical transportation. Last year, the Council provided 37,898 rides to 877 passengers.
  • Outreach and social services, helping those whose need for income or services compromises their ability to live independently. GCSCC outreach workers help clients obtain services and benefits.  Last year, ServiceLink and GCSCC outreach workers provided support for 3,640 clients on 13,910 occasions (an average of one-half hour each).
  • Activities and programs, ranging from art and exercise classes to blood pressure clinics and computer instruction. Each center offers recreational, educational and health-related programs. Many programs are held mid-day so that participants can enjoy a program as well as the congregate meal. Last year, 2,685 individuals participated in 47,159 GCSCC activities.
  • Volunteer opportunities/  Last year, 897 enrolled volunteers, contributing 76,264 hours, came from every corner of the region to assist GCSCC and its programs.
  • Chore Corps, assisting with chores, repairs and safety modifications in and around clients’ homes. 
  • Telephone reassurance, providing a daily morning phone call to elderly individuals who are homebound, living alone and at risk for falls, accidents or sudden illness.


Vitality Arts Project Description:

Experience/Arts is designed for adults aged 55 and older. In 2017 and 2018, the instructional arts workshop series, led by professional teaching artists, enrolled older adults aged 55 to 90. Most participants were under age 74—a group that GCSCC has been eager to attract. The diverse, donation-only classes provided through this initiative have offered substantive and engaging arts education to individuals, many of whom have had few options for this sort of opportunity because of limited income, limited transportation, or the feeling that cultural spaces are “not for them.” Twelve of the 17 courses have taken place within GCSCC senior centers in comfortable and welcoming spaces, often with refreshments, always with a senior center meal available just before or after the class. The other five courses took place at community arts facilities close to the local senior center. Most participants are from rural and small-town communities across northern New Hampshire.


Interview:

Barry:  What made you want to pursue a vitality arts program for seniors?  Had the center had previous experience with crafting programs specifically designed to focus on arts, and appeal to seniors?

GCSCC:  Northern New England proportionately has the largest and most rapidly growing older adult population in the country, Grafton County.  NH’s population over age 60 is approaching (and in some communities, exceeding) 30% of its total population. With this growth, GCSCC’s senior centers have become de facto community centers, with great potential to offer programs well beyond senior meals, senior transportation, and counseling—although those are the basic services we offer under contract with the state Department of Health and Human Services. We and our communities have invested substantially in the buildings we own and occupy. Our leadership believes it is essential that we fully utilize them to offer a wide range of services and programs to meet the changing needs of our target population. In fact, that is the first goal in our strategic plan, adopted by the Board of Directors in summer 2017. For years, we had wanted to offer substantive, skill-building arts programs along with other continuing education and health and wellness opportunities. The Aroha Philanthropies’ announcement of its Seeding Vitality Arts initiative seemed tailor-made for us. We had previously partnered with the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH to cosponsor a low-cost ($5 per session) open studio class for older adults. This class grew to the point (up to 45 attendees per week) where AVA needed to offer morning and afternoon sessions to accommodate interested participants. Robust support from the Couch Family Foundation now enables AVA to offer the class for free.

Barry:  Your project encompassed a series of arts workshops.  Can you elaborate please.

GCSCC: We serve a large, rural area encompassing 40 municipalities. Annually, our agency serves more than 8,000 individuals from every single community in the region, including those towns with fewer than 500 residents. Although most of our clients are white women over age 75 living on low to moderate incomes, our participants are diverse in their interests, perspectives, and backgrounds. We wanted to be sure that our Experience/Arts offerings also were diverse. We surveyed potential participants through the senior centers, but also on-line, through social media, and via our partner, the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire (AANNH), to determine their top-rated interests. We also traveled around the region, making presentations about the program and gauging interests of older adults in our communities. Our choices of instructors and specific art forms were made with intentionality so that we could ensure that the courses led to socialization, skill-building, and individual artistic expression. The artist-instructors were approved and course format and curricula were developed in coordination with Lifetime Arts, Aroha Philanthropies’ chief partner in crafting the Seeding Vitality Arts program.

Barry:  When you conceived the project, what obstacles and barriers did you identify, and was the reality of designing, then implementing, the project pretty much as expected, or were there elements that surprised you?

GCSCC:  The Executive Directors of GCSCC and AANNH had worked together previously, but sporadically, to plan and execute arts programs at GCSCC senior centers. Securing financial support for visiting artists was a typical issue, as was encouraging senior center staff to understand that arts programming (and other continuing education efforts) was central to the organization’s mission and met participants’ interests. Although meals, rides, and counseling receive regular operational support from public sources, the senior centers’ overall programs and operations, including staffing for activities and facilities management, are not guaranteed support, salaries are low, and staff qualifications can vary considerably. We knew that our first job would be to encourage local staff buy-in to the program, especially with the continuous multiple and pressing demands that the senior center staff must address. At two of the four locations, we had full and enthusiastic staff support; in a third, we had fairly good support; in a fourth, staff never understood that this project was “theirs.” When we held courses at local arts organizations, rather than at the senior center, it was even a harder sell to encourage local GCSCC staff to take ownership of the project.

One obstacle we did not anticipate was the difficulty in documenting the courses and culminating events, especially via videotape. It took us several tries to find sensitive and capable videographers, and they had to travel up to two and a half hours from their home base to reach the locations. In such a rural area, we found that our choices were quite limited.

We knew that older adults in our communities would be excited about Experience/Arts, but we did not realize that courses would fill up so quickly with waiting lists established within days of course announcements. There was some frustration among would-be participants who had to be wait-listed. We learned fairly quickly that because of the nature of the population, there would be drop-outs during the eight week courses. In some cases, participants became ill or incapacitated or they were pressed into service as caregivers for family members. Inclement weather during early spring and late fall led to some drop-off in attendance. It could be difficult for potential participants to commit to eight weeks of regular attendance. These realities frustrated us, since we knew most courses had had waiting lists of others who would have loved to be in the class.

Barry:  The Aroha projects mandated inclusion of teaching artists to conduct the training for the senior participants.  How did you go about recruiting those teaching artists?  Was that easy, or more difficult than you imagined?  What was involved in their training and involvement that you didn’t anticipate at the outset?  Were there benefits to the teaching artists involvement that came as a bonus?

GCSCC:  It was essential for GCSCC to work in partnership with AANNH. The AANNH Executive Director had extensive depth and breadth of experience in our region’s arts community; she knew artist-instructors across arts disciplines. She also had a great sense for which artist-instructors would have an affinity for working with older adults, and she took the lead as “program manager” for all teacher recruiting, curriculum development, and training. We heard later that some artist-instructors were a little overwhelmed by the requirements and ended up being more didactic than they would have been in a less formal program. Most instructors had never participated in this type of program before, so appreciated substantial guidance from AANNH. We also heard from several teachers that they were very appreciative to be paid appropriately—a rarity for some! One instructor said that it had always been his dream to teach a group of participants that was not required to pay.

Barry:  How did you deal with issues such as non-native speaker participants, diversity recruitment, disability issues, dealing with transportation issues of the senior participants etc.

GCSCC:  U.S. Census data indicate that our region is 93% white and 98% English-speaking. While we did have some minority group participation, it was quite limited, in alignment with the overall population (especially the population of older adults). Diversity, for us, meant including more men, more individuals aged 55-74, and more participants who were not living on low to moderate incomes. Each of the locations where we held courses, including the senior centers, is fully accessible and GCSCC offers accessible transportation on a donation-only basis. The agency regularly serves a large number of individuals with disabilities, and this program served a number of individuals with disabilities.

In year two of the program, we specifically offered courses that seemed to attract more men (photography, playing the ukulele). In order to reach out to the broader (more affluent) community, we advertised course availability widely including in area Listservs. We found from the beginning that this program attracted far more young retirees (aged 55-74) than any of our other programs and services.

Barry:  In creating a budget for the project, what were the major projected costs, and were there any unanticipated expenses?  Did you leverage additional funding from other sources?  What sources and how difficult was raising the additional funding?

GCSCC:  In both years, we projected that GCSCC and AANNH staffing to administer, manage and develop the program would be a major expense, as would contracting with the teaching artists and supporting the courses’ direct expenses. Space costs, food, and other logistical expenses also were substantial. We had no unanticipated expenses, but we had areas where we over-budgeted (e.g., documentation, staff travel, rental equipment). In year two, we had not anticipated that our community partners would donate their space to us (Littleton Studio School, Upper Valley Music Center, Museum of the White Mountains), so over-budgeted for space costs. The Couch Family Foundation, a long-time GCSCC supporter and supporter of the arts, provided additional grant funds ($17,000-$18,000) each year of the project and will continue to support Experience/Arts in 2019. We successfully raised additional philanthropic support for the continuation of Experience/Arts in 2019 from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation and two family foundations (Mt. Roeschmore Foundation, the Wennberg Family Fund). It would have been very difficult for the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire to raise additional funding because of its designated service region, which includes the less affluent northern half of Grafton County. In part. GCSCC was successful in raising additional funding because our service region includes the relatively wealthy Upper Valley (the area surrounding Dartmouth College), where the arts flourish with a great deal of private support.

Barry:  Did you accurately identify the workload and time involved that management of the project ended up taking, and can you describe that workload and the time involved.  How did you develop your team to oversee the project?  What elements did you include?

GCSCC:  AANNH and GCSCC accurately identified the workload and time involved in managing the project, but because of funder restrictions, we both ended up “contributing” a great deal of time as in-kind contributions from our respective organizations. Each year together we spent approximately 700 hours of management time on Experience/Arts (not including on-the-ground staff time at the local level). The workload included identifying, contracting, developing curricula, planning culminating events with teaching artists; working with marketing and development staff to produce materials to publicize the programs and fund-raise; working out logistics for space, registration, amenities, supplies for all courses; attending meetings with agency leaders, statewide arts leaders, Aroha Philanthropies, other funders; staff training; managing expenses and budgets; responding to Touchstone Center re. evaluations (this was very time-consuming since it required that administrative staff enter each response separately into Survey Monkey forms on-line); reporting to Board members and Board committees throughout both years; and more. We also spent considerable time visiting courses regularly to check in with participants and instructors. AANNH’s administrative work mostly relied on the Executive Director’s time, management, and expertise. GCSCC’s administrative work started with the Executive Director but also included the business office, local program directors (who managed activities staff and logistics), and marketing and development contractors. In both cases, the organizations also involved their Boards of Directors as part of the team committed to the project.

Barry:  Did the project involve any collaborative efforts and / or partnerships with other organizations within the community, such as with universities, care facilities or otherwise?  How did those come about and how did they work?  How critical were those to the success of the project?

GCSCC:  From the very beginning (letter of intent submitted to Aroha Philanthropies in 2016), we were full partners with the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire. Leaders within AANNH have a deep knowledge of the arts, artists, arts education, arts in health, especially applicable to northern New Hampshire—our region of the state. AANNH was able to develop additional collaborative relationships with arts organizations that supplied some instructors, hosted some courses, and provided venues for collaborating events. Among those collaborators were the Upper Valley Music Center, the Littleton Opera House, the Littleton Studio School, the Museum of the White Mountains, and AVA Gallery and Art Center. GCSCC operates senior centers throughout the region and hosted the majority of courses and culminating events, also providing meals and refreshments and accessible transportation. Marketing the courses and culminating events was a joint effort between GCSCC and AANNH. Collaboration was key to the program’s success.

Barry:  What kinds of marketing did you employ in recruiting senior participants and did you go outside your constituent base?

GCSCC:  We utilized local media, including listservs, and we produced posters for each course and culminating event. Posters were distributed throughout each local area to reach as broad an audience as possible. We used our own AANNH and GCSCC newsletters (including the newsletters of each senior center), the AANNH and GCSCC Facebook pages, and a website that we developed specifically for Experience/Arts.

