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