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Innovative, Modern, and Responsive Intergenerational Programming Enhances Creative Aging Strategies
Intergenerational artmaking is emerging as a sub-field of creative aging. There is no cookie-cutter approach, and there are many exciting experiments taking place around the world.
For some time I have been looking forward to focusing my attention on intergenerational art programs. Like many others, I thought I knew something about this topic.
I have an older neighbor who volunteers in local classrooms, helping young children with reading or math. I’ve observed programs where adults of different ages converse with refugee teens to give them additional practice in their new language. And I’ve participated in an intergenerational drawing class. Surely, I thought, it would be relatively simple to learn about programs that use artmaking as a basis for connecting generations while complementing and enriching creative aging initiatives.
On the contrary.
My research led me to a variety of academic specialties, from adult learning theories to artmaking and well-being across the lifespan. It exposed me to diverse definitions of intergenerational programs and varied approaches to assessment. Above all, it led me to acknowledge that diversity and community responsiveness are key to understanding intergenerational artmaking today.
Julie Kline, Lifetime Arts’ Director of Professional Development & Training, had this to say about the value of facilitating effective intergenerational artmaking experiences:
As a director of intergenerational theater work, I've witnessed the transformation possible when older and younger actors literally ‘step into each other's shoes’ and tell one another's stories as their own. Art provides a conduit for each generation to gain a deeper understanding of the other, breaking through ageist clichés.
Young people interviewing older adults and writing poems about them is wonderful; however, that process does not ensure that the older adults are equally developing their artistic practice. Intergenerational programs should have the same goals as creative aging arts education programs — developing mastery of an art form and providing social engagement opportunities for all participants, no matter their age.
Faced with an abundance of innovative intergenerational artmaking programs across four continents, I looked for a means of selecting and presenting a limited number of representative examples. The 10 examples referenced below reflect current trends and offer models for similar initiatives in other locations. They also naturally organize around three themes: emerging art forms, trends in reminiscence art, and community collaborations.
The featured programs below all use artmaking as the central strategy for accomplishing goals such as:
Reduction of ageism,
Building trust between generations,
Reducing social isolation, or
Demonstrate new or relatively unknown approaches to intergenerational artmaking, some of which are still evolving and are not yet institutionalized
Have the potential to enrich creative aging concepts and practices across national boundaries
I. Emerging Intergenerational Artforms: Street Art, Digital Art, and LGBTQ-Centric
Sparked by the development of LATA 65 in Portugal in 2012, street art is becoming accepted as a vehicle for older and younger artists to work together on graffiti or mural projects. Workshops cover the history of street art, the use of stencils, and the development of tags — all in preparation for making street art in teams or individually. The community excitement and the participants’ sheer joy in artmaking are evident in the videos accessible via the Creative Aging Resource website.
My favorite thing about doing LATA 65 is watching the huge transformation that each senior goes through. It’s always amazing having the possibility, of just after a few small challenges, watching the elderly group just like any bunch of kids having fun in front of a wall, where there’s no pain, no traumas, and without any definition of what is right or wrong for a person of their age.
— Lara Seixo Rodriques, co-founder
Lisbon Offers Graffiti Classes for the Elderly (Smithsonian Magazine)
Digital art is another relatively new artform for intergenerational co-creation. While there are numerous projects that engage young people in teaching or assisting older adults with the use of digital devices, co-creation of digital art or artifacts repositions participants as equal partners and enables imaginative use of each participant’s experience and skills in collaborative artmaking.
The Smart City Maker project is an intergenerational digital arts program of a “Fablab” (Fabrication Lab) at the Quebec City Library. The project involved a group of elementary-aged children in co-designing a digital city with their parents and grandparents. Smart City Maker was the subject of an in-depth paper titled Intergenerational Techno-Creative Activities in a Library Fablab.
The authors, who were closely associated with the project, emphasized the value of maker spaces, or Fablabs, in facilitating intergenerational learning and co-creation. They also noted the importance of a focal design challenge such as Smart City Maker, which provided a platform for collaboration across the younger and older program participants. They wrote:
Moreover, the sharing of knowledge, projects, and achievements encouraged in maker space activities can foster family and community involvement for younger and older participants. Intergenerational making activities, therefore, possess a great potential for participating in the improvement of cross-generational relationships and for sustaining learning across the lifespan.
Like some typical creative aging program curricula, often LGBTQ-centric artmaking programs can focus (or rely upon) on reflection and remembrance activities. However, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson, AZ, older adult members of the LGBTQ community requested performance-related programming, and the museum’s director of education, Eli Burke, responded by creating an intergenerational program in collaboration with the School of Drag. Burke has said of the opportunity created by participatory intergenerational LBGTQ arts programming:
We compartmentalize our community, and particularly when it comes to age, this begins early on in our lives. We are missing huge opportunities for intergenerational knowledge to be shared in a reciprocal experiential way that provides the space for connection and empathy in ways that traditional educational experiences do not. I would say that things should continue to move in this direction and MOCA Tucson has no intention of slowing that evolution down.
Additional “emerging artform” examples for review:
70-year-old Antoon Weemers at STRP for the first time, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
II. Trends in Reminiscence Arts
Reminiscence artmaking programs take place in many corners of the globe, adopted by museums, community centers, libraries, schools, and care homes for intergenerational co-creation of community history via various art forms.
Today’s approaches to reminiscence collaborations are more active than prior approaches. Projects use collaborative arts activities to engage older and younger people in re-imagining and re-creating experiences. They engage younger people as equal participants whose experiences are different but complementary.
Age Exchange in England has been a leader in this movement, tapping into community interest in family and local history, and developing an array of participatory approaches — reminiscence theatre, reminiscence workshops, music and movement, intergenerational activities, and exhibitions — that involve people of all ages and cultures, enabling them to re-imagine their history collectively or individually.
The People’s Story was a community history project, with an intergenerational theatre production, developed by Age Exchange with two English communities, Enfield Island and Edmonton. The project “offered residents the opportunity to embrace their culture and share their experiences with others. It was all about bringing the old and young from different communities and cultures together, to share in group work, artmaking activities, and to record their personal and community histories, which lead to a wide range of creative outputs” an intergenerational theatre production among them.
Additional reminiscence arts examples for review:
Community Spotlight: The Photograph and Memory Project, Colorado, U.S.
III. Community Collaboration
All of the intergenerational art programs and projects cited above involve some form of community collaboration, whether it is working with local sponsors for community history workshops or coordinating with youth organizations or schools. For instance, the Photography and Memory Project in Denver, Colorado, involves a three-way partnership between the Denver Art Museum, the Denver Public Library, and the University of Denver.
However, some programs are considerably more complex, featuring multiple organizational partners, researchers, and participants.
An Intergenerational Arts and Heritage-Based Intervention in Singapore Involving a Randomized Trial Waitlist: Project ARTISAN provides an instructive example of the extent to which collaboration with community partners can influence intergenerational art programming and program research.
Not only does Project ARTISAN involve multiple collaborators — museums, schools, heritage organizations, universities — but it is a rare example of a community-based intergenerational art program that involves a randomized trial with a control group as part of its evaluation research. The coordination of researchers and research methods with a large number of partners make this an unusually challenging example of community collaboration.
Drawing “with” Art-Well-Being: Intergenerational Co-Creation with Seniors, Children, and the Living Museum, was a complex project in Australia designed specifically to explore how “collaborative artmaking across generations can strengthen personal, social, and community health.”
In an article describing the 9-week project, the authors underscored the role of collaboration in designing, implementing, and evaluating the work. Institutional partners included the Museums of Victoria, the University for the Third Age, local schools, and an interdisciplinary research team. Activities included artmaking events, joint visits to the museum, discussions about art and wellbeing, sharing stories about objects, and skills exchange in which the children taught the older adults how to create digital art. Although the article emphasizes the research methods and results, this case study provides an exceptionally thorough resource for anyone interested in the challenges of project coordination and collaboration.
From Australia to Quebec City, and The Netherlands to Texas, these innovative programs represent innumerable others that make up a rich worldwide landscape of intergenerational art programming and related research.
There are other trends, such as the increasing number of intergenerational theatre programs and dance initiatives, and some outstanding multigenerational programs that make no distinction between age groups in their focus on collaborative artmaking. However, these programs, plus the related resources referenced, provide creative aging practitioners, advocates, and scholars with an array of examples that can assist in program design, implementation, and evaluation.
— Diantha Dow Schull for Lifetime Arts