Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Creative Aging Arts Programs for Seniors - Wrap Up

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

Over the last several months, I've posted a series of interviews with Aroha Philanthropies’ Seeding Vitality Arts® grantees, centering on their creative aging programs, with the intent that providing you with the impressions of actual on-the-ground experiences by these organizations would be helpful to those of you contemplating the design and launch of a creative arts program targeting seniors, and to those of you about to launch such an effort.  Included were comments from senior participants in the programs.

My stated intent, as a senior with enormous interest in the arts, has been to convince those of you who have not yet investigated the launch of a senior program, to consider doing so.  And to encourage arts organizations all over the country to take the plunge and establish this kind of programming for your organization, so that we might hit the tipping point and bring this kind of programing to scale, where these programs become ubiquitous.

While increasing numbers of arts organizations are getting involved in programming for seniors, we still aren't anywhere yet near scale.

So why should you make this the year you first explore your options for senior creative programing, and then get down to the nuts and bolts of its design and implementation?

There are several reasons. Consider:

1.  The senior population is growing substantially.  As the Boomers continue to age and retire, every state and every community is seeing their senior constituencies grow, and that is likely to continue for the next decade or more.  https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-us-states-with-the-oldest-population.html

2.  While a percentage of senior retirees will continue to reside in the communities they have long called home, there will also likely be increased migration of this senior population from places where they grew up, worked and raised families, to other areas that might better suit their retirement needs, including, for many, less urbanized areas and areas where the cost of living has risen less, as well as moves to be closer to where their children have settled.  Thus, not only is your organization likely to have its senior cohort grow, there is a good chance a percentage of that cohort will be new to your area.   https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/acs/ACS-38.pdf  Both will constitute potential new audiences, donor pools and supporters.

3.  For the near term, this growing cohort of seniors, while predominantly white, will reflect the overall population and include all groups.  A portion will be relatively well off, with disposable leisure income and time.  In the very earliest years of their retirements, it is likely they will continue the same kinds of participation patterns in which they previously engaged.  If you want to continue to keep their involvement, or, in the case of newbies to your territory, to attract their participation in your arts discipline and organization, as audiences, supporters, donors, volunteers and public advocates, you would do well to now consider how you might both appeal to their creative instincts and provide programming to them.

4.  While the Boomer population moves towards senior status and retirement, their numbers won't yet be replaced, as the Gen X population immediately behind them isn't nearly the size required to replace the Boomers, and the large Millennial generation, while at the early stages of moving to full employment, with disposable leisure income, and towards families and home ownership, as a generation it is largely still somewhat financially limited, with maximum demands on its leisure time.  Thus, the long-term dependence of the sector on the Boomer population for literally every aspect of our organizational survival and growth, will continue - with the difference being that the Boomers are becoming seniors.  While the longer-term future will, of course, be younger generations, in the immediate future our fortunes will continue to depend, in large part, on our relationships with Boomers.

The demographics thus suggest that a failure to provide programming specifically targeted to the needs and desires of the Boomers is a risky proposition, particularly for cultural institutions.  The age demographic in your community and your constituency within that community is changing.  Of course, virtually every arts organization's core programming appeals to seniors as well as all age demographics.  But we're not talking about accessing, enjoying and appreciating your core programming.  We're rather talking about enabling seniors to create that art on their own, at as high a level as we can enable them.  If you want to think of your market and your relationship to your audiences, donors and supporters as static, and one that will be the same in five, ten or fifteen years, then good luck with that approach.  The time to understand the demographic changes and their implications is now.

And just what would moving towards providing creative aging senior programming do for your organization?  Consider:

1.  Particularly at the younger and middle ends of the senior cohort, they remain your potential audience.  Many now have time they did not previously have to enjoy the arts, and many have the money too.

2.  They also constitute a target for increased financial donor support.  And a portion of this cohort is increasingly philanthropic.  The Boomer-accumulated wealth will, over the next two decades, undergo the largest wealth transfer in the history of the country.  Increased involvement with your organization may yield financial philanthropic benefits.

3.  They constitute a target for being active advocates for public support and good will.
And seniors, with time on their hands, have historically been a very vocal, active and effective lobbying bloc for what they value.

4.  As the senior market grows, there is likely to be increased interest in attempts to provide services to that group from both public and private decision makers, elected officials and private sector companies, and having senior programs allows your organization to position itself to leverage the additional funding that is coming.  Seniors vote. They have money.  Politicians and companies will cater to them.

5.  Then too, this kind of programming, especially for organizations getting involved at the early stages, as it is somewhat novel, is fodder for increased media coverage, and the more your organization can develop relationships with the media, the better your will fare, on multiple levels, in the future.  Programing for seniors is community engagement.

6.   These projects lend themselves to collaboration and cooperation with other senior-focused community organizations, including senior centers, assisted living facilities and even libraries and hospitals.  These relationships can be important to you in other ways than just the above benefits.

7.   Most arts organizations have as part of their mission and / or goals and objectives to provide arts education opportunities within their communities, and arts education, if we are to make up for the lack of it in schools over the past two decades, and if we are to embrace it as a necessity, must be lifelong education.

8.  Finally, while the programming we are talking about is not specifically directed at the health issues of seniors, but rather at their social enjoyment being challenged with quality artistic instruction, there is increasing anecdotal evidence that this kind of arts participation may have very positive physical and mental health impacts and outcomes on senior's health issues, and that will surely be an incentive to many seniors to want this kind of programming.

So what are the perceived obstacles:

1.  It's Expensive.  It's NOT expensive.  The major capital outlay as outlined in the Interview Series is the Professional Teaching Artists.  And their involvement is the hallmark of these projects, as they provide the standard of instruction being offered, which is a high bar that respects the potential of the senior participants and provides quality instruction as the learning opportunity.  If you read the Interviews you will see virtually unanimous consensus on the value of these programs to both the organization and the participants precisely because they are designed to be more than a babysitting service for seniors.  They are designed to provide artist level training.  It’s about self-respect, for both the organization and the participant.  It’s about quality.  The expense is not prohibitive, and the bulk of the expense supports working / teaching artists.

Moreover, there is money at every level that can be leveraged to help with the expense.  At some point, I expect state and local arts agencies will be providing services to broker funding partnerships, but in the meantime, senior centers, nursing homes, assisted living and retirement communities, hospitals, local foundations, city and county governments are all potential partners at one level or another.  AND, you can start your senior program on a modest level.

2.  It's too Time Consuming.   Every program takes some time to do well, but this kind of program is no more time intensive than most others.  The Teaching Artists are key in this area too, as a portion of the workload is assumed by them.  Moreover, the potential collaborative partners also contribute time and expertise.  And very likely a portion of your volunteers are seniors.  Enlist their help.

3.  Coming Up with the Programming is Difficult.   NOT REALLY.  Seniors aren't from Mars.  Their tastes and experiences are not some unknowable thing.  Most arts organizations, of whatever size or discipline, have plenty of experience in programming for seniors.  BE CREATIVE, this is an area that invites creativity in the design of the program as well as its execution.  Teaching Artists, collaborative   partners and the seniors themselves will all help you focus on programming that will resonate with your marketplace - both participants and possible funders.

The responses in the Interviews are universally pro and supportive.  Every one of the organizations reported the benefits of engaging this kind of programming to be overwhelmingly positive.  And they all reported the workload wasn't that onerous.  ALL of them intend to continue this kind of senior-oriented creative programming into the future.  That is an important testimonial.

So, I urge you to get your organization on the bandwagon.  You have a great deal to gain by not waiting, but acting soon.

Here then are some resources available to you right now to help you in your efforts to join the creative aging movement, help both your organization and the entire field, and build increased positive relationships with seniors in your area.

There are scores of links to articles, books, research, reports, studies and tool kits within each of these easy to navigate sites.

Aroha Philanthropies Videos

Aroha Philanthropies Resources

Lifetime Arts

National Endowment for the Arts

National Guild for Community Arts Education

Grantmakers in Aging


Aroha Philanthropies’ Final Evaluation Report on their Seeding Vitality Arts program, by Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry, will be released shortly, and I will blog on it when it is.

In the meantime, I hope many of you will see the value, benefits and wisdom for your organization to embark on a serious inquiry into launching a Creative Aging program in the near future.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit