Seniors, Technology, and The Arts

Members of Arts for the Aging’s Quicksilver Senior Improv Dance Company led by Teaching Artist Nancy Havlik with Music Director Adam Gonzalez during the July 13, 2020 Open House Rehearsal performing Mask Dance.

 

How do you transition a non-profit arts organization from over 600 in-person workshops a year to an almost completely digital format? Like all businesses, Arts for the Aging is finding new ways to complete our mission of providing therapeutic, multi-disciplinary arts programming for older adults and caregivers. Some challenges are unique to our situation. Our target audience is a population most vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. Our faculty of teaching artists includes many seniors who are also at a higher risk. To add to these challenges, I began working with Arts for the Aging as Program Director at the beginning of May 2020 – three weeks into the stay-at-home order that shut down all in-person programs.

What type of person chooses to take on a new position in such circumstances? Definitely one who isn’t afraid of challenges. If there was no pandemic, I would be spending a lot of time driving to client partner sites to meet teaching artists, partner contacts, and to observe programs. Now everything is happening over my webcam from the comfort of my home office. As of the time of writing this blog, I have seen my boss, masked and at a distance, two times. I have met three of the 25 teaching artists, masked and at a distance, to hand off materials for our heART Kits. Although I have spent hundreds of hours on Zoom calls with them and more, the difficulties of digitally building relationships and a community at a distance cannot be trivialized.

While physical distance is a huge impediment in programing, it has also created opportunities to connect and train our teaching artists in new ways. Because of the broad geographical reach of our programs, many of the Arts for the Aging Teaching Artistshad not had the opportunity to regularly interact. Unless there was a mentor/mentee relationship, many had not observed others’ programs. Now with the development of our pre-recorded programs (ten-minute samples of programs available to client partners), teaching artists can observe and learn from each other. Collaborations and rehearsals over Zoom are now normal and highly anticipated.

Zoom is now a noun, an adjective, and a verb. We all know the basics of how to use it. Webinars, virtual happy hours, and digital birthday parties are part of our everyday lives. Where the transition to digital programs seemed daunting and the cause of great emotional upheaval, we have now proven how adaptable the organization, the teaching artists, the client partners, and our audience are.

The joke about seniors and their lack of competence with technology should be retired. I have been consistently impressed with how open to change our teaching artists and audience of older adults and caregivers have been during this transition. Where once some were saying “I’ll never get this, I think my time working with Arts for the Aging is over” now they are actively participating in planning programs and providing online support during rehearsals. I loved to see the sheer joy on the faces of a group of senior dancers when I explained how to ‘pin’ a speaker on their iPads during a Zoom call. We all want to learn, grow, and be creative no matter our age.

 

 

Tune in next month when we will explore how Arts for the Aging is reaching client partners offline and how access to technology should not be a limiting factor to access to quality arts programing.


New Socially-Distanced Programs to Encourage Creative Aging in Quarantine

During 2020, our Year in Music, Arts for the Aging has been undergoing a transformation along with the region and the world. Our response to the need for programmatic and organizational change continues to evolve, as we uplift health and wellness in aging through regular participation in the multidisciplinary arts — despite physical and social distancing. We have been implementing various distanced programs to keep creative aging alive. Below we outline the programs we have tested out.

 

coOPERAtion

ROMEZ3arts debuted Arts for the Aging’s first pandemic-resilient program in an interactive opera workshop using Zoom. Singing actor Peter Joshua Burroughs and maestro Carlos Cesar Rodriguez on piano engaged caregivers and older adults with memory loss. They chose famous arias from opera librettos to which most can hum or sing along and masterfully sparked singing, call and response, role-playing, and tactile cognitive stimulation.

“[ROMEZ3arts was] always a favorite of my late husband, and though he passed 2 ½ weeks ago, it really was like being with him enjoying the performance (one of the activities he continued to enjoy the longest in his dementia journey).” –Elaine E.

 

Rhythms of Life

Teaching artists, percussionist Manny Arciniega and bassist Chris Brown, perform ‘Stay Cool,’ by trumpeter Victor Olaiya in a video to be premiered in Rockville-based JCA-Kensington Club’s online variety show. In the video the artists demo loops of bass, percussion, and body rhythms to encourage breathing, movement, and imagination.

 

heART Kits

Teaching artist Marci Wolf-Hubbardis assembling heART Kits for delivery with meals to isolated seniors affiliated with Vita Shady Grove Nursing and Rehabilitation in Maryland. The kits include art supplies to encourage creativity in seniors despite distancing.


Washington Post Feature

Arts for the Aging’s work to bridge the gap with isolated seniors is featured in this Washington Post article. Despite the limits of social distancing, we’re working to find innovative ways to deliver arts engagement to older adults and their caregivers. Arts for the Aging will be incorporating virtual technologies and volunteers in these efforts. Stay tuned to learn how you can support us.


Creative Aging During a Time of Pandemic

Microscopic view of Coronavirus, a pathogen that attacks the respiratory tract. Analysis and test, experimentation. Sars. 3d render

We have been following the evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, working closely with our stakeholders to enact plans of action that will help protect Arts for the Aging's vulnerable clients and their caregivers. Given the importance and effectiveness of social distancing to slow community transmission, we have made the difficult decision to suspend our current programs through March 31, 2020. Our staff is adapting practices and ensuring secure access to resources needed for potentially extended remote work. We are looking to virtual networking technology so we can continue to inspire optimism in creative aging. We will continue to monitor the situation in the days and weeks to come, and we'll stay in touch.

While it is heartbreaking that Arts for the Aging programs will not be available to support and uplift the lives of older, frailer, and lonelier adults --- which also adds an additional burden to caregivers --- we share a priority to keep communities safe. We also believe it is important to provide a safety net to those at the heart, soul, and frontlines of this organization --- our gifted faculty of 26 teaching artists who are our practitioners.

Read more here including ideas for artful caregiving and self-care you can do at home.

In hard times, the arts bring us joy, comfort, and hope—like these "Lovely Ladies," made in teaching artist Carol Siegel's workshops with seniors at Arlington Adult Day Services Center, to help keep spirits up during this time of community care:

   

P.S. - The Centers for Disease Control has lay-friendly information for individuals and organizations, and with regularly updated FAQs available here.  The information in this blog post is not all-inclusive nor is it offered as professional medical advice. Please seek advice from a professional healthcare service provider as and when necessary.