As the population of the United States matures in the 21st Century, data shows that there are as many people over age 65 as are under age 20.
To respond to this demographic shift, the Mesa Arts Center initiated an important pilot program to reach an underserved population of seniors, and early results are very promising!
The center enlisted the services of two marvelous local teaching artists, Tessa Windt (fibers), and Elizabeth Johnson (dance), to work directly with seniors at three Mesa facilities as part of the Creative Aging Program. The goal of the program is simple: uplift individual creative expression in older adults through movement, story, dance, and engagement in art making.
We’re excited that we’ve not only met our goal, but also impacted this special population in meaningful ways and we’re ready to make this program a permanent part of our services to the community.
Beginning with a curriculum map, staff and the artists developed program outcomes, a learning plan, and assessment evidence for the eight-week project. Elizabeth Johnson worked with a group of seniors at an independent-living facility. She quickly found their level of engagement to be unexpectedly high, with people practicing their movements between workshop sessions, and many seniors insisting that they teach Elizabeth about the music and dance of “their” era.
Almost all would invariably begin the workshop session seated and sedentary, but ended up standing and dancing and anxious for more at workshop’s end. Elizabeth noted that those who arrived for the session in ill health would be resistant to physical movement, but those who soldiered on felt markedly better because of their engagement.
She also reflected on dancers from Arizona State University who served as project assistants. They came in somewhat self-conscious and unsure of their own abilities — until they worked with the seniors who told them how beautifully they danced and how talented they really were. The students slowly absorbed this feedback, and Elizabeth could see how their own dancing changed and matured by the project’s conclusion.
Tessa Windt worked with seniors afflicted with dementia, whose caregivers utilized an adult day care facility just a few blocks from the Mesa Arts Center. They worked on their own individual sculptures under Tessa’s close supervision and encouragement, and benefited from regular discussions led by Tessa and also feedback from others in the group.
They used multi-colored fabrics to create layers of texture and depth and meaning. They applauded their neighbor’s success and progress. They gave advice freely.
Interestingly, many participants related their sculptures to the houses they grew up in and even recited their house numbers and street addresses, memories long forgotten until their engagement helped resurrect them.
The executive director of the day care center was thrilled with how, as he put it, “These folks perked up and become much more aware of their surroundings and interacted with others, and stayed that way long after the workshop was over.”
The Creative Aging Program is small, only a very slight percentage of our center’s comprehensive menu of arts programs and activities. Yet, little else we offer has an impact more powerful, more personal, and more poignant.