Barry:  What were the overall pros and cons, logistically and otherwise, in designing, creating, and implementing the project?  What benefits were there to the organization - e.g., new volunteers, new support, new audience members, greater community involvement, media coverage, expanded organization image within the community etc.?

GCSCC:  GCSCC’s executive and Board leadership were enthusiastic about this opportunity because it meshed perfectly with our purpose/mission and our long-term strategic plan to build programs and services to meet the evolving needs of a diverse population of older adults in our region. Experience/Arts brought new and younger participants into our senior centers and it engaged regular participants as well—including many who had not had such an accessible opportunity to take substantive courses in the arts taught by highly respected and well-known artist-educators. Experience/Arts allowed GCSCC to build a network of new relationships with other nonprofit organizations in the community, and several of those new relationships have led to additional program opportunities. Experience/Arts also gave GCSCC a boost in our efforts to establish ongoing relationships with the Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging and its Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center and with the Osher @ Dartmouth program, which now holds courses regularly at GCSCC senior centers.

The biggest hurdle was to bring along local senior center staff to a point where they understood the importance of the program and were committed to its success. Still, a few local staff do not see Experience/Arts as “theirs,” although most grew to embrace the courses, new participants, culminating events, and subject matter.

Another “con” was the amount of resources that GCSCC and AANNH needed to invest in the project to ensure its administrative and programmatic success. We—the nonprofit organizations that sponsored Experience/Arts—were probably its largest “funder.” Organizing and managing the program took a great deal of staff work, particularly by executive-level staff.

The largest benefit to GCSCC was the development of new or expanded relationships with collaborating arts organizations. We did gain new volunteers, new support, newcomers to the senior centers, substantial media coverage, and an enhanced organizational image within the community.

Barry:  What criteria did you use to determine if the project succeeded from your organization’s point of view?  How did you evaluate the project during its course and post completion?

GCSCC:  We utilized the pre- and post-evaluation forms, as well as the culminating event evaluation form, developed by Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry, and we summarized the evaluations internally in addition to receiving the summaries from Touchstone. We also analyzed registration and retention trends, and we dropped into classes during each course’s eight-week period. We’ve paid close attention to the groups that have continued to get together long after their courses ended (poetry, ukulele), and we have collected anecdotal comments and many notes of thanks. GCSCC was especially interested to see that a majority of course participants was in the group aged 74 and under, a population that we have been eager to attract.

Barry:  What lessons did you learn from your experience with the project?  How will you apply what you’ve learned to the sustainability of offering new and additional creative aging projects to the senior community in the future?

GCSCC:  Our experience affirmed that there is a hunger for programs such as these—accessible, high-quality, skill-building courses that also focus on development of a supportive and collegial (social) atmosphere.

We also learned that developing this type of program is resource-intensive (time, money, overhead) and requires support at all levels of the organization, but most importantly, from the Board of Directors and executive staff team.

A most important lesson is that having a partner with expertise in the specific content of a creative aging program is critical. For Experience/Arts it was most helpful to have adequate funding to support an equitable partnership.

Barry:  Would you recommend that other senior center organizations consider creating and launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs?  What are the major considerations organizations ought to consider before embarking on the launch of their own programs?  What are the specific considerations in your experience that senior centers ought to consider in planning a creative aging vitality program?

GCSCC:  I would recommend that other senior center organizations create and launch such a program, but only with the understanding that it will be essential to work with partners with expertise in the arts and that there are significant costs (time, money, overhead) involved. So many aging services organizations, including ours, are focused on providing basic services for older adults, and particularly for low income and frail older adults. It takes tremendous extra effort and interest to do more than provide programs to meet basic needs. Geriatric research is showing that socialization, skill-building/learning, and engagement are basic, along with senior nutrition (Meals on Wheels, senior center meals), accessible transportation, and outreach and counseling to access benefits. However, public funding is far more likely to support nutrition, transportation, and counseling services for older adults than continuing education in the arts or any other arena. And public funding, even for those “basics,” supports only a fraction of the cost to provide those services.

Barry:  What advice would you give those organizations gleaned from your experience?

GCSCC:  First, take a close look at your statement of purpose or mission and strategic planning documents to see how this type of program would align with your mission and articulated plans. Second, ensure that your Board of Directors and executive leadership are fully supportive of broadening your program in this way.

Make sure that your vitality arts program is not competing with similar programs in the community, but instead, augmenting them and broadening access to the arts. Keep in mind that developing such a program will be resource-intensive, requiring adequate administrative and program staff as well as sufficient funds to support collaborative partners and artist-educators. In our case, we also wanted to keep the courses free so that they were as accessible as possible to a low and moderate income population.

Barry:  Do you intend to continue to offer these kinds of program to your senior community?  Why or why not?

GCSCC:  We do intend to continue to offer the Experience/Arts program, and we have raised philanthropic support from foundations and individual donors to do so. We have seen the high level of interest in the program, and we know that in more than a few cases, the program has been transformative for participants. Our agency sees our senior centers as community centers—particularly in a region which has one of the oldest populations in the country. We want to make sure that our centers are far more than “meal sites,” offering vital and engaging opportunities for a population with diverse interests and abilities.


Participant Observations:

Eunie Guyre
I am a divorced, 75 year- old retired resident of Lebanon, NH, having moved here 5 years ago to be closer to my daughter. My formal working life has included secretarial/data entry/proofreading, Certified Nursing Assistant, and retail associate. I have self published two memoirs since 2011, and am currently working on another book. Writing poetry is another passion, as is reading and acrylic painting. I am an avid listener of NH Public Radio and keep current and active in politics. Facebook keeps me connected to family and friends, and “live” people watching is my favorite activity! Adult coloring books and online jigsaw puzzles entertain me when I am by myself. I still love dancing, albeit by myself, in my kitchen! My cat no longer leaves the room when I sing!

Why did you decide to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program?  Had you participated in any arts program like this before?

"(1) I missed my writers group when I moved here from Derry, so when the opportunity for a poetry class presented itself here in Lebanon, I was READY! It was also a wonderful opportunity to make new friends with similar interests. Seven of us continue to meet twice a month since the class ended, and we have improved our skills.  We feel a strong bond with one another and have named our group the “Fourth Friday Poets”. (2) I was thrilled to participate in the Ukulele Class as well. Learning to play an instrument has been on my bucket list for a while. What fun we had! Our brains were sharpened while we re-learned to read music again, too!"

