Brevard County is a culturally rich area (Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, & Brevard Cultural Alliance, 2012, p. 14) where persons sixtyfive and older account for over twenty percent of the population (United States Census Bureau, 2013). There are over 120 licensed assisted living facilities in the county (Senior Care Authority Network, 2013), yet in spite of abundant resources, art programming for residents in ALFs is very difficult to come by (Southland, Sonata at Melbourne, Emeritus at Melbourne, Sterling House of West Melbourne, Brookshire LLC, Buena Vida Estates, … ALF Platinum Oaks, 2013). A program that harnesses the available cultural resources to provide quality art education for residents in ALFs would benefit ALFs, their residents, and art educators in Brevard County. I propose a project for Bringing Education to Ageless Creative Hearts (B.E.A.C.H.) that utilizes the talents of artists and art educators in the community to serve residents of ALFs.
Many ALFs believe they are already providing adequate art activities by offering arts and crafts, but few are allowing their residents to express themselves in a truly creative way. According to Barret (1993), the majority of projects offered to the elderly nationwide are kitbased crafts, and “‘crafts’ in this sense are merely exercises in technique and production rather than art experiences which result in work expressive of the individual” (p. 134). It is important for each facility to partner with an individual who specializes in facilitating the creation of this kind of expressive, individual work. Of the twenty ALFs in Brevard County that I interviewed, none are working with a professional artist, art educator, or art therapist to offer the residents instruction, and none offer art programming beyond simple crafting (Southland, Sonata at Melbourne, Emeritus at Melbourne, Sterling House of West Melbourne, Brookshire LLC, Buena Vida Estates, … ALF Platinum Oaks, 2013). While residents may enjoy participating in familiar crafts from their childhood, art educators must acknowledge “The impulse to create a meaningful culture with members of one’s cohort is powerfully present in elders. With members of their own generation, elders shape many creative responses to the circumstances of old age” (KirshenblattGimblett, 2006, p. 36), and it is the responsibility of art educators to cultivate environments for them to do so.
￼Creative thinking and art making are important components of aging successfully (Sidelnick, 1993). By encouraging neotenous traits [fetal and juvenile traits of a species…retained into latter stages of development (p. 5)] engaging the mind in creative activity slows the process of psychosclerosis, the hardening of the mind (Sidelnick, 1993). Those who age successfully have “greater amounts of time in which their social, emotional, recreational, and intellectual needs must be fulfilled. Many elderly people cite educational opportunities as one of the greatest unmet needs of their lives. The older learner is interested in personal growth, practical coping skills, physical fitness, and participatory styles of learning” (Sidelnick, 1993, p. 5). Art educators can rise to meet this need as well as help reduce their elderly students’ focus on physical pain. Schmidt (2006) observes that elders who remain actively creative “report positive mental and emotional experiences more often than negative ones. Creative elders share an optimism that is particularly valuable in adapting to adversity and coping with physical pain” (p.28).
Working in ALFs can be a very difficult, taxing job, and art educators must be trained and assisted by nurses before and during their teaching. Champion (2013), past president of the Brevard Watercolor Society, used to volunteer teach watercolor in ALFs but was overwhelmed by financial, physical, and emotional strain:
“A couple of years ago, BCA [Brevard Cultural Alliance] needed a volunteer to teach at the Wuesthoff Rehab Center in Rockledge, so I did that for about 6 mos as volunteer. It was not easy. I did it because a couple patients there really wanted to learn this. They were all very sweet too, but I have to tell you sometimes it takes a nurse to work with the elderly as I learned, and it can be very heartbreaking at times too. Plus it takes a lot of skill to maneuver wheelchairs, and adapt for each person’s physical needs and handicaps…some had had strokes etc and
some could not use their arms, hands, fingers like they wanted to, some would over flow catheter bags…truly it takes a lot of skill to help at times, and I just wanted you to know that it does go much deeper than just teaching at times. As I watch the ones who had asked for this go down hill, it really did begin to affect me. I love people so much but it was hard for me to watch their decreasing progress too. That’s why I decided if I can teach somewhere, it has to be somewhere like a senior center for me. […] I would volunteer myself, but I am on overload and
￼I need a part time paying job to support myself now.”
Without proper training and good relationships with the nurses and staff in ALFs, art educators may find it impossible to do their jobs. Some may be discouraged by this difficulty, yet art educators have overcome seemingly impossible difficulties before in schools and prisons and though the problems presented by working in ALFs may seem daunting, but they are not prohibitive. In addition to utilizing resources within each ALF, art educators may look to successful organizations that provide creative opportunities for the elderly. The National Center for Creative Aging (2012) provides training, consulting, and opportunities for artists and art educators working with aging populations through partnerships with the National Council on Aging and the National Endowment for the Arts. Another excellent resource is Arts for the Aging (2012) which works “to model and promote how very important dignity and compassion are in the care of older adults, and that arts intervention strategies provide accessible and uplifting ways to cope with changing abilities as we age.” The National Endowment for the Arts (2013) also offers resources and a list of organizations that promote arts education for the elderly. With help from these organizations and a determined spirit, art educators may broaden their comfort zones and begin new work in a rewarding field. Barrett (2011) shares how powerfully working with the ill, the elderly and their caregivers changed the lives of both students and instructors and describes personal and professional benefits resulting from this work. “I have grown from these experiences. I am more empathetic with all people. I have less fear of aging. I have new respect for the elderly. I gained hope for future work. As a teaching artist, I am more confident and willing to take risks with people with whom I might not otherwise engage” (p. 100).
There is not a lack of resources for bringing art education into ALFs in Brevard County, but awareness for its need among staff in these facilities and among art educators in the county is very low. Valuable organizations with which art educators may form relationships and dialogue about these issues include the Brevard Cultