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The Massachusetts Elder Arts Initiative

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massachusettsculturalcouncil_photocredit_massachusettsculturalcouncilphoto credit Massachusetts Cultural Council

The Elder Arts Initiative joined artists, government, and service providers to engage older adults in the artistic process. Participants in the Elder Arts Initiative learned interviewing skills and  techniques employed in the creative process, and had the opportunity to take part in a mentorship or pilot project of their own. Though considerable funding was curtailed in 2002, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) continues to support local arts programs in the state through grants.   

The Initiative began in 1996, when the Cultural Council, the Massachusetts Extended Care Federation (an association of nursing homes), the Executive Office for Elder Affairs, and the State's Council on Aging held a series of meetings about older adults and the arts. The Cultural Council then launched the Initiative in 1997.

The National Endowment for the Arts provided funding for the Initiative through its Challenge America Program Initiative and "Artists and Communities: America Creates for the Millennium Program." For older adults, the benefits of the Initiative included social interaction,  an enhanced sense of purpose, a window for introspection, and improvement in physical health. In addition, the Initiative enabled older adults to communicate their wisdom and experience to younger generations.

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The Intergeneration Orchestra of Omaha

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intergenerationalorchestra_photocredit_intergenterationalorchestraphoto credit Intergeneration Orchestra of Omaha

Symbolized by a rose in full bloom and a rose bud, the Intergeneration Orchestra of Omaha (IGO Omaha) joins older, experienced musicians with young musicians, using a love of music to bridge generation gaps. The Orchestra explains that, “The rose in full bloom signifies the lifetime of experience the older musicians bring to the group, while the rosebud represents the emerging talents of our younger artists.” This intergenerational program is a win-win for all involved; the young gain the opportunity to develop their skills, while older participants are able to play the music they love well past the age of retirement. Perhaps more significantly, both young and old find support and friendship as they pursue musical excellence.

With the goal of joining two distinct generations “through the universal language of music,” the IGO of Omaha was started by Chris Gillette, current project director of the Orchestra and the director of the Community Services Division of the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging (ENOA), and former co-worker Cora Lee Bell. The Orchestra was initially funded by a grant from the Peter Kiewit Foundation, but has since been supported by numerous other grants, donations, memberships, fundraisers, and performance fees, and a sponsorship from ENOA. The Orchestra is run by an elected board of directors, which includes two younger and two older musicians.

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Culture Bus of CJE SeniorLife

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culturebus_photocredit_culturebusphoto credit Culture Bus

Culture Bus is at once a transportation service to arts and cultural events for older adults, and a unique treatment program for early-stage dementia patients. One of many adult day programs offered by CJE SeniorLife, in Chicago, Illinois, Culture Bus provides opportunities for socialization, creative expression, and intellectual stimulation designed to improve the quality of life and slow the effects of degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease for many older adults.

The Culture Bus emerged, in 2002, from an Alzheimer’s support group sponsored by Northwestern University’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center. Its participants were seeking more time together and opportunities for intellectual and social engagement. One member of the group suggested using a bus to enable everyone to go downtown together. The Northwestern staff immediately saw the value in this idea, and reached out to CJE, a local leader in adult-day programming, to discuss a partnership.

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ASU Gammage

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Housed in a stunning building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, ASU Gammage at Arizona State University, one of the largest university-based theaters in the world, has been broadening its audience for many years. Its outreach extends to both immigrant and older adult audiences. Widely recognized for its work in Phoenix, ASU Gammage’s commitment becomes evident in the role played by one of its staff members: Michael Reed, the senior director of Cultural Participation and Programming, is responsible for developing and overseeing an astonishing array of performances, including explorations of theater arts for all ages, and programs highlighting the arts of various cultures.

The commitment to accommodating older adults, for example, was demonstrated while The Phantom of the Opera was at the theater for a four-week run. To better suit the preferences of older adult audiences, some performances were scheduled as matinees. Reed also explains that the house staff is very experienced in working with older adults and those who are frail or have disabilities. The staff works with ARTability, an Arizona organization that promotes accessibility to the arts for those with disabilities. Before each season begins, the staff reviews issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), though Frank Lloyd Wright’s design, while handsome, has made retrofitting ASU Gammage to meet the requirements of the ADA, and other evolving audience needs, quite difficult.

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Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, Inc.

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oakhammock_photocredit_oakhammockphoto credit Oak HammockAs the baby boomers reach retirement age, institutions across the United States will have to find creative solutions to accommodate their burgeoning numbers. Despite this growing need, a retirement community on a college campus might not seem to be a great idea. It’s not difficult to imagine late-night police calls from seniors who think midnight is entirely too late to be playing loud music, or are appalled by the undergraduates who trample the beloved garden of a 90-year old during their late night escapades. But Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, Inc. has created just such an unlikely pairing, a relationship in which university administration, students, senior residents, and other stakeholders have found a lot to like.  

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