We are still talking about the expert advice, research, and joy-filled arts experiences we took in at this year’s National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) Conference here in Washington, D.C.

AFTA was honored to be part of NCCA’s conference planning committee.  The excitement began as we planned an international exchange between our teaching artists and several conference participants from overseas. The planning began weeks before the conference, as AFTA staff and teaching artists connected via Skype with artists specializing in artful aging from Mexico and Taiwan.

The international artists, Moony Kang and Gonzalo Dominguez, arrived in Washington, D.C. a day early for the conference to spend a Friday leading workshops alongside AFTA teaching artists at AFTA partner centers.

Gonzalo Dominguez is a medical doctor and founder of Expanded Memories, an initiative promoting cultural, interactive participation for older adults of all abilities in Mexico. He developed a workshop with AFTA Teaching Artists Nancy Havlik and Donna McKee as part of our “Moving Art” series program at Family Services Inc.’s Support Center in Rockville, MD. While dancing to music by Mexican musicians and collaboratively painting a mural, they learned about Mexican artists Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Many of the participants at the Support Center are native Spanish speakers who have come to Maryland from countries across North and South America. The workshop was conducted bilingually so that everyone could take part. Together we made a mural inspired by Diego Rivera and Mexican folklore.

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Moony Kang is the co-founder & CEO of New & Alive Art Services (NAAS), a social enterprise in Taiwan that delivers arts therapist training and certification for working with the elderly. With the help of several colleagues from Taiwan’s growing creative aging movement – a movement ignited there by our Brooklyn friends at Elders Share the Arts – Moony co-led an arts workshop with AFTA Teaching Artist Carol Siegel at Alexandria Adult Day Services Center.

We discovered that NAAS and AFTA share much in our program methodology. The workshop started off with a fun game for group bonding. The seniors paired with caregivers and staff to talk about a person who has been very special in their lives. Then we each made a “magic stone” collage representing the spirit of the person we care about.

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We enjoyed getting to know these two fantastic artists and both workshops ignited memory and creative expression for the participants. As Carol Siegel said of Moony and colleagues, “I feel like I’ve known them forever”.

On Saturday AFTA’s Janine Tursini presented at a sold out pre-conference session led by thought leaders in the field to share foundations and frameworks for successful creative aging programs, moderated by Beth Bienvenue of the National Endowment for the Arts and Kristen Jacobs of Leading Age.

Simultaneously AFTA Teaching Artist Anthony Hyatt – along with other brilliant minds from the creative aging community – led a masterclass for teaching artists in all disciplines.

The following two days were comprised of the Leadership Exchange, a time for learning and connecting at the Newseum, which hosted the conference. Leadership at AFTA, key teaching artists and members of our National Advisory Committee helped present conference sessions.  One session focused on how AFTA developed its own evaluation tools for programming, and how we continue to improve and broaden our evaluation methods.  The other two focused on artistic content for programming led by AFTA teaching artists – Annetta Dexter Sawyer on using theatrical improvisation for those with mid-stage dementia, and Nancy Havlik and Anthony Hyatt on partner dancing.


That session included an intergenerational and interdisciplinary performance by the Nancy Havlik Dance Performance Group and Arts For The Aging’s Quicksilver. It was followed by a discussion of the power of dance and music to establish connections between people.  Click here to view a video of the breath-taking performance on the Newseum’s rooftop deck overlooking the Capital.

It’s hard to select one special takeaway or moment from the conference but here are a few of our favorites:

  • National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu mentioning AFTA by name as an exemplary program in the Washington D.C. area during her keynote address.
  • Writing a group song with other participants in the Master Teaching Artist Training about phrases we were told as children, and then performing in front of everyone at the final conference event.
  • Jeff Poulin’s (Americans for the Arts) remarks on advocacy – We can’t play the victim and we must speak intelligently about aging before we can speak about arts.
  • John Feather (Chief Executive Officer of Grantmakers in Aging) discussing the business of creative aging – We must ask our teaching artists to journal and start each entry with ‘ I saw this….’.  We should encourage creativity rather than arts.
  • Jorge Merced (Pregones Theatre, Conference Organizer) saying “Art is a language that resides in us all“.
  • Karsten Klein, the Deputy Mayor of the Hague sharing how the World Health Organization’s protocol for adopting and developing Age Friendly Cities has transformed the lives of older adults in the Netherlands, combating loneliness in communities and promoting better health.  Now, both the District and Montgomery County have adopted the mandate and are currently working to develop initiatives around that protocol.
  • Fluttering silk flying overhead as three people created an improvised moment in AFTA’s Beyond Charades workshop
  • Meeting other visual artists working in creative aging and sharing ideas, methods and practices
  • Dancing on the rooftop deck of and having a flock of birds join the dance, mimicking our movements.

The next conference will take place in San Francisco, July 2017. Keep your eye on www.creativeaging.org for details.