When I become a grandmother, I would really like to become a part of the Seasoned Performers. Fifth-grade audience member
Erik H. Erikson, Joan M. Erikson, and Helen Q. Kivnick wrote this about older adults:
By relegating this growing segment of the population to the onlooker bleachers of our society, we have classified them as unproductive, inadequate, and inferior. Offering them, on occasions, status honors, and honorary memberships shows respect and may be gratifying to them. Taking care of them in innumerable ways is being responsible. Entertaining them with bingo games and concerts is, however, patronizing. Surely, the search for some way of including what they can still contribute to the social order in a way befitting their capacities is appropriate and in order. 113
One way is the arts. And a growing number of older adults and people of all ages are coming to this realization. Thanks in part to the baby boomers who have driven so many changes in the United States, the concept of aging productively is in vogue. Research has proliferated, and some of it points toward the arts. There is also a renewed emphasis on community in all senses of the word, with a strong desire among many to reconnect with each other.
Leaders in both the arts and aging services fields are working hard to respond to individuals’ needs. Their common goal is to be embedded in the communities that they serve. Their common value is to honor and respect the experiences of and choices made by all community members. These commonalities make our field of arts and aging a logical, effective, and mutually beneficial partnership. We are a movement. We are making a difference. And the movement is inextricably linked to community arts, in which the process of making art is as important as the art that is created and shared.
While we learn from the past and work hard in the present, we also plan for the future. The issues that we face are not unique to the arts and aging field. Increasing capacity to meet demand, determining how best to share strategies and models in a learning community, and training a new generation of leaders preoccupy many organizations and institutions. What is unique to the arts and aging field is the creativity and passion that has kept us optimistic and energized about moving forward.
In large measure, our optimism and passion are derived from the learning community that we have formed with the participants in our arts and aging programs. Connecting with the older adults—and young people—who benefit from our programs, whose lives are profoundly affected by our work, keeps us going.
We also learn and grow from each other’s successes and failures. Indeed, there is a hunger in the arts and aging field for models and advice. One resource is this toolkit. Another is the existing body of work that codifies what we do: the publications of Elders Share the Arts, National Center for Creative Aging, National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and Transitional Keys, and those by Anne Basting and John Killick, Martha Haarbauer, and La Doris “Sam” Heinly. The leadership of organizations like the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, and National Center for Creative Aging also contributes to our progress. And conferences like the National Conference on Arts and Aging: Creativity Matters and the membership meetings of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts are effective networking and celebratory opportunities. Honoring our accomplishments strengthens our identity as a field with common hopes and dreams.
As the art and aging field moves forward, we need to nurture a new—and larger—generation of leaders. The demand for our work will only increase. One method is to offer academic training—like the Certificate in Creative Aging program that the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging and Longevity at Hunter College of the City University of New York launched in 2005 in partnership with Elders Share the Arts We also need to support and train the professional teaching artists who are so vital to the success of our programs.
Experiencing firsthand the impact of arts and aging programs on participants makes believers out of skeptics. So, too, do quantitative and qualitative assessment data that answer the question, “How do you know that what you are doing is making a difference?” Outcome evaluation is important to our future growth and success. While we know the benefits, we have to know how to communicate them to others with persistence, professionalism, and quality.
Older adults, regardless of ability, gain many benefits by participating in professionally led arts programs that are effectively and purposefully designed and implemented. By engendering mastery, facilitating social engagement, and igniting a zest for life, the arts are transformational. The arts sustain spirit and soul. The arts enhance older adults’ quality of life. The arts are part of the process, part of the solution.
“The Heart of the Matter: Our Lives—A Work in Progress”
(To the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business”)
There’s no age like our age like no age we’ve known.
Everything about it is revealing.
Grey hair, countless candles on your cake.
Yet, many things about it are appealing.
To know that we’ve still got just what it takes!
Oh, there’s no bunch like this bunch.
Two great years we have known.
Secrets shared, with smiles and tears that were concealed.
We’ve shed our guard and we’ve shed those shields.
With love and trust and strength we say with heartfelt zeal:
Let’s go on with our show! Let’s go on with the show!
Finale song in the final presentation by the Penn South Program for Seniors Living History Theatre Group, a program of Elders Share the Arts, New York City, May 2003