In your own words, please Rate and Review your involvement in the project.  Did it meet - or exceed - your expectations?  What were the benefits of participation?  Were those benefits expected, or a surprise to you?  Were there any negatives to participating?

"A huge plus with these programs is they take place during daylight hours. My limited vision prevents me from driving after dark.
I enthusiastically attended all of the poetry and ukulele classes. Hand surgery slowed me down for a couple of weeks in playing ukulele, but I sat in and participated as best I could. Something that surprised me was feeling comfortable in both classes. I thought I would be intimidated. Benefits? Pure enjoyment of the people I met and how interesting the learning process is now compared to years ago when I was in school. Another surprise was being in the company of other seniors who had stiff fingers from arthritis or visual limitations, and the “tips” and encouragement we shared with one another. Our teachers were fabulous!"

Will you continue to pursue the art form that you learned in the program?
  
"Absolutely! I must write at least two poems to share each time our group meets, two Fridays a month!  I’m not sure how well I will play ukulele, but I strum it for pure pleasure & my cat no longer leaves the room when I play." 

As a result of the program, have you decided to become involved with the sponsoring organization in other ways - say as a volunteer, or audience member, or financial supporter or?

"I will be happy to volunteer if a need arises."

What advice can you give to the sponsoring organization to make the program better?

"Perhaps offering a list of suggested programs of possible interest. Continuing to make surveys available for ideas from seniors".

What advice would you give to other people who might be thinking of participating in this kind of program?

Go for it! Being a late bloomer is fun!


Thank you to Roberta Benner, the Grafton County Senior Citizens Council and to Eunie Guyre for their participation.


Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry


Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Impact on Equity and Diversity of the Lack of Upward Promotion Opportunities

Good morning
"And the beat goes on..........................."

In March, Americans for the Arts released its most recent (2018) Local Arts Agency Salary and Compensation Report(and though I note that one cannot conclude wholesale that local art agencies dovetail exactly with all the other kinds of organizations within our field) still here's some of what caught my attention:

1.  The field is dominated by white women.
2.  The ages of staff are fairly evenly split between 2and 54
3.  Only 38 percent thought they had a clear path for job advancement
4.  Only 55 percent anticipate they will still be working in the arts in five years.
5.  In terms of the goal of the diversification of the field, the report noted that: "while we do see more diversity in the entry- and mid-level positions that hopefully will eventually feed into the leadership of the field—this survey data suggests that the field has made virtually no progress in these efforts."

[Note:  This report has far more information and data than concerns me for purposes of this post, and is worth a read for its insight and observations apart from the issues raised here.]

An equally comprehensive look at compensation, career trajectory options and opinions, ethnic and gender spreads and anticipation of continuing in the field across the entire nonprofit arts sector would be valuable, as would a breakdown of all the organizations in our field as to geographic location (urban, suburban or rural) budget size, and staff size, but I know of no such study.


Equity and Diversity are major, critical objectives for the sector. These goals legitimately dominate our policy making, funding, hiring, and other conversations and concerns.  We know equity depends on achieving diversity in our decision making process, and achieving that diversity means more diversity in the workplace, and in those positions of decision making.

But we have a problem.  Actually two problems.  First a structural problem to realizing our diversity objectives, and that lies in the size of our field, and the size of the organizations that comprise our field.  The fact is that most of our organizations are relatively small - small staffs, small budgets in small demographic settings - rural and suburban.  Most of our organizations, with the exception of organizations that are primarily multicultural in staff and orientation, are predominantly white in both staff and board. While there is an increasing spread as to the age groups comprising our staffs, there is still a Boomer holdover at the top.  As noted in the AFTA study, as we make progress and inroads into hiring more diverse staffs, we might expect that, over time, those hires would rise within the hierarchies of our organizations to increasingly move into more senior positions of authority, power and decision making, but the Second problem, the limitations of size, budget and location, prevent intra advancement within our organizations, principally because there are so few openings, and that is because people in the more senior positions aren't leaving - no matter their age group - and, more critically, because there are few positions within any given job category in our organizations.

Even in our larger organizations with bigger budgets allowing for larger staffs, defined areas within the staff - e.g., the development department, or the marketing department - may have only one or two employees.  Its hard to land a spot in those departments, and even if you do, its harder still to move up as no one is moving out.  For the most part, the only chance for advancement is lateral movement to another organization when an opening occurs.  And lateral movement is difficult given the competition for such scarce openings.  So how do we recruit diversity in our ranks if their are so few openings for people period.  And how do we retain diversity in our ranks if, once recruited, people can't move up either internally or externally?  If we recruit people of color for various jobs in our field, eventually, over time, we ought to see those hires advancing up the organizational ladders to increasing positions of influence and authority.  But we can't just hope that happens. I believe, in certain instances, we have begun to see the first signs of that.  But how long will that take, and if a likely prolonged period, how does that impact the recruitment -- when compared to other sectors, including the private sector, which may be on a faster track and which may have the advantage of budget and size allowing for greater upward career trajectory -- of people to our field, in the first place?  As attractive as our field may be on many levels, we still compete for talent with lots of others fields, public and private.  And job seekers on every level are naturally somewhat impatient.  If there is no identifiable career trajectory options, that may well discourage any number of people from entering the field in the first place.

If these impacts are negative, then where are we if we can't advance diversity because we can't attract diversity to begin with?

Much of our efforts on the diversity front, involve policies, protocols and practices that encourage and enable extant organizations to expand the diversity within their organizations, but those efforts don't address the above reality.  The one area where those negatives may not necessarily apply are with the existing multicultural organizations that are peopled by and serve multicultural audiences and constituencies.  Rather than continue to concentrate a disproportionate amount of our resources on moving white organizations to  diversify, perhaps moving some of those resources to more fully support existing and new multicultural organizations would yield us a larger pool of recruits who would then sooner constitute a larger pool of of seasoned, talented, experienced managers and administrators that could compete for and move into leadership positions across the entire sector.  And when I say move some of our resources, what i'm suggesting is that we move a significant amount of funding, of money.

Another area that compounds the problems we face, is the slower, if not outright lack, of progress in diversifying our Boards, which is where the ultimate decision making authority lies.  And, this is the area that we really need to put a lot more energy and focus on if we are to change the paradigm.

I am not advocating any one approach, or the abandonment of any one strategy, to move us to greater equity and diversity. Certainly we need to continue to push for diversity in all our organizations.  But I do believe we need to recognize the structural limitations of our field as those limitations impact our strategies.  If we can't figure out how to change the structure and the system in which our structures operate, then I don't see how we make timely progress in undoing the past and moving to the future.

We need to consider and address the problems of too few career advancement possibilities - both within organizations, and within the field as a whole - for everyone.  And these are both, in part, structural problems due to our size.  Career trajectory options are important to everyone.  And if we want to recruit and retain more people of color so as to diversify our workforce, then we have got to address that.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry


Sunday, May 5, 2019

Is Customer Service A Priority?

Good morning
"And the beat goes on...................."

Note;  I will continue with more of the Aroha Philanthropies grantee interviews in a couple of weeks.  

What frames and guides your approach to customer service?
The for profit world understands that customer service is critical to their success.  That's true whether it's an industry based on specific products or one which is service oriented.

We too can appreciate the value of a well thought out customer service approach that clearly centers on the customer and one which is ascribed to by the entire organization.  But in many of our organizations, including some of our biggest and best, customer service is almost an afterthought.  In many cases, we operate under the theory that our product - the art we serve - is of such exceptional quality and value, that we are already providing customer service merely by presenting the art around which our organization is centered.  We may believe this.  Our customers may not always entirely agree.

And even if we understand, on a deeper level, that customer service involves everything from the ease and navigability of our websites, to access to tickets, to parking and to the on site experience, we sometimes don't treat customer service as the critically important variable it is in terms of attracting, retaining and expanding our audiences.  We may be guilty, at least from time to time,  of taking our customers for granted.  Customers recognize when this is happening, and by and large, they don't like it.

Let me ask you a question.  Does your organization have a vision statement for its customer service approach?  Not a vision statement for your organization, nor a values statement as to what guides your organization, but a vision as to how you have organized and how you manage your customer service approach.   Few of our organizations have given thought to formulating such a vision statement to guide their customer service approach.  That's unfortunate.

In an article in Forbes by Shep Hyken, a customer service / experience consultant, he quotes such a vision created by Horst Schulz, founder of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Group - a simple, single sentence that "sums up exactly how every employee of the Ritz Carlton is to treat their guests and fellow employees:

"We're ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."

I love this.  It's an elegant, simple vision statement that succinctly and strongly encapsulates the priority of treating the hotel's customers with respect, while at the same time according that same level of respect to those who work at the company.  It involves the organization in maintaining their respect for both their customers, and themselves.  It is both motivating and a source of pride.

The article notes that:  "Every employee carries a laminated placard with the Credo. Also, on the placard are 24 standards that drive the success of the Credo. Before every shift, a manager goes over one of the points with their team. By the end of the month, they have cycled through the 24 standards. Then, it starts over."

Hyken lists four objectives that Schutz included with his vision statement:

1.  "Keep the customer.  Surveys and stats from multiple sources state that it’s less expensive to keep an existing customer than to find a new one. And, that brings us to number two…

2.  Get new customers. This is how a business grows. By the way, take care of the first objective and word-of-mouth will help bring you in new customers.

3.  Encourage the customers to spend as much as possible, but without sabotaging number one.

4.  In all of the above, keep working toward more and more efficiency. Schulze has always looked for ways to improve the process. Don’t sit back on your laurels. Always look for opportunities to do anything and everything you do better – especially if it results in something positive for the customer."

The key to a meaningful customer service approach is to continually reinforce your vision with your people - to live it every day.  Too often, our customer service approaches are merely trophy like ideas that have long been forgotten, and are almost never reinforced.  

What a brilliant customer service vision statement does is to instill in everyone involved in the organization - from staff, to artists, to the Board to volunteers - the critical importance of valuing and respecting your customers.  It frames your attitude towards your customers and sets the standard of behavior towards your customers that is expected from everyone in the organization.  For those with  frequent direct contact with your customers, that vision statement ought to be the screen saver on their computers, or in some other way, reinforced daily.

Because, if you don't constantly reinforce that message and work to have the organization live by it, your customers will notice, and will react accordingly.

So if you don't have a customer service plan of action, or yours has become dormant, you might start with a brainstorming sessions to create a simple vision statement as a starting point.

It will be worth your while.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry



Sunday, April 28, 2019

Interview with the Minnesota Opera on its Vitality Arts Program

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.............."

This is the first of seven interviews with Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts grantee organizations on their creative aging programming.  The hope is organizations that might be considering launching their own senior creative aging program might benefit from some insider insights by organizations that have taken that step, by highlighting their experience.  Included at the end of each interview  are the observations / comments of one or more of the participants in the program, which, it is hoped, might be beneficial in telling the story of this kind of programing, and helping in leveraging the participation of funders, public agencies, potential collaborators and partners in joining a new effort.


First Up:  MINNESOTA  OPERA - In 1963, the commission of Minnesota composer Dominick Argento’s The Masque of Angels sparked the creation of a small Twin Cities opera company spotlighting the rare and avant-garde. Over fifty-five years later, Minnesota Opera is a leading American company, admired as an innovative creator of compelling opera productions, programs, and new works.


They describe their Vitality Arts program - VOICES OF OPERA - as Making a joyful noise with people 55+

Minnesota Opera is proud to announce its newest education initiative, Voices of Opera, an opera chorus for adults 55+. Whether you have sung in the church choir for years or last sang in your high school choir, Voices of Opera encourages you to join with fellow musicians to perform famous operatic excerpts and other choral favorites.


Here are the questions asked of the Organization::

Barry:  What made you want to pursue a vitality arts program for seniors?  Had you had previous experience with crafting programs specifically designed to appeal to seniors?

MN  OPERA:  MN Opera saw the growing need in our community to engage this population with high-quality art-making experiences. Beyond presenting a series of fully-staged opera, we are committed in serving our community by using the knowledge and resources we have as a company, in new, and non-traditional ways. Prior to Voices of Opera we had only just dabbled into the vitality arts area. We provide plenty of opportunities for older adults to enjoy opera as spectators. It was the creation of the art form that was a new angle to learn.

Barry:  Your project focused on an opera choir. Why did you choose that specific discipline?

MN  OPERA:  We have tried some other programs for older adults that were not performance-based, but saw this opportunity to try something different. MN is called the “land of 10,000 choirs” so we knew there was a large community of people who like to sing. Building from that base, we thought there would be a group of people who’d like the chance to sing something that they are not going to sing with their church choir.

Barry:  When you conceived the project, what obstacles and barriers did you identify, and was the reality of designing, then implementing, the project pretty much as expected, or were there elements that surprised you?

MN  OPERA:  The biggest obstacle we faced was the unknown. We have a long history of providing K-12 programs, presenting performances for people of all ages, etc., but we just didn’t know how many folks there were that would want to sing operatic choral music. Was that the way they would want to engage with the art form? Beyond that, we were not going to audition participants, so we didn’t know what the music reading ability of the participants might be, or if they could read music at all. And that’s not even considering we were going to stage some of the music!

Barry:  In creating a budget for the project, what line items were included?  Were there expenses that were unanticipated?  Did you leverage additional funding from other sources?  What sources and how difficult was raising the additional funding?

MN  OPERA:  The budget for the program was fairly consistent to many of our other education programs – Teaching Artists, accompanists, space rental, supplies, promotion, etc. We did not run into many unanticipated expenses, as we had a pretty good idea of the scope and scale of what we were going to offer.

We were able to leverage additional funding by identifying others who are interested in the work. VOO created buzz throughout the Twin Cities, which we were able to connect with others who are excited about this type of work.

Barry:  Did you accurately identify the workload and time involved that management of the project ended up taking, and can you describe that workload and the time involved?  How did you develop your team to oversee the project?  What elements did you include?

MN  OPERA:  The big areas of workload included: identifying the locations (which included a partner who was new to MN Opera), creating a participant recruitment plan, organizing the culminating event, planning the lessons, and evaluating the program. Since the program manager is the lead Teaching Artist, much of the administrative work was streamlined. There were frequent check-ins throughout the entire process as to discuss our progress.

Barry:  The Aroha projects mandated inclusion of teaching artists to conduct the training for the senior participants.  How did you go about recruiting those teaching artists or were they members of your company?  What was involved in their training and involvement that you didn’t anticipate at the outset?  Were there benefits to the teaching artists involvement that came as a bonus?

MN  OPERA:  All the TA we used had a long history with us, some in creating aging work but mostly K-12 programs. All were very interested and motived by the idea of VOO, and so were very willing to dig in and craft an appropriate program. Since this was such a new area for us, we did not anticipate the exact role of our stage director. We did not know how mobile the participants might be, if they had any experience taking direction, and how it would impact their ability to sing some fairly complex music (what an opera chorus is all about!). As the program progressed, we did get a better sense of what we could ask of the participants but it required adept TAs who could make adjustments on the fly in regards to moving people around the stage.

Barry:  Did the project involve any collaborative efforts and / or partnerships with other organizations within the community, such as with universities, senior centers, care facilities or otherwise?  How did those come about and how did they work?  How critical were those to the success of the project?

MN  OPERA:  We partnered with one location and org that was new to us, a theater that we have had a decades long relationship with, and our own building. The location that was new was chosen because of their extensive programming for older adults, rehearsal and theater space, ample free parking, and daytime availability. All of these issues were satisfied with the our other off-site location and in our building. However we had over 150 people register for the program in our building which was more than we could handle. We found another near-by site which worked fine but we did lose some of the cache of holding the program at the Mn Opera Center. Ultimately a good partner and location are critical to the success of a program like this. Everyone needs to be on the same page in terms of goals and objectives to make it a success.

Barry:  Who did you target as participants in the project?  Was recruiting senior participants easy or difficult?  How did you deal with issues such as non-native speaker participants, diversity recruitment, dealing with transportation issues of the senior participants etc.

MN  OPERA:  We targeted the MN Opera “family” (ticket buyers, past participants in various other MN Opera programs), and the contacts of the two off-site locations. Our recruiting efforts were built on our typical audience member who is middle class, white, and speaks English. However we were surprised to learn that the majority of our participants are still working and which lessened any transportation issues, and really appreciated our evening rehearsals.

Barry:  What kinds of marketing did you employ in recruiting senior participants?

MN  OPERA:  Through social media, a print post card, and a few in-program ads, were our primary means of promotion.

Barry:  What criteria did you use to determine if the project succeeded from the organization’s point of view?  How did you evaluate the project during its course and post completion?

MN  OPERA:  Criteria we used to measure our programmatic efforts was through – # of participants, # of participants who continued throughout the entire course, and the quality of experience the participant experienced, such as how they described “what VOO meant to them.”  Institutionally, we measured the program by ability to ID potential future funders, and the board and senior leadership ability to articulate the program’s outputs and outcomes.

Barry:  What lessons did you learn from your experience with the project in the provision of services to seniors in the creative aging arena?  How will you apply what you’ve learned to the sustainability of offering new and additional projects to the senior community in the future?

MN  OPERA:  A big lesson we learned was that you just have to start somewhere. We were not sure who would sign up, what their abilities might be, or if performing this type of repertoire was valuable to people. But we jumped in with both feet with a clear sense of asking questions of the participants and allowing time for reflection with the staff. We also are using this knowledge to consider what future version of VOO might look like, in particular a residential, sleep-away camp.

Barry:  What were the overall pros and cons, logistically and otherwise, in designing, creating, and implementing the project?  What benefits were there to the organization - e.g., new volunteers, new support, new audience members, greater community involvement, media coverage, expanded organization image within the community etc.?

MN  OPERA:  The overall pros of this program was that it provided a needed way for our patrons to engage with opera and MN Opera in a deeper, more meaningful way. We were surprised as to the intensity of response by many of the participants. We assumed people would enjoy making music together, but to hear and read the incredible value the participants found in VOO was remarkable. We are just at the beginning stages in understanding the benefits VOO has on the Mn Opera.

Barry:  Would you recommend that other arts organizations consider creating and launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs?  What are the major considerations arts organizations ought to consider before embarking on the launch of their own programs?  What are the specific considerations in your experience that operas ought to consider in planning a creative aging vitality program?

MN  OPERA:  I would highly recommend other arts org’s consider creative aging programs. As I mentioned above, come up with an idea and do as much pre-planning as possible but understand that your leaning is just beginning. Be open to the idea that, if you are new to this type of work, that there is a lot you don’t know. But draw upon your participants to share their experiences and insight to help guide you efforts. Not only are older adults able to make art, they can be very articulate in terms of assessing the delivery of your program.

Barry:  What advice would you give those organizations gleaned from your experience?

MN  OPERA:  Talk to others who have developed creative aging programs, and try to find some training/PD for your TAs. This type of work is close to K-12 teaching but it is different, and different in some meaningful ways.

Barry:  Do you intend to continue to offer these kinds of program to the senior community?  Why or why not?

MN  OPERA:  Yes we intend continue and expand our programming. The sky’s the limit at this point in terms of what we can do. Hopefully before too long we will be mounting a fully staged opera performed and created entirely by older adults!


Program Participant Thoughts:

Susan Schoenecker is a seventy-three year old retired Geriatric Nurse Practitioner.  She has a BA in Music - piano performance - and taught both privately and at a local Community College.  She had some past choral singing experience.  Her oldest daughter is a local singer / teacher, with opera chorus experience.  She volunteers as an usher at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts, takes a weekly Ballet Barre class and the occasional painting class too.  She likes to read and have lunch with her friends.

Asked why she signed up for the Voices of Opera program, she said:
“I really liked the idea of doing something new musically, which was challenging and exciting.  The very thought of singing opera made me tingle.  Singing in languages other than English was definitely a brain-bender. I am always looking for experiences that will keep my brain functional and also expand my horizons as I age. This was a unique opportunity.”

When asked to rate the program, she offered:
I would rate this experience a 10 out of 10.  I had some initial reservations about the vocal experts of this project, but my overall experience exceeded my expectations for personal accomplishment.  The social benefits were great!  I now have three new close friends [not easy to do with aging] and many new acquaintances.”

She says she plans
to continue to participate in the program, and perhaps seek out other vocal or music activities as well.  The experience did get me back to playing the piano more by re-stimulating my musical gene.”

When asked how the program might be improved, she noted that:
“I would like to see a more culturally diverse group if possible.  Maybe do some outreach to our rich, culturally diverse communities.”  She added that as the next iteration of the program was to include an expanded rehearsal time, that she thought that would make them even better prepared.

Her advice to anyone interested in the program:
“There are NO Auditions.  We are a friendly group and I encourage anyone interested to try.  Come join the fun!  Music is like life, always something new to learn and experience”


Thank you to Jamie Andrews | Chief Learning Officer, Minnesota Opera 
and to Susan Schoenecker for their participation in this interview.

More interviews in this series coming next month.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.
Barry

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Praises for The Creative Aging Movement - Part II

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on................."

This is the second part of an introductory blog on the Creative Aging Movement.  Subscribers can scroll down on their email blog post to see last week's post.  Non subscribers can click here.

RELATED INFO:  The National Guild for Community Arts Education is holding an open online webinar on April 30 on what's been learned from their Catalyzing Creative Aging program - click here to sign up - it's free.

The Creative Aging Movement:  Part II

At the center of the movement towards Creative Aging programming for seniors are those seniors and their experiences with these programs.

As Boomers continue to age and retire, the pool of seniors for this kind of arts programing promises to expand over the next decade by huge numbers.  Boomers represent about twenty percent of the U.S. population - some 77 million, and about 10.000 Boomers turn 65 each day.  Many are retiring, many others continue to work.  And while some Boomers are ill-prepared, financially, for retirement, the whole of the Boomer population is projected to control over seventy percent of all U.S. disposable income over the next five years.  Moreover, Boomers are projected to inherit about fifteen trillion dollars in the next twenty years.  Some states have disproportionately large Boomer populations - e.g., Maine, New Hampshire, Montana and Vermont all have thirty-five percent or more Boomer populations,  but in every state they are a large community.   See Forbes

In other words, there are multiple reasons why arts organizations ought to be spending time and resources targeting this market, including its size, wealth, disposable income, leisure time and demand for more services.  And the biggest reason is the level of satisfaction of the senior participants in these programs, which is likely to increase the demand, as both media coverage and word-of-mouth spread.  Those seniors are valuable clients to have.

As reported by the mid-term report on the Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts program by Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry, the vast majority of participants in those programs reported gains in multiple aspects of artistic and personal development: between 78% and 83% according to an analysis of 754 post-program participant surveys. This included the broad categories of improved creative expression and increased mental engagement, as well as increased skills, knowledge, appreciation, and interest in learning more about the specific art form taught in their class. Two thirds also said that, as a result of this program, they plan to continue in this artistic activity.

Following are the results from the Touchstone Report.

Here are some coordinator comments:


• "One person had been in a coma for six months just prior and still was having some difficulty cognitively. She was very frustrated at first and almost quit, but had such affirmation from the others and with two artists, got the personal assistance she needed. Her confidence and joy were noteworthy outcomes. Another was dealing with multiple sclerosis and while she tired, she was also successful and was reminded that the disease had not robbed her of her creativity.

• Many participants spoke to me at length about their sense of discovery of their creativity and problem-solving abilities. All students seemed very enthusiastic about continuing creative work on their own, and interested in pursuing additional arts education opportunities available to them.

• For some participants, this class acted as a spark that prompted further exploration outside of the class. One participant mentioned that the class ‘opened a door for new creation...my apartment is a mess!’"


Following is a sampling of the many enthusiastic responses from participants:


• "For me personally, this was a dream come true. Matt’s inspiration spilled over into the rest of my life – I began playing the piano again.

• This is waking up an inner spark.

• I had never done dance before. I was looking for looking for opportunity for creative expression.
It nurtures my creativity. We watch each other and learn to ask questions, so it is intellectually
challenging and not just movement.

• I’m a recent retiree. Most of my life I’ve spent on the cognitive side of my mind. I wanted to see
if there was anything on the other side.

• When you retire, the greatest fear is feeling invisible. This experience helps me to see that I can
produce something worth sharing with others."


Over half of participants reported social gains: nearly two-thirds said they formed new or stronger relationships, and three-fifths said their participation encouraged them to participate in other community activities. In some instances, participants have met after completion of the series to continue their experience. Examples of coordinator comments follow:


 "When trying to get the singers to return from a break, it was always a challenge because they were socializing and didn’t want to stop!...There was certainly a sense of making new personal connections as singers talked to the people around them.”


More than two fifths (42%) reported increased physical activity as a result of their program participation: These self-reported gains were corroborated in coordinator reports and interviews, and participant focus groups. (It should be noted that not all art forms required movement.) The coordinator of a movement class reflected, “Some [participants] commented on their sense of balance having improved through the class. While we will never know, if the class prevented one fall/ broken bone, it proved its value. Breathing and flexibility were also improved according to comments...The group consistently talked about learning things they would take back to their daily exercise class.”

Areas of growth reported by Vitality Arts participants
Increased my appreciation of the art form/discipline
Improved my creative expression
Increased mental engagement
Increased my skills in the art form/discipline
Increased my knowledge of the art form/discipline
Increased my interest in learning more about this art form
Increased my confidence in creating art
Formed new/stronger relationships
Encouraged me to participate in other community activities
Increased my interest in learning more about other art forms
Increased physical activity

Nearly everyone (98%) rated the overall quality of their program as either excellent or good, a very strong measure of organizational capacity.

Participants' rating of overall program quality:  Poor, 1%   Adequate, 2%  Good, 16%  Excellent, 82%
In many cases, the culminating public event [a component of the program which required a public performance / exhibition on the conclusion of the classes] contributed to participants’ artistic and personal development.



Early outcomes for sponsoring organizations:

• By the end of this first year, most organizations were seeing growth in their capacity to do this kind of programming, strengthened relationships with collaborating organizations, strengthened relationships between participants and the sponsoring organizations, and shifts in the organizations’ identity and reputation in their community.

• Building capacity to do this kind of programming: Organizations are climbing the learning curve on how to plan and conduct high quality instructional arts programs for older adults. They are building their skills in identifying community interests in arts education, conducting outreach to attract participants – including creating effective messaging, developing sequential lesson plans with their teaching artists, preparing suitable spaces for artistic learning, procuring supplies and managing the logistics of a multi-week class, and documenting and evaluating program activities and results.

Note: This kind of knowledge and experience is invaluable to organizations in succeeding at other goals with respect to seniors, including converting them to donors, supporters, audiences, advocates and volunteers.  It is also invaluable with respect to managing community media, and to building relationships with teaching artists.

• Building capacity includes creating the systems for finding and developing teaching artists, interns and volunteers. It also includes increasing understanding among top executives and board members of the value of this kind of programming, and building their commitment to find the resources necessary to continue it.

• Organizations succeeded in staging high-quality Vitality Arts programs. Program quality was "excellent" according to more than four fifths (82%) of participants.

• Expanded partnerships and connections with other organizations: Twelve grantees reported they established significant partnerships with organizations as an outcome of Vitality Arts programming in this first year. Others have identified potential partnerships they intend to pursue in the second year. These partnerships opened new possibilities for collaboration; others contributed to expanded outreach and recruitment as well as staff support and new opportunities for sustained funding.

• New partnerships with colleges, sometimes through continuing education, were a source for teaching artists, student assistants and volunteers.

• Grantees often partnered with organizations to hold culminating events in prominent galleries, theater spaces, and art studios.

• Several have begun conversations with city and/or county agencies to promote integration of the arts with healthy living initiatives.

• Strengthened relationships between participants and the organizations: Coordinators pointed to Vitality Arts participants signing up as volunteers, joining as new members, attending other organization-sponsored activities, and using its space to continue art-making as early signs of strengthened relationships with the organization. Said one coordinator:  "We continue to see interest from participants in volunteering at [this organization], indicating strong relationships have been built and there is a desire to stay involved...Overall, participants seem to feel a positive connection to the museum and we seem to be seeing, at this early stage, a growth in this audience for our art programming.”


Shift in organizations’ identity and reputation in the community:

In its first year, Vitality Arts programming either served a new population, or supported a new kind of programming for all in the cohort. Recognizing that one year is a relatively short period to change public perceptions of an organization or to shift organizations’ internal identity, early signs are promising.

In some cases, these programs have helped expand the organizations’ image regarding who they serve. In one example a high school is becoming recognized as a place for high quality, intergenerational art classes. Other grantees have initiated or expanded their reputation as sites where older adults can take worthwhile art classes. Vitality Arts has also helped expand the perception regarding what kinds of benefits or services the grantees provide. A YMCA, for instance, is beginning to broaden its image from primarily offering physical fitness opportunities for older adults to include mental and spiritual vitality through art-making. A public library is expanding its reputation to include high quality artistic development series. And residential complexes are becoming known for their excellent quality artistic development courses.



So, there is a huge market for this kind of programming.  Participants are nearly universal in their praise.  Sponsoring organizations report substantial positive impacts from their sponsorship.  Win-Win for everybody - the organization, collaborative partners, senior participants, and the community.  Why wouldn't an organization take a long, serious look about joining in this effort?

COMING NEXT - the first Interview with one of the Vitality Arts grantees about their program.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry