Arts & Wellness Symposium Follow Up

On September 26th the National Center for Creative Aging and the University of Central Florida College of Arts and Humanities held a symposium, Arts & Wellness: A Symposium on Memory Loss and Caregiving. Sponsored by the Pabst Foundation for the Arts, this symposium explored the role of arts in improving the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. The event featured five nationally field-tested models including: Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, Songwriting Works, Opening Minds through Art (a visual art-making program), Museum of Modern Art’s Meet Me at MoMA, and KAIROS ALIVE! (a dance company). Participants were able to discuss challenges and opportunities with their speakers and we thought we’d share some of their concerns, as well provide answers to questions that are facing the field at large.

1. How should arts organizations seek out partnerships with medical professions?

Many health care facilities include some form of arts programming, whether it’s art at the bedside or simply art on the walls. Find out what they are doing, and then try to find out what they may need. Showcase how your arts organization can serve as an asset to the health care facility, whether by creating a new program for their patients, patient’s families, or staff at their facility or yours.

2. We have heard a lot about caring for the patient. Are there any programs that address the needs of caring for the caregiver?

This is an important question. Many programs out there do focus on arts programming for the frail older person while many older adults themselves are caregivers and need resources and relief too. I’d recommend taking a look at the Family Caregiver Alliance website. They have an incredible number of resources specifically for the caregiver.

In terms of arts programming, NCCA will be launching an online program that will provide arts-based tools for caregivers, with a focus on restoration and resilience, whether they’re a family or professional caregiver. We look forward to sharing more about this project in the future.

3. How do we get our aging population interested in the arts after a lifetime of feeling/ being “uncreative”, or simply having different interests?

Doing new things is tough for everyone. When encouraging someone to engage in an activity they have never participated in before, or may even have a negative experience with from earlier in their lives, it’s important to be open and inclusive. Here are some tips:

  • Create an accessible space: One of the first steps to making someone feel welcome is making sure they are comfortable in the space. Insuring you have easy-to-read text, enough light, space for chairs to sit, and wheelchair access is key to creating an accessible environment.
  • Make sure the program is participatory: Most people learn better by doing, not just seeing. It’s essential that older adults are program participants, and not simply passive viewers, to get them really engaged in the arts.
  • Create learner-centered programming: A lot of programs that are unsuccessful are those that no one asked for in the first place. Make sure when creating a program, that you’re asking what the program participant wants and needs.
  • If a person is unsure whether there are any benefits from the arts, consider highlighting some of the research out there that points to the positive health and social benefits of arts participation.

4. How does this work relate to art therapy?

This is a great time to address the differences between art therapy programs and programs led by professional teaching artists. The programs presented during the symposium are all led by professionally trained teaching artists. Their programs focus on arts expression and social engagement as key program components. Art therapy-based programs, on the other hand, refer to those that have a clinical goal for program participants. For more information on art therapy-based programing, check out the American Art Therapy Association. For more information about teaching artist led programs, visit our Directory of Creative Aging Programs

Written by Katie Fitzgerald 


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