Working Together: Intergenerational Arts Programs

There are many art programs out there for children and young adults in school and after-school, but what about the aging population?  “Every day more than 10,000 Americans will turn 65. They are living longer, healthier lives. They want and need community based programs that go beyond passive entertainment, combat social isolation and provide engaged, meaningful learning opportunities.” (1) While there are numerous robust programs that focus on older adults, some programs go above and beyond this and are geared toward pairing students with the aging. These intergenerational arts programs connect individuals who wouldn’t normally interact on a daily basis.

One of these programs is called PALETTE, which stands for Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement. PALETTE’s mission is to connect students with active, older adults and help erase the stereotypes young people may have about aging. “The students aren’t ‘helping’ the older adults; rather they’re working together as peers.” (2) PALETTE offers visual arts workshops, including painting, printmaking, clay, and fiber arts. Each pair of PALs is set up next to each other with, for instance, two canvasses and two paint palettes. PALETTE also offers dancing, known as PALETTE in Motion, which pairs two or three students for every older adult.

Another such program, based in New York, is Roots&Branches Theater, which is an intergenerational ensemble that performs theater workshops, productions and other arts projects. Their goal is to “build understanding and respect between generations; celebrate the wisdom, energy and creativity of elders; and challenge stereotypes about age and aging.” (3) The actors, ranging in age from 11 to 90, collaborate each season on an original play based on the stories, life experiences, and imaginations of the ensemble members. The plays are then presented publicly at senior centers, community centers, schools, as well as Off-Broadway.

But, what about aging professional artists? Many artists create massive amounts of work, but do not always catalog or organize it properly. This leads to challenges for the family of the artist after they pass away. If work is uncatalogued and unorganized and if the family does not have experience or the time to deal with it, it may be in danger of becoming damaged, lost, or sadly thrown out.

This is why the intergenerational arts legacy project ART CART was created. ART CART, which connects aging professional visual artists with teams of graduate students, “provides direct, hands-on support and guidance to manage and preserve their life’s work” (4) Throughout an academic year, several teams of students, each working with a single artist, document a substantial number of works – collecting high-quality digital images as well as creating an oral history of the artist’s experiences and background. ART CART has been running in NYC and Washington DC since 2010 and is running in 2015-16 again in NYC and Washington DC with plans to expand to performing artists. (5)

There have been few studies done that show how art can improve the quality of life for older adults. One is the 2006 NEA Creativity and Aging Study: The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults, found here. There is also an E-Book by Next Avenue called Artful Aging: How Creativity Sparks Vitality and Transforms Lives; “a collection of stories on the power of artful aging programs to bring joy, connection, improved health and a renewed sense of purpose to older adults.” (6) For more resources on art programs for older adults, there is the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA), which works to foster an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and the quality of life of older people. The organization also maintains a thorough Directory of Creative Aging Programs (7).









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