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.

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 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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Most Important Trend in Arts Programming in the Past Five Years. Are you on it?

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

PART I on the Creative Aging Movement

From an article in the Washington Post:
Vivian Lewis was captain of her high school’s cheerleading squad in 1966, but she stopped cheering when she went to college and got married. Three daughters, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren later, she’s back to performing — but now she’s doing scream-making, sweat-dripping, hip-shaking hip-hop — in front of thousands of people. 
Lewis, 71, is part of Wizdom, the Washington Wizards’ new dance troupe — with members who are all 50 and older — that was created to whip up fans at Capital One Arena.
“The first performance that they did, you would have thought that we won the game,” said Derric Whitfield, Wizdom’s director. 
Wizdom’s 20 members, ages 50 to 76, bring a new choreographed routine for seven of the season’s 40 home games. They dance mostly during timeouts, while the Wizards’ regular dance troupe, the Wizards Dancers, perform at halftime and other breaks during the game.   “What I want to prove with this team is, everyone can dance,” Whitfield said. “Dance is for people of all ages.”

All over the country, arts organizations are replicating this kind of thing - programming for seniors in arts disciplines from dance to theater, choral groups to opera, storytelling to creative writing.  And this creative aging programming has become one of the most important and encouraging trends in arts programming over the past five years


Because these diverse programs are engaging dramatically increasing numbers of seniors in communities across the country, and those seniors are spreading the word with rave reviews as to the positive impacts, and because there is a plethora of benefits to the participating organizations.

This thrust has two components:  1) the impact of arts participation in actual creativity on the health of people - both as a preventative medical intervention and as a possible protocol for healing from illness and post surgery - of which the jury is still out as to its efficacy, though significant increased research is encouraging that the arts have a real impact on health; and 2) direct participation in creating art - in a variety of disciplines - is succeeding dramatically in improving the well being, joy, social health and purpose for seniors.

it is in the second category that the phenomenal growth has occurred, as so many arts organizations - and private sector companies, as seen above = are now offering this kind of programming, we are near a tipping point where such programs are fast becoming ubiquitous.

I am a septuagenarian, and have had a variety of health issues over the past five years.  I don't sing, paint, dance or find accomplishment on the stage.  The written word is my canvas, and writing has brought me untold rewards and satisfaction, and, I am convinced, has positively impacted my health and general sense of wellbeing.  The act of creative writing, for me, has helped me in countless ways to navigate growing older - so I readily admit to a bias in favor of this kind of programming.  I don't know the depth and extent the act of writing has on my health issues, but I do know that it gives me a deep sense of satisfaction and a direct sense of involvement; it connects me with my community, and keeps my mind engaged.

The difference between these programs, and prior efforts to program for seniors, is that the newer programming targeting seniors involves real skills training and teaching artists at their core.  They have as their hallmark the abiding respect for the senior participants as potential artists, and treat them as such.  The professional training and serious approach differs from past programming, which was too often a dismissive afterthought or add-on to keep seniors occupied.  Seniors in these programs are encouraged to learn technique and advance skills to their creativity in the area they choose.  And it is precisely because these programs have set a high bar, and involve standards, that they have been so remarkably successful.

For arts organizations, the rewards of engaging in this area are many:  As the stated purpose of our organizations is to connect art and artists with their community, expanding their offerings to seniors is a no-brainer.  Virtually every community has a senior segment - a segment often times previously given short shift.  While we have forever tried to include seniors in access to the arts - particularly as audiences for our work - the creative aging effort seeks to involve them in the creative process - as dancers, actors, painters, film makers, craftsmen and women, musicians, singers, writers and storytellers and more.  And not just as neophytes, but as professionally trained and guided artists in their own right.  These programs don't just provide materials and space; they offer professional, sequential training.

Moreover, organizations which have developed these programs have seen an increase in audience building, increases in donors and supporters, more active arts advocates,  expanded community collaboration and funding leverage opportunities [with libraries, senior centers, nursing homes and community centers], increases in their volunteer base, and greater public appreciation of, and interest in, the discipline of the organizations involved.  In short, these programs are win-win, for both the participants, who gain proficiency in a discipline, experience the joy and satisfaction of creativity, both as a process and end result, and who expand their social network and self-esteem - though clearly more research to categorize and inventory the specific benefits is needed, as we are really still in the embryonic stage of what is fast becoming a movement,, and for the organizations which are finding that these programs deepen and expand their reach into communities, generate seniors as supporters, audiences and advocates, build good will, and generate positive media attention.

Seniors, as a group, are very effective advocates for two reasons;  First they have time to be active, and Second, they vote.  Politicians listen to them.  Seniors involved in these programs are real and potential advocates for public support for the arts - a potential army of lobbyists that can make a difference in political support for the arts.

There is considerable and growing research on the benefits of creative aging programs for seniors, and the beginnings of an avalanche of media coverage on such programming, those who run them, and those who participate in them -- confirming that the effort is fast becoming a phenomenon.  As we are now well into the Baby Boomer march towards seniority, this trend is only likely to expand.

And these programs seem to work well for both large and small arts organizations, in every discipline.  And they likely benefit our field as a whole.  I would encourage every arts organization to explore the possibilities of launching their own individualized arts aging program.

For the last several months, I have been reading about these programs and doing preliminary research on how they operate, what they are attempting to do, and how they have succeeded in their efforts.  There are a number of national service provider organizations and funders that have helped to spawn the growth in the area, as well as literally hundreds of organizations that are now offering such programming.

I have contacted the Aroha Philanthropies - one of the prime movers at the forefront of this movement - to ask their help in identifying representative organizations that have launched creative aging programming in their Vitality Arts program, so that I might interview the leaders in these organizations to ascertain their experience in developing, launching and managing these efforts, including some commentary from the senior participants as to their take-aways - with an eye to encouraging all arts organizations across the country - from state and local agencies, to symphonies, theater and dance companies, choral groups, museums, libraries, and more - to seriously consider formulating their own creative aging programming.  I wanted to find out, from these organizations, what the obstacles and barriers were to jumping into the field, how easy or difficult their launch and management of the programs were, what worked well and what didn't, their assessment of the results, and their level of satisfaction at having taken the plunge, and their future plans in the area -- so as to give those organizations not yet involved a sense of what to expect - hoping that would be encouraging.

Aroha's Seeding Vitality Arts program was launched in December of 2017 as a three year National Impact Demonstration Initiative in collaboration with Lifetime Arts, for projects that would "champion arts programs that keep us vital, joyful and engaged  by unleashing the transformative power of creativity in those fifty-five plus, enabling older adults to learn, make and share and share the arts in ways that are novel, complex and socially engaging.  Driven by teaching artists in the program design and facilitation, and based on sound principles of arts education, the funded projects included a wide variety of organizations and in diverse locations.  The program sought projects that built skills in an art form, included social interaction among the participants and which had the potential for replication and sustainability.   An important component of the program was for each participating organization to include, at the end of the training offering for seniors, a public performance or exhibition.  Including this end piece helped to frame the whole effort as a professional effort with the goal of sharing the finished works publicly.

In an excellent Report authored by David Scheie and Nan Kari of the Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry commissioned by Aroha, as a Midterm Evaluation to review all of their Vitality Arts grantees, the authors found that:  [Demographic findings are based on responses from 1,057 participants in 65 programs across the 15 organizations.]

  • Most participants were “younger old” adults: the largest number were ages 65-74, and another 20% were ages 55-64.  However,  23% were ages 75-84, and 15% were age 85 or older.
  • At two organizations (the library and the dance company), 40% or more of their participants were younger than 65. At the two residential facilities, most participants were age 75 or older.
  • While most of these older adults reported no mobility issues or disabilities, about a third said they have some such challenges and a small number reported many mobility issues or disabilities. Again, these were more common at the classes held at older adult residences.
  • 34% reported some mobility issues/disabilities
  • 3% reported many mobility issues/disabilities.
  • Yet 63% reported No mobility issues/disabilities, 
  • The great majority of participants were women.  Two organizations had 30% or more men, and three others had 5% or fewer men.  Male, 16%  Female, 84%
  • In most locations, most participants identified themselves as White or Caucasian. The racial and ethnic composition of programs largely reflected the communities where programs occurred. Programs in Albuquerque, Newark, New York City and Philadelphia had substantial numbers of Black or Latino participants, as did some programs in Birmingham, AL. Overall, about five in six participants were White, with most of the others either Latino or African American. Race or ethnicity of participants: African American, 6% Hispanic/ Latino, 8% Other, 2% Asian/ Pacific Islander, 1%.  White, 83%
The demographics of program participants likely reflected the audiences of the host organization.  
There seems no reason why these programs wouldn't also succeed in communities of LGBTQ and communities of color, and that the demand for them would be high.  As seniors in these communities are often underserved, I would hope these kinds of programs might be launched by arts organizations either in these communities or which serve them.  

Mobility, participant recruiting, compensating professional teaching artists, program management and program launch are all important issues with which to contend, yet all the participating organizations surveyed in the Aroha Vitality Arts program addressed these challenges successfully.  Aroha has since launched two more cohorts, one for Minnesota based organizations, and the second for 20 museums across the country in collaboration with the American Alliance of Museums.

Next week I will report on the general feedback of the participants in these and similar programs, and cite some other similar efforts to give you a sense of what these programs can do.

I have conducted interviews with seven of the organizations that launched programs under the Aroha Vitality Arts banner, and solicited feedback from the senior participants, and will post those interviews and feedback spread over the next couple of months so that you might know directly from those involved how they created their programming and how it succeeded.

Finally, after I have posted all of the interviews, I will post a summary of the efforts, together with a list of resources that you might tap into in launching your own creative aging program.

My hope is that you can use this material as you consider engaging in creative aging programming, both internally, as to how to design and implement that effort, and to find collaborative partners, leverage funding, and succeed at community outreach.

This is a bandwagon your organization seriously needs to think about getting on.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit