Living History Arts

Organization Associated with Program
Elders Share the Arts
138 South Oxford Street
Brooklyn, New York 11217

Living History Arts is the main methodology that Elders Share the Arts (ESTA) of Brooklyn, New York uses to conduct its programs. It is grounded in the belief that art provides a significant opportunity for social engagement and cognitive and physical wellbeing. Through visual arts, theater arts, creative writing, storytelling, dance, music, and digital photography, Living History Arts programming encourages older adults to explore rich themes or topics relevant to their lives such as family, home, life lessons, turning points, love, work, traditions, culture, and heritage. The Living History Arts program’s integration of personal reminiscence, oral history, and art-making is at the core of ESTA's mission.

Programs are conducted for eight to twelve weeks or longer, depending on the unique needs of each partner site, and each session lasts one to two hours each week (depending on the art form). ESTA utilizes professional teaching artists to conduct all of its arts engagement programming.

ESTA's Living History Arts methodology demonstrates that, like physical exercise, long-term participation in arts activities has benefits including increased brain function and general wellbeing. Studies show that when older individuals have a sense of control or mastery in what they are doing and are exposed to situations that enhance meaningful social engagement with others, they experience positive health outcomes. ESTA's art programs promote creative risk-taking and the building of social skills (including participation and interpersonal interaction). As the programs are attended by the older adults week after week, the positive effects on the their mental and physical state are multiplied.

Program History

ESTA has been a pioneer in the use of the Living History Arts methodology, and it has served over 30,000 youth, adults, and older adults, nationally and internationally, in the last 30 years. It reaches more than 2,100 individuals annually in New York City alone, through high-quality arts programs in schools and community centers, Pearls of Wisdom performances, and training programs.

Program Research and Key Findings

In 2001, ESTA was selected as one of four participating sites nationwide in the groundbreaking research study, “The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults,” conducted by Dr. Gene Cohen, Director of the Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities at George Washington University. It was the first longitudinal study of its kind, and its findings point to the direct impact of creative engagement on overall physical, mental, and emotional health. Furthermore, Cohen concluded that creativity in older adults can flourish with greater depth and richness given the vast knowledge and experiences that inform their creative efforts. Every program at ESTA was inspired by and reflects this belief.

Program Assessments and Evaluations

Programs are evaluated by staff and partner organizations multiple times on an ongoing basis throughout the duration of the program through the use of interviews, individual assessments, and attendance numbers. Program outcomes are defined using a document entitled “Indicators of Program Success,” which focuses on four categories: Mastery, Wellness and Quality of Life, Community, and Cultural Awareness. Evaluations are a part of ESTA's planning process.

Kinds of creative engagement/ program focus Creation of Original Work, Exhibiting Artwork, Viewing Artwork, Presenting a Performance, Attending a Performance, Participate in a Class, Participate in a Workshop, Participate in an Ensemble, Participate in a Residency
Arts Discipline: Dance, Folk/Traditional Arts, Literature, Media Arts, Music, Theater, Visual Arts
Interdisciplinary Connections: Civic Engagement, Health / Medicine, History, Volunteerism
Target Audience: Active Adults, Frail Older Adults
Program Setting: Adult Day Care, Arts Organization, Assisted Living, Community Center, Healthcare - Long Term Care, Healthcare - Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), Library, Social Service Agency, Sports, Recreation or Health Club (e.g. YMCA/YWCA)
Program Service Area: Suburban, Urban
Type of Practice: Field Tested Best Practice