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Learning does not stop at a specific age.

Most older adults want to stimulate their minds and creativity; participating in arts and cultural programs is one way to do this. As life expectancy increases, more attention is being given to the meaning and purpose of later life.

Older adults who both created art and attended arts events reported higher cognitive functioning and lower rates of both hypertension and limitations to their physical functioning than did older adults who neither created nor attended art, according to the NEA’s “Staying Engaged: Health Patterns of Older Americans Who Particpate in the Arts” report. In fact, among older adults who both created and attended, cognitive functioning scores were seven-fold higher than for adults who did not participate in the arts. And the frequency with which these adults attended art or created art is seen as a factor in their improved health.

Aroha Philanthropies, which is devoted to the transformative power of the arts and creativity, has launched an ambitious Vitality Arts initiative to support arts education for people over age 55. The programs are led by teaching artists whose creative process and understanding of older adults bring joy, connection, improved health and well-being, and a renewed sense of purpose to older adults in community and residential settings. Aroha has awarded more than $230,000 in grants to 15 nonprofits through its “Seeding Vitality Arts MN” initiative to develop successful Vitality Arts programs throughout the state of Minnesota, with a goal to disseminate successful program implementation models.

Elders Share the Arts (ESTA) in Brooklyn, New York, offers lifelong learning programs featuring professional artists in creative writing, storytelling, visual arts, and theater. ESTA brings a broad range of arts programming for adults 55+ into senior centers, libraries, VA hospitals and retirement communities. In additional to its intergenerational program, ESTA offers Pearls of Wisdom, a touring ensemble of older storytellers who present stories that promote the tradition of elder folk and invite participants to share stories of their own. ESTA has received several foundation grants under $10,000 including grants from the Lotos Foundation, and Mary Duke Biddle Foundation.

The Creative Center at University Settlement, based in New York City, runs several programs that train artists, administrators, and health care professionals and staff to provide arts programming in a variety of settings serving older adults, from health care settings and senior centers to long-term residential settings for the frail elderly. The Center has developed a training institute for artists and administrators in creative aging that is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. It will help communities and organizations replicate this program and develop best-practice models in a wide range of environments and communities that wish to implement and sustain an arts program.

Lifetime Arts in New York City encourages creative aging by promoting the inclusion of professional arts programs in organizations that serve older adults; preparing artists to develop the creative capacity of older adult learners; and fostering lifelong learning in and through the arts by increasing opportunities for participation in community-based programming. The Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation supports New York City senior service organizations in developing and implementing Creative Aging programming through a $170,000, two-year grant to Lifetime Arts. One of the organization’s major initiatives is to use libraries to deliver arts education for and with older adults. The Public Libraries Initiative, which started with New York City libraries, builds collaborations between teaching artists and librarians, and builds the capacity of different library systems to carry out and sustain creative aging programs. These free programs (in all arts disciplines) help improve the quality of life for participants. Lifetime Arts is now working with 20 public library systems in 12 states to create the Lifetime Arts Library Affiliate Network, which will significantly expand the number of “creative aging libraries” through a systematic, regionally-organized process of training, technical assistance, peer networking, partnership development and incentive funding. The AARP Foundation is supporting the new network.

What to fund

  • Community arts education programs for older people
  • Dance and movement classes for older adults in a retirement communities
  • Subsidized tickets to community theater events for older adults
  • Training programs for local artists to learn techniques for working with older adults
  • Individual grants to older artists to support encore careers
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