Sunday, June 9, 2019

Minneapolis Institute of Art Interview

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

Note:  This is the fourth in a series of interviews with Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts grantees delving into their launch, management and continuation of creative aging programs for seniors.  A fifth to follow later in the week.  

MIA describes itself as:  "Inspiring wonder through the power of art. The Minneapolis Institute of Art enriches the community by collecting, preserving, and making accessible outstanding works of art from the world’s diverse cultures."

Project Description:

Funds from Aroha Philanthropies enabled Mia to present three workshop seriesto engage older adults in art-making activities that provide opportunities for critical thinking, creative expression,personal enrichment, and fostering social connectedness.

This year's series focused on personal portraits. Participants discovered the varied ways that artists have painted portraits over time by looking at examples in Mia's collection of various styles of
portraiture, from figurative to abstract. Guided by a teaching artist, participants then worked within a community of practice to gain fundamental techniques of painting and advance their skills through a sequential model of learning. Each class builds on the next, as participants became comfortable with the medium of painting, learned how to draw facial features, discovered how to capture a personal likeness and sense of personality, and gained proficiency in creating dynamic compositions.
Throughout the series, classmates were encouraged to share their work and reflections on their process, culminating in an exhibition of student work in the museum's Community Commons gallery and an opening reception. Mia's workshop series enables the museum to enhance and build upon past learnings to design and build a program that serves a broader audience of adults throughimpactful arts experiences. Teaching artists work closely with museum staff and community partners to engage and involve participants.

This program serves Mia's vital older adult audiences: 29 percent of the museum's visitors are ages 56 and older, with 16 percent of that demographic over age 65. In addition, in very meaningful ways, this program is advancing the museum's strategic goals for Fueling Curiosity, Engaging Communities, and Deepening Relationships, as outlined in "Mia 2021," the museum's strategic plan.


Barry:  What made you want to pursue a vitality arts program specifically for seniors? While a large portion of your audience are seniors, had you had previous experience with crafting programs specifically designed to focus on, and appeal to, seniors?

MIA:  Mia has a strong and long-standing tradition of engaging older audiences through collections, special exhibitions, and programming. The demographics of Mia’s visitors reflect the museum’s continued service to older audiences (see above statistics). The museum’s Board of Trustees and
leadership are committed to continuing programs serving this vital audience. Mia is deeply committed to providing quality, engaging artistic and educational programming serving older adults, and has strong community relationships with partners such as Centro Tyrone Guzman, a deeply committed corps of docents and guides, the Friends of the Institute, and others that strengthen the museum’s programming serving this audience. The museum continues to build on its learnings from the Vitality Arts grant and play a more prominent role as a visual arts organization in the creative aging space. Mia recently reorganized its Multi-Generational Learning department to provide dedicated ongoing staff time to support this initiative. Engaging Communities, and Fueling Curiosity.

Mia’s global collection offers unique opportunities for inspiration and learning, and Aroha’s VitalityArts programs advance all three of the museum’s strategic plan goals: Deepening Relationships,

Barry:  Your project focused on personal portraits. What was the thinking in focusing on thatspecific art form?

MIA:  Portraiture can be used both as a tool for skill-building in painting and for individual self-reflection and group sharing around the subject and composition choices. We also see a bridge between portraiture and Mia’s ongoing work around empathy and the museum’s Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts (CEVA).

Mia’s substantial global collection provides tremendous opportunities for participants working in portraiture. In the programs proposed for Year 2 Vitality Arts, participants will discover the varied ways that artists have used their medium over time by looking at examples in Mia’s collection of various styles of portraiture.

In Mia’s Year 1 Vitality Arts program, several participants in the Centro Tyrone Guzman program indicated that they were interested in learning how to paint people and faces, so proposing a portraiture program for Year 2 is in direct response to these participants’ requests. In addition, Miaalso will offer Portraiture to participants at Wilder Foundation, who also indicated they wanted tocontinue developing their painting skills through this project.

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.?

MIA:  Fortunately, because of experience and existing partnerships with community organizations, Mia has practices in place to address and support some of these challenges. For example, Mia and Centro Tyrone Guzman have been partnering on programs for several years, so there was a familiarity with how to structure and approach this bilingual class. Additionally, understanding that the participants at Wilder would have a range of mobility issues, Mia reached out to Sara Tucker, a teaching artist who has lead Mia’s “Discover Your Story” program for adults with Alzheimer’s, and who is skilled at creating accessibility accommodations.

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?

MIA:  For Mia’s 2018 Vitality Arts programming (Year 1), artists’ fees comprised the majority of costs: $5,250 of a total project expenses of $13,965.60. Other direct costs, including museum staff salaries directly related to the program, accounted for $4,590 in project costs. Aroha was remarkably thorough in urging grantees to think through all potential costs, so there were no major surprises, apart from staff time (please see response below). For the few unanticipated things that did come up, additional funding from Mia’s operating budget was used to cover program costs not met by the Aroha Philanthropies grant. For example, from previous experience working with Centro, Mia staff understood that food and hospitality are essential to any programming with this audience, so funds from the museum’s operating budget were used to supply refreshments for the class.

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 staff roles did you include?

MIA:  In its original proposal, Mia underestimated the time museum staff would need to plan and implement the project, and executing the programs required more time than had been anticipated.Activities related to supporting the teaching artists’ requirements, planning and prep, also were greater than projected. Additional assistance also was needed from the museum’s Learning Innovations team, costs for which were not planned in the original budget.

Mia adjusted these projected costs in its Year 2 proposal to more accurately reflect the amount of time needed from museum staff, teaching artists, a teaching assistant, and program support to realize these programs. In addition, the museum’s Multi-generational Learning Innovations team was aligned to improve efficiencies and service to Mia’s programming serving older adults. Museum staff roles related to the project include: Head of Multi-Generational Learning; Manager of Lectures & Academic Programs; Manager, Audience Research & Impact; Photographer; and Videographer.

Barry:  How did you go about recruiting the teaching artists involved in the program, or were they already affiliated with the organization? 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? or otherwise? How did those come about and how did they work? How critical were those"

MIA:  The three teaching artists were already associated with previous museum programs. While they were all accustomed to creating lesson plans, they were surprised by the level of curriculum planning and front-end work required by Aroha, so one of our teaching artists stepped down midway through the grant cycle due to capacity. Mia then quickly identified and contracted another teaching artist in the museum’s network.

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 the success of the project?

MIA:  Mia partnered with Centro Tyrone Guzman for Year 1 Vitality Arts programming. Mia has longstanding collaborations with this community partner through a variety of museum programming. This relationship, built over years of experience and trust, was critical to the success of the project. Mia also partnered with Wilder, an organization the museum had been looking for a way to connect with, so the Vitality Arts program offered a perfect opportunity.

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

MIA:  Participants for classes at Centro and Wilder were recruited from their existing programming for older adults. At Wilder, through their day care centers, and at Centro, through their Wise Elder program. Both classes quickly filled. At Mia, the class was first listed in our general programs email and did not initially fill. Marketing staff then created a targeted email to audiences who attended and indicated interest in similar programming in the past. After that, within two or three days, the class filled. Mia knows there is an audience for these programs, and this confirmed to staff that some customized communication may be needed as we begin to build awareness of these offerings at the museum.

Barry:  Your program was designed: “to engage older adults in art-making activities that provide opportunities for critical thinking, creative expression, personal enrichment, and fostering social connectedness.” 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?

MIA:  During the programs, teaching artists used time at the beginning and end of each class to check-in with participants, gauge their response to the class thus far, and plan for any alterations needed to the curriculum. At the close of each series, Mia program staff used the survey provided by Lifetime Arts to evaluate the program’s success. The Mia class was also followed by a discussion between participants and an evaluator from Lifetime Arts to explore some of the impacts, and Mia staff held post-program discussions with each of the teaching artists to gather their perspective.

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?

MIA:  In order to maximize participation and access to the class, Mia program staff chose to offer the classes to participants 60 and up. However, staff recognized that this could create the possibility of a very wide range of ages and abilities within one class—the differences between a 60-year-old and an 80-year-old, for example, could be considerable. So, Mia staff worked in advance with its teaching artists to ensure that each class could accommodate the diverse needs of its participants. In the end, the class at Centro demonstrated the unique opportunity of having, essentially, an intergenerational class when it emerged that there was a 30-year age difference between the youngest and oldest participants. The oldest participant, at 94 years old, was one of the most skilled artists in the class, and her participation challenged the assumptions about aging for many of her fellow participants.

Additionally, from the recruitment aspect, while Mia serves a broad audience of older adults through a variety of programs, we learned that marketing of our Vitality Arts programs in our general programs email, for example, was perhaps overlooked as the class did not initially fill. Mia’s marketing team then created a targeted email to audiences who attended and indicated interest in similar programming in the past. After that, within two or three days, the class filled. This confirmed to Mia staff that there is, indeed, an audience for these programs, but some customized communication may be needed as begin to build awareness of these specific offerings at the museum.

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?

MIA:  Mia programming staff witnessed the deep impact that these programs have on this audience, and also learned a valuable lesson in how to best resource these programs. The museum continues to build on its learnings from the Vitality Arts grant and wants to play a more prominent role as a visual arts organization in the creative aging space. Therefore, the museum has recently reorganized its Multi-Generational Learning department to provide dedicated ongoing staff time to support creative
aging initiatives. Mia is grateful for renewed support from Aroha Philanthropies for Year 2 of the SVA Minnesota programming to serve this audience at the museum and continues to explore
opportunities for expanding its “creative aging” programming.

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.?

MIA: There were no cons that Mia staff could identify; however, the benefits were many. In addition to the impact on the participants, the conversations around aging had an impact on Mia staff, as well. One of the unexpected outcomes was how these programs revealed the subtle and not-so-subtle ways
that ageism plays out in our society, and how interrelated this work is with the museum’s ongoing equity and inclusion efforts, as well as its focus on empathy.

Barry:  Would you recommend that other 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?

MIA:  Yes, absolutely. These programs offer a unique opportunity to connect with, and positively impact, older adult audience members. As with the start of any new program, organization staff will want to honestly consider their capacity—both staffing and financially—to support, maintain, and sustain the program. Additionally, Aroha required grant applicants to issue a needs assessment survey, exploring interest in the class, potential topics, convenient class days/times. The information gleaned from this initial survey was very helpful as we developed the offerings.

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

MIA:  Assign additional staff support to help initially get the programs off the ground. If you are working with a community organization, it may be helpful to start with one where you have an existing relationship. Piloting a new program with a new partner may be challenging.

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

MIA:  Yes, absolutely. There is tremendous interest from older adult audiences in quality, engaging programming. With news of renewed funding from Aroha Philanthropies to support Year 2 of SVA Minnesota programming at Mia, the museum is looking forward to continued work serving older audiences through this initiative and others at Mia.

Participant Observations:

Participant Profile:

I am a married 76 years old retired customer service/instrumentation engineer at aerospace manufacturer,  living in Minnesota.  I spend my free time taking courses at the U and am also a gallery guide at Mia.

Asked why he decided to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program? he replied: "I like continued learning, particularly art history and studio art-based classes. I often take classes."

When asked to Rate and Review involvement in the project, whether it meet - or exceed - expectations? and about the benefits or negatives  of participation? he responded:

"As I mentioned, I have taken years of classes at the University, and Peyton is by far the best instructor I have ever had. He broke down the painting process in a very straight-forward, 
understandable way. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the medium of spray paint and learning about the history of the genre. I came in really cynical, but this was like a world-class master class--a mix between institutional expertise and street smarts. I also really enjoyed creating art collaboratively with my fellow classmates. The fact that we did all of this un such a compressed amount of time, it was like a dream. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity."

In response to the question of whether or not he planned tocontinue to pursue the art form that you learned in the program?  he answered:

"I think that I would." 

As to whether or not participation in the program increased his involvement with the sponsoring organizations, he noted:

"I am already a volunteer guide at the museum but would definitely take more classes like this here in  a heartbeat. "

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

"Go for it. You’ll be glad you did."

Thanks to Aubrey Mozer and Darcy Berus at MIA, and the participant's thoughts.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit