Please take a moment to answer three questions that will help us make this Web site more useful to you.
Question #1: What is your age?
Question #2 What is your sex?
Female Male
Question #3 What is your primary occupation/area of interest?


Survey ©2008   Results Technologies Solutions, Inc.

Creativity Matters: The Arts and Aging Toolkit
photo of three men singing (Golden Tones)

6.1: Planning the Program

Planning is the process of setting parameters for an organization or program. Through assessment and then developing a purpose, activities, an instructional design, and a plan for evaluation, you create the container in which partners, teaching artists, older adult participants, and community members come together to transform lives through the arts.

While you can just jump in and start working with older adults, a better idea is to begin with a roadmap—figuring out where you are, where you want go, and how you’re going to get there. For those who are already managing programs, it is never too late to pause and consider the elements of effective planning.

This section explores steps in program planning:

Conducting Internal and External Assessment

Assessment is the process of documenting knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs in measurable terms. There are two types of assessment: internal and external.

Internal Assessment

In planning as in life, it is a good idea to take a hard look at strengths and weaknesses. To “know thyself,” as Plato recommended, improves the chances of connecting with partners, attracting participants, and achieving success. Refine your ideas by considering these questions. Ask people who know you or your organization to consider them, too:

Examining data and documentation—such as financial statements, evaluation reports, attendance statistics, and comments by past funders and grant panelists—is useful in internal assessment. Board members and other staff can provide input as well, perhaps through a brainstorming session around values, vision, strengths, weaknesses, and resources. Be sure that your program fits within the organization’s mission: “Every program you choose to offer should reflect why you exist and whom you serve. As arts organizations strive to serve the needs of particular communities, memberships, and audiences, program planners should also resist the common compulsion to do more and more.”54

Older adults are a good fit with the mission of the Levine School of Music, which includes these key phrases:

External Assessment

Once you understand your organization, focus on the environment in which it operates. According to the W. K. Kellogg Foundation Evaluation Handbook, external assessment has these results:

Scanning the Environment

Conducting an environmental scan is a common technique to get a picture of your community. Consult board and staff on these key questions:

Assessing Community Members

Assemble a list of individuals and organizations to assess through interviews, focus groups, and/or surveys. Established arts, aging, and social services coalitions can also serve as focus groups. The purpose is to understand how community members take advantage of existing opportunities in the arts and services for older adults, identify barriers to participation, and determine community needs. If you plan focus groups, consider enlisting the help of an experienced facilitator to elicit responses and encourage participation.

Questions include:

Some external assessment questions will be discipline specific. For example, in senior theater, you may ask:

In designing the Arts and Inspiration Center—an adult day program of the Great Plains and Heart of America chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association—the staff conducted a three-step assessment to learn about needs for improving services and circumstances of people with Alzheimer’s disease and their family members.

  1. They assembled a group of key players, held a meeting, and interviewed those who couldn’t attend the meeting. The group consisted of
    • Professionals in the aging services field
    • Family members of individuals with the illness
    • Physicians
    • People in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease
    • Clergy
    • Individuals from the arts community
    • Leaders of community volunteer agencies, such as the Retired Senior Volunteer Project
    • Leaders of home health agencies
    • Individuals who are “motivators” in the community
    • Parks and recreation leadership
    • County extension staff
    • Representatives from academic institutions
    • Local media
  2. The staff clarified, analyzed, and summarized all responses, which identified community-based respite care, education, and support programs as priorities.
  3. The entire group discussed how best to address the priorities. One solution was the Arts and Inspiration Center.

Consulting Stakeholders and Assessing Potential Participants

In addition to assessing community members, consult with those who care most about your work in the arts and aging field: your stakeholders. To identify this group, ask staff and board members questions such as:

The list of stakeholders doesn’t have to be exhaustive. Most likely, you need to talk with funders, teaching artists, and potential partners and participants. In a residential facility, your stakeholders may include the residents, staff, and family members.

Explore with stakeholders questions similar to those you ask members of the broader community. This group, however, provides you with the opportunity to delve deeper into issues around needs and values. Funders in particular often have a good overview of the community, ideas about solutions, and specific outcomes in mind.

An assessment of potential participants’ needs determines the where, when, and how of your program. You can use interviews, focus groups, and/or surveys, making sure that you are sensitive to individual abilities. Use a written survey, for example, for senior center attendees. Have a discussion with the residents’ council or activities committee in a residential facility. For people with dementia, involve family and professional caregivers, keeping in mind the value of choice and self-determination.

If the proposed program is intergenerational, factor in young people’s needs with similar questions. Pay attention to the curricular requirements of the school or organization that runs an out-of-school program. (See an example of an external assessment survey. See an example of how to structure a focus group and questions to ask.)

Devise questions that will elicit the following information:


For programs in a residential facility:

For programs in a community facility:

Analyzing Assessment Findings

Two techniques that combine internal and external assessment are SWOT analysis and a modified Boston Matrix, which charts benefit to participants versus impact on organizational or individual resources.

SWOT is an acronym for:

Once you complete the internal and external assessment phase, a SWOT analysis organizes the results so that you can make an informed decision.

The modified Boston Matrix, which charts benefit to participants versus impact on organizational or individual resources, is a particularly useful technique when prioritizing among several programmatic options.

Sample Boston Matrix Analysis
Benefit to participants high 1 2 3
4 5 6
low 7 8 9
low →                                           high
Impact on organization/program (staff and money)

Consider two hypothetical program ideas:

  1. Providing teaching artists in the visual arts to work with older adults and their caregivers in the home. This program has a high benefit to participants and a high cost, so it would be a 3 on the grid.
  2. Working in partnership with a senior center to provide teaching artists in the visual arts to attendees. This program has a high benefit to participants and a low impact on staff and expenses, so it would be a 1 on the grid.

The smart choice is program 2.

Creating an Advisory Committee

One way to remain relevant to participants and other stakeholders and true to your mission and values is to form an advisory committee. Typically, committee members provide advice and guidance on program design and implementation. The external assessment process informs the selection of committee members who, in general, are potential partners, participants, and funders and are knowledgeable about some aspect of your program or the community to be served. If the proposed program is within another organization, the board of directors may serve this purpose; in a residential facility, the residents’ council may be your advisory committee.

Just as program design is an ongoing process, your advisory group may exist indefinitely. As long as it is helpful to you and members feel that they are making a valuable contribution, there is no reason not to keep it. You may want members to help plan programs or marketing, advocacy, or public relations campaigns, or be available when needed to provide expertise.

Before issuing invitations by phone or in person, create a mission for the committee and a job description for members. The mission can be as simple as providing expert advice from time to time and as complex as serving as a quasi-board. Be clear with potential members about expectations, roles, responsibilities, and the amount of time required. Figure out in advance how the group will operate:

Once the committee is established, keep members involved and take advantage of their expertise. Don’t create it if you aren’t going to use it.


The advisory board, under delegated authority of the College for Lifelong Learning, is accountable for OLLI at Manchester program activities and operations. As representatives of the OLLI at Manchester membership, the advisory board is responsible for working to ensure that the program realizes its purpose. Advisory board members articulate and represent OLLI program goals in their communities.

  1. Develop an agreement with the College for Lifelong Learning outlining lines of authority, roles, and responsibilities to ensure the effective governance, management, and operations of the OLLI at Manchester program.
  2. Develop program policies and short-term and long-range program goals.
  3. Monitor and evaluate effectiveness of program against the goals and plans.
  4. Monitor program finances:
    • Review and approve the annual budget.
    • Review, approve, and participate in funding strategies and action plans.
  5. Engage members in appropriate roles to achieve the program’s short-term and long-range goals.
    • Appoint leadership of curriculum, publicity, and volunteer committees.
    • Participate on one committee.
    • Plan for the continued leadership of the advisory board.
  6. Advocate for the program in the community.
  7. Participate with advisory board members of other NH OLLI programs in the statewide network as appropriate.

Establishing Purpose

An organization’s or program’s purpose is derived from the information collected during the assessment process and the reflections or discussions catalyzed by the results. Like assessment, this planning component helps build the framework for your program. There are various ways to express purpose. Mission, vision, values, goals, objectives, activities—the terminology is confusing, and the how-to-plan literature doesn’t always help. If you have an idea for a program, do you need a mission or a goal statement? What is the difference in wording? How does the purpose relate to the outcome goals we learned about earlier in the toolkit? And where does vision fit into the picture?

The short answer is: Don’t get hung up on terminology. But a longer answer is more useful in program design. This section looks at:

Determining Mission, Vision, and Values

For organizations, the key concepts are mission (why you exist and what you hope to accomplish) and vision (what will happen if you accomplish your mission). Make your mission clear and concise enough to communicate your raison d’être to funders, policy makers, partners, and the community at large. Mission is grounded; vision is the dream, the desired future. Both should convey the spirit, if not the specific words, of one or more outcome goals. Some organizations include a sentence about values or principles that permeate every aspect of the organization. Value statements typically begin with “We believe.”

Setting Goals and Objectives

Programs generally have goals and objectives as opposed to mission and vision, which are organizational statements. One explanation is: “The vision expresses what could be, the assessment describes what is, and goals describe what it would be like if the gap between the vision and reality were bridged.”58

Goals are future-oriented and results-oriented and answer these questions:

A model goal is: Enhance older adults’ physical and mental health by engaging them in participatory arts programs in the community.

Objectives describe what you are going to do to achieve your goals in the short term. They are specific and measurable and answer these questions:

Model objectives are:

There can be a direct correlation between a specific goal and one or more objectives, or all of the objectives can work together to support one or more goals. A single, correct formula doesn’t exist. Like mission and vision, goals and objectives touch on outcome goals for older adults.

One technique to develop goals and objectives is to discuss the questions above with your staff, board members, advisory committee, and funders. Having an experienced facilitator is helpful. It is a good idea to devote focused time, perhaps a daylong retreat, to this component of planning.

Designing Activities

Activities are general approaches or methods used to fulfill objectives. The objective describes what you want to accomplish, and the corresponding activities outline how you will accomplish it. Consider these examples:

Create activities that are fun for all:

Start by sitting down with key stakeholders—partners, professional teaching artists, and participants. Review your goals and objectives, and brainstorm what you are going to do. You may be creating something new or expanding an existing program. Including older adult participants regardless of ability (cognitively fit, frail, or with dementia) is important because people learn from making artistic choices. Exercising self-determination contributes to their quality of life.

How Two Organizations Design Activities

At the Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation, older adults, community organizations, and staff get involved:

  1. Older adults who participate in arts programs or lifelong learning classes—or who receive social services at Hannan House, a multiservice center—make suggestions for new activities to the foundation staff.
  2. Community organizations also inquire about specific activities and/or working in partnership to explore relevant issues.
  3. The staff brainstorms ideas with participants, typically taking a few minutes at the beginning of a class to solicit opinions and advice. They must have participants’ endorsement to move ahead with planning.
  4. The staff researches possible partnerships or contractual relationships that would provide expertise and resources for success and long-term sustainability.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine has a catalogue of courses designed by a curriculum committee composed of older adult members:

  1. Interested instructors submit a 100-word course description and summary of their education and experience.
  2. Committee members compare proposals with existing classes to ensure a balance of subjects.
  3. They identify missing subjects and solicit proposals from previous instructors, retired teachers, or other community members with the requisite expertise and passion.

Applying Andragogy and Instructional Design

Activities are just activities unless you plan how they work together to effect learning. Understanding andragogy and instructional design is essential to enhancing older adults’ quality of life.

Together, these concepts are linked to the outcome goals of mastery and social engagement. (Remember that mastery applies more to cognitively fit older adults than to those with dementia.)

Teaching artists need to understand the importance of encouraging participants rather than providing direct assistance. The outcome goals of mastery and social engagement are largely unattainable unless older adults make their own choices, explore their own creativity, and successfully overcome challenges by themselves, but with the support of others. John W. Rowe and Robert L. Kahn elaborate:

An experiment in a nursing home compared mental performance under three conditions in which the kind of social support varied. Nursing home residents were assigned randomly to three groups, each of which had the same task—completion of a simple jigsaw puzzle. All three groups had four twenty-minute practice sessions, followed by a timed test session. People in the first group were given verbal engagement by the experimenter during practice—“Now you’re getting it… . That’s right… . Well done.” People in the second group were given direct assistance—“Are you having a little trouble with the piece? Let me show you where it goes.” People in the third group were given neither assistance nor encouragement during practice. In subsequent tests, people who had been encouraged improved in speed and proficiency. People who had been directly assisted did less well than in practice. And people who had been left alone neither improved or deteriorated.61

You can effect mastery and social engagement in an arts and aging program by understanding these components:

Elders Share the Arts’ Living History program lasts 25 weeks, with each phase building on the preceding phase:

TimeSlips — a one-session program—uses storytelling to invite contributions from all participants:

  1. Facilitators greet participants individually and then show the assembled “storytellers” whimsical, dramatic, provocative photographs.
  2. Using open-ended questions, they elicit responses to the images that create a story, which is reread after every four or five answers to establish momentum and remind the storytellers of what they’ve created.
  3. The telling format involves crediting individuals for their contributions as the tale builds. No narrative logic is necessary to express the participants’ humor, desires, and sometimes sadness.
  4. Facilitators record the story to share with staff and families.

Establishing Trust

Only in an environment of trust can older adults test their limits without fear of failure. One way to establish trust is through the sequence of activities. A familiar sequence or structure engenders trust. Even the basic arc of a session—beginning, middle, and end—builds trust, mirroring not only our earliest memories of stories, but also the life cycle.

In deciding how to sequence activities, focus on “scaffolding risk” by leading participants step by step through exercises in which they increasingly reveal more of themselves to the group. For example,

When selecting topics for storytelling, writing, or movement, build trust by guiding newly formed groups in exploring less personal issues than may be discussed in established groups where there is already a high level of trust. In the former, participants may discover what they have in common; in the latter, they may focus on dreams or memories.

A trust-building exercise might be designed like this:

  1. Each elder presents the person to his or her right with an imaginary gift that the giver thinks the recipient would like to receive—an object, an idea, or an emotion.
  2. The giver should know exactly what the gift is and try to present it as if it were real, not imaginary.
  3. After presenting the gift, the giver explains what it is. The recipient feels accepted, confident, and happy.62

Transitional Keys uses the elements of ritual to benefit the lives of older adults. This program has

Yamaha’s Clavinova Connection suggests this sequence of activities for each session:

  1. Arrival song—Played while the facilitator welcomes participants
  2. Warm-up—Music, movement, imagery, and awareness
  3. Drum circle—Each keyboard simulates a drum kit
  4. Improvisation—Pentatonic-based exercises performed with dynamic soundscapes
  5. Music insight—A discussion of musical concepts
  6. Song of the day—Group and individual playing of a designated song to condition a sense of fulfillment, enthusiasm, and personal accomplishment
  7. Mind-body wellness—A Clavinova cool-down that repeats the initial exercise
  8. Reflection—A group discussion focused on awareness and progress
  9. Farewell song—To inspire a light-hearted spirit in anticipation of the next class64


“Icebreakers” or warm-ups are a typical beginning for a session. In effective instructional design, they establish trust, encourage participation, and help ensure success. Susan Perlstein explains why:

Individuals arrive preoccupied with different thoughts and feelings. We need to channel these disparate energies into a unified group. This process of “centering”—moving from the world of daily activities into a creative world—enables people to experience heightened states of receptivity, spontaneity, and imagination. Warm-ups awaken the senses and unlock memories, preparing the group to become involved in creative expression.65

When you design icebreakers, keep in mind that they don’t have to be complicated. They can be as simple as asking each participant to say his or her name and who named them. Make icebreakers authentic to the artistic discipline—for example, movement or gestures in dance or drama and vocal exercises in music. Ensure that they are appropriate to participants’ abilities. People with dementia might breathe deeply; cognitively fit older adults might make a movement that symbolizes something personal or significant.

Icebreakers might be designed like this:

Setting Challenges

Setting mental and physical challenges that older adults can overcome is another component of achieving mastery. It is closely related to establishing trust. Indeed, all of the exercises designed to build trust can also be challenging to participants.

To create achievable challenges, you need to understand what participants can do. Keep in mind that, in large measure, “challenge” is an individual concept; what is easy for one participant may be hard for another. Test the limits of a woman with arthritis, for example, by asking her to work with clay or make an arm movement. Ask a man who is hard of hearing to play an instrument; a woman who has had a stroke and slurs her speech to recite a poem that she has written; or a person with dementia to sing an old song.

The point is obvious: Challenge participants, but push them only as far as they want to go. Remember: It is always about older adults’ abilities as opposed to their age or your perception of their abilities. Be attentive during your session. Watch for signs of frustration or boredom, and adjust accordingly.

This guidance is also true when working with people with dementia. Don’t underestimate what they can accomplish. In fact, one challenge you might face is the perception of family members and professional caregivers that the person with dementia can’t participate in a meaningful way or benefit from the experience.

Stagebridge Senior Theatre Company assumes that all actors will rise to the bar that is set, and the bar is generally high. Directors insist that actors learn their lines and teach them how to recover when there are problems during a performance. There are no understudies, so actors know that everyone is depending on them. The show must go on. The message is powerful: they are an integral part of something bigger than themselves. The rehearsal period for older adults may be longer than for younger actors, but once they learn the piece, they don’t forget it.

As part of a story-quilt project at Elder Craftsmen, the teaching artist planned for participants to draw images for their templates. But the drawing task overwhelmed them. The artist switched to photography, and the older adults snapped pictures that she then enlarged. Participants traced the enlarged images to create the templates.

Gary Glazner, founder of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, entered a small group home to engage the residents in reciting poetry. Staff steered him toward the one resident they judged to be more aware than the others. In spite of this direction, he worked with all four residents. At the end of the session, one of the “less aware” women blew him kisses. The staff was amazed.

Ensuring Success

Overcoming challenges and ensuring success are closely related. Develop techniques that are authentic to your artistic discipline, and don’t make inexperience or failure obvious. No one wants to be singled out for lagging behind. In addition to the examples in the preceding section, try the following methods or use them to stimulate your own ideas:

Your job is not only to ensure that older adults succeed, but also to make sure they know that they are succeeding. Just as you think of a roadmap for planning—figuring out where you are, where you want go, and how you’re going to get there—participants benefit from understanding how they are going to achieve program objectives.

Accommodating Diversity

Accommodating diversity is a critical component of a community arts and aging program. Indeed, the arts are an effective tool for bridging differences in ability, age, culture, and ethnicity because arts-based communication can bypass language that may interfere with mutual understanding. The participants in a performing group ideally should reflect the diversity of the audiences. Seeing people on the stage with whom they can identify because of ethnicity and age reinforces value and the message that you’re conveying. Even among older adults, there are differences to accommodate in your program. Remember that this cohort is quite large. Maddie Sifantus of The Golden Tones, for example, notes that some of her younger 60s want to sing Elvis, while others want to learn music from the 1920s and 1930s.

Instructional design should treat diversity as an opportunity. Emphasize integration, not segregation. In a music ensemble, for example, give each person a task based on his or her skill level. The first step in learning how to play music is to be able to hear it, the next step is to listen and keep a beat, and the next step is to follow the sheet music and keep your place. Finally, you play. In a mixed-level ensemble, beginners follow along and play when they know their parts. A mixture of ability levels also provides one-on-one contact and mentorship. Facilitate these interactions by having players of different skills share music stands.

To address diversity in intergenerational programs, hold separate orientation sessions to explore age stereotypes, attitudes, and assumptions. Consider the ages of the young people; for example, structured music, dance, storytelling, and arts activities work well for preschool children. Fourth- to seventh-graders respond to questions about the community or neighborhood, while teenagers are more focused on jobs and careers. Well elders are better suited than are frail elders for programs that take place in schools.

Encouraging Participation

Follow the principles of adult learning and involve cognitively fit older adults in their own learning. Ask professional caregivers to participate, or just to observe. Even if older adults sign up to take a class, volunteer for a workshop at a senior center, or take part in a session at an assisted living facility, they may be initially reluctant to speak. Overcome self-doubt by starting each session with a warm-up or icebreaker at which participants can easily succeed. Novelty can be intimidating. For older adults in the later stages of dementia, spark participation through the concrete, not the abstract: objects, photos, food, and music. For frail older adults, a little finger moving or glimmer of an eye shows involvement.

Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you aren’t able to elicit any sound or action. “Patience,” recommends Janine Tursini, executive director of Arts for the Aging. “Respect a person’s boundaries, but keep going back. Maybe participation, for now, means just being in the room.”

While your focus is on older adults as art-makers, pay attention to involving them as audience members. Participants in performance-oriented programs often appear before groups of their peers and/or those who live in residential facilities. Particularly in an intimate setting, these audiences benefit from interaction with the performers. The techniques are intuitive. Ask people to

Those who are cognitively fit might enjoy a question and answer session with the performers and artistic staff after the show.

Typically, professional caregivers in a facility may be required to attend programs to provide assistance if necessary. Try to get them to join the residents in interacting with the performers or participating in the activities, but even if they just observe, they will learn. Helping them to respect and appreciate the older adults in their care as people is a good thing.

Setting Session Length, Duration, and Frequency

Determining the optimum timing for a session requires balancing the desired outcomes, the abilities of the participants, the complexity of the activities, the benefits of long-term participation and engagement, and reality. Older adults, like everyone else, can absorb only so much information at any one time. Unlike younger people, they may have physical issues such as arthritis that prevent them from sitting or moving for an extended period. Most current arts and aging programs last one to two hours.

“The duration of an activity is more important than the nature of the activity itself,” reports Dr. Gene Cohen. “Long-duration or repeating activities are better for establishing new relationships and making new friends.”66 Current arts and aging programs vary dramatically, so there is no magic number. Long-tenured organizations generally run programs for a minimum of six months, and multiyear programs are common.

For frequency, if the gap between sessions is too long, participants may forget what was learned, especially if they have dementia. Anne Basting, founder of the TimeSlips storytelling project, says that “once a week seems to be the magic interval for subconscious memory—if we held sessions more than this, the activity would become stale. If we held them less, we would have to reestablish trust and understanding.”67 For older adults of all abilities, most current arts and aging programs meet once a week.

Time of day is important, as well, and the rule of thumb is to convene during daylight hours. For well elders, the evening is not ideal because many are reluctant to drive at night or leave their homes after dark. And for older adults with dementia, the twilight hours are typically a time of agitation.

If the only option because of finances or schedules is to plan fewer sessions for a shorter period, go ahead. Sometimes getting your foot in the door is a big accomplishment. Start small and grow.

Facilitating a Learning Community

A learning community is the intersection of trust, challenges, success, diversity, and participation with the purpose of continuous learning. The mutual support and mental stimulation that result from interacting with and learning from others contribute to older adults’ desire to stick with arts programs. In addition, a learning community provides social engagement during art making; informal socializing at the beginning and end of the session; and motivation for everyone in the group to keep practicing.

Your role is to encourage and facilitate this interaction by


Program design must include planning for evaluation, which is an ongoing process. Continually assessing effectiveness, checking in with participants, and making adjustments as necessary help ensure success.

Build enough time for evaluation into your overall program and within specific sessions. If you plan to ask participants to complete surveys or respond to questions in a focus group, factor this into the schedule. For participants who have dementia, also consider the timing of soliciting evaluative information from family members and/or professional caregivers.

To help conceptualize evaluation, create a program logic model which is a picture of the theory and assumptions underlying your program. It links short-term and long-term outcomes with program activities, processes, assumptions, and principles. This model also clarifies thinking, planning, and communications about a program’s objectives and benefits and results in more effective programming, greater learning opportunities for participants, and better documentation of outcomes. (See the program logic model for a hypothetical program.)


Reminiscence helps older adults make sense of and reconcile life experiences. Renya T. H. Larson explains that it can serve adaptive functions, including

It also stimulates memory function and socialization—and it can be just plain fun for older adults, as they recall pleasurable experiences and perhaps even find solace in sharing painful ones.68

Because older adults have accumulated a lifetime of experiences, memories, and knowledge, reminiscence is both content and a door through which you lead participants to activities at which they can succeed. “They have a lifetime of music in their heads; if you use that, the progress is so fast,” explains Roy Ernst, founder of New Horizons Music. Even if teaching artists and participants elect to focus on current issues, their work together will be influenced by memories.

Reminiscence is pertinent to older adults with dementia even if they can’t always connect their words or images to the past. Visual art is a communication tool with which they can tell facilitators, family, and staff about who they are and what they’ve experienced in life. While reminiscence works well for people in the early stage of dementia who are trying to hang on to memories, it may be too frustrating for those in the middle to late stages of the disease.

Themes that may stimulate participants’ memory include: work we have loved, places these feet have walked, these hands, play, something you miss, something you wish, summertime, your favorite vacation, unexpected moments, sporting events, moments of surprise, acts of kindness, first love, first kiss, or moments of support.

Senses—sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell—may invoke memory using fabrics, herbs, photographs, strawberries, or music. If a participant is visually or hearing impaired, appeal to his or her sense of touch or smell. Regardless of age or ability, people have some senses that are more acute than others.

Try this approach to reminiscence:

  1. Ask each participant to shake hands with a partner whom they don’t know well, and take the time to notice each other’s hand: Are there any rings? Is the hand smooth or rough?
  2. Ask questions about your partner’s hand: What kind of work have these hands done? Where did that ring come from?
  3. Bring the group back together and ask each person to describe how his or her hand feels and any difference in sensation before and after the exercise.
  4. Ask each person to share one story about his or her partner.
  5. Review the stories for familiar themes, and record them for future use—in a poem, for example.

Be aware that not all older adults want to reminisce about a particular theme or at that specific time. Cultural mores may sometimes preclude sharing personal memories as well.

Related to reminiscence is oral history. Consider employing this technique if your program is intergenerational. Plan for younger participants to interview older adults on tape to elicit subject matter for art making, transmit knowledge between generations, and give the older adults a measure of immortality as their stories live on.

Community Sharing of Art

The art-making process is where the magic happens and, for the most part, how older adult participants’ lives are transformed. An important addition is the external recognition of the challenges they have overcome and their awareness that the community in which they live values who they are, as represented by what they’ve created.

In addition to enhancing mastery and social engagement, community sharing of the art produced in programs for older adults is intended to

In addition, community arts activities help

Think about the community sharing of the art as a ceremonial conclusion to your program. In this respect, it is similar to the familiar structure of beginning, middle, and end.

Leaders in the arts and aging field, when asked about the relative value of process and “product” (an imperfect term often used to describe the art that is created), generally agree that they are equally important. John Borstel, humanities director at Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, articulates this philosophy: “The ideal is that you don’t have to make a choice between the value of high-quality aesthetic experience and the value of participation. Process and product coexist and inform one another…. We can have two ideas at once; they are horizontal, not vertical.”

Consider how to effect this community sharing of the art as part of planning. Participants may produce a book, sculpture, play, open workshop, visual art exhibit, note cards, or calendar, or they may do a staged reading or a choral, band, or dance performance. Don’t commit to any one of these options before the program begins, however. Involve participants in the decision, and hold this discussion about halfway through the program, allowing time for participants to form a learning community.

Key Points about Program Planning


Download This Chapter


Appendix 1:
SWOT Analysis

Template Program Logic Model

Sample Program Logic Model

Appendix 2:
Project Timeline Formula and Curriculum Planning Format

Appendix 3: Fundraising Tools
Kairos Dance Theatre Brochure

New Horizons Budget

Kairos Dance Theatre Support Letters (1) (2)

Funding Proposal (Stagebridge)

Appendix 4: Marketing Tools
New Horizons Music Brochure