Arts for the Aging (AFTA)/ Joy in Generation

Organization Associated with Program
Arts for the Aging (AFTA)
Contact: Janine Tursini
12320 Parklawn Drive,
Rockville, Maryland 20852

Since 1988, Arts for the Aging (AFTA) has provided high-quality arts experiences for older adults at dozens of adult day centers, long-term care facilities, assisted living residences, and community centers in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. AFTA’s Joy in Generation programs serve older adults who are frail or vulnerable. Participants experience AFTA’s traditional one-hour arts sessions in small groups of about 13 people. These experiences are self-contained, and they expose participants to rotating artists and media, emphasize physical and cognitive abilities, honor changing needs, validate potential, integrate cultural richness, and ignite socialization—functions that are all vital to creating community and feelings of belonging. AFTA teaching artists are trained to adapt their programs to serve populations with physical and/or cognitive disabilities.

For those with physical disabilities, teaching artists offer a variety of options for participation in movement activities; participants can dance in their chair or with the support of a partner. Creativity is emphasized over form. Teaching artists use description and gentle touch to support participants with visual disabilities. Activities are based on accepting the suggestions and contributions of all participants equally, using repetition and simple instruction to guide them in accessible tasks.

AFTA conducts 500 programs annually, giving hundreds of older adults access to the transformative power of arts engagement on a bi-weekly basis. A faculty of teaching artists grounded in a diverse set of artistic specialties is trained in AFTA’s nationally recognized best practices. The diverse catalogue of programs includes visual art, storytelling, movement, music, and creative writing.

Program History

In 1986, researchers at the National Institutes of Health approached Lolo Sarnoff, a sculptor and a founding trustee of a small D.C. gallery called the Art Barn, to provide art workshops for people with Alzheimer's disease. Ms. Sarnoff agreed and soon observed that art in every form was beneficial to the moods of most participants. Reports by nurses showed less agitation and aggressive behavior, as well as lingering positive effects in patients even after they left the Art Barn. In 1988, Ms. Sarnoff (then 72 years old) founded Arts for the Aging to continue that promising work. Currently, AFTA is recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts as a pioneering arts program for older adults and a model for excellence in life-long learning and creative aging.

Program Research and Key Findings

Program Assessments and Evaluations

AFTA conducts evaluations on an ongoing basis during the program by means of an online form completed by the teaching artists. Teaching artists make pre- and post-workshop evaluations of participants, examining outcomes in the following areas: smiling, sitting up or holding head up, and interaction with others. Teaching artists also measure participants’ engagement in activities, expression of creative ideas, shared personal memories, appreciation of other’s contributions, encouragement of one another, and recall of previous visits.
Through daily program documentation conducted by AFTA teaching artists, AFTA has been able to compile a database with useful information for evaluation and grant writing purposes. Below are examples of AFTA workshops’ before-and-after impact on participants (all numbers are approximate):

  • 38% increase in smiling;
  • 11% increase in the number of people sitting up or keeping their heads up;
  • 26% increase in interaction with others (based on behavioral observations of participants during workshops);
  • 94% participated or were engaged;
  • 79% expressed their own creative ideas; and
  • 75% shared memories, stories, or content related to their own lives.
Kinds of creative engagement/ program focus Creation of Original Work, Exhibiting Artwork, Viewing Artwork, Presenting a Performance, Participate in a Class, Participate in a Workshop, Participate in an Ensemble, Watch a Lecture/Demonstration
Arts Discipline: Dance, Literature, Museums, Musical Theater, Opera, Visual Arts
Interdisciplinary Connections: Education
Target Audience: Frail Older Adults, People with Alzheimer's Disease / Dementia
Adaptive Program Design Hearing Disabilities, Visual Disabilities, Mobility Disabilities, Cognitive Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities, Psychiatric Disabilities
Program Setting: Aging Organization (e.g. Senior Center), Community Center, Healthcare - Acute Care (e.g. Clinic / Hospital), Healthcare - Long Term Care, Healthcare - Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)
Program Service Area: Urban
Type of Practice: Field Tested Best Practice