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Photo credit: Center for Elders and Youth in the Arts

Arts programs are essential in a community to help older adults get involved and remain an important part of their communities.

Community-based arts programming helps older people—as the keepers of culture—remain dynamic members of society and provides younger generations with positive role models and access to knowledge and talent accrued over a lifetime. These relationships encourage a strong sense of meaning and purpose in vital communities.

Here are a few examples of innovative programs:

Through the Artist Outreach Project, the Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation awards grants to accomplished visual, performing, and literary artists, age 55 and older. These grants are intended to support the artists’ efforts to give back to their community by sharing their artistic talent in ways that are both educational and therapeutic. Artists awarded the grant spend six to eight hours a week with an underserved group in South West Los Angeles County, Orange County or North San Diego County. One artist, supported with a $12,000 grant through this initiative, is working with a senior center to provide a tapestry weaving class for seniors and adults of all ages.

EngAGE is a nonprofit organization that promotes creative, healthy aging by providing arts, wellness, lifelong learning, community building and intergenerational programs to thousands of seniors living in affordable senior and multi-generational apartment communities in Southern California, as well as Oregon and Minnesota. The Eisner Foundation and Aroha Philanthropies are among the foundations providing major support for EnGAGE. The organization runs the EngAGE Across Generations program, which helps older adults become involved with younger people in their communities as mentors, sages, and neighbors. The program offers an opportunity for people to inventory their skills and desires and provides a place where those talents can be utilized to help guide youth through the stages of their lives. EngAGE connects with local schools and other organizations to provide support for their endeavors, which can include intergenerational arts programs, mentoring, read aloud programs, and even filmmaking.

Cleveland TOPS Swingband Foundation, based in Cleveland, OH, is a 17-piece big band of mostly retired professional musicians who provide music for older audiences. The band plays concerts at community and senior centers. The McGregor Foundation has supported the program with grants totaling $87,500 since 2011.

Intergenerational Orchestra of New Jersey runs an Outreach String Chamber Ensemble, which gives free performances at nursing homes and adult day care centers, senior citizens residences and clubs, centers serving persons with disabilities, elementary schools, civic events, and public libraries. The outreach group encourages older adults to begin instrumental music instruction and enables them to play in small string ensembles of up to 20 children and adults of various skill levels.

What to fund

  • Intergenerational art programs that foster mentorship between older adults and at-risk youth while they work together to produce films, write plays, or on storytelling projects
  • Cultural and folk arts programs that target older adults who are marginalized due to a lack of English language proficiency by engaging them in their native language
  • Providing netbooks to homebound older adults to improve their access to culture and arts
  • Museum programs that provide classes, lectures, and discussion groups for older adults
  • A community exhibition of art created by older adults in a local theater, library, or community center
  • Volunteer programs that engage retirees within the community by respecting and valuing their life’s experiences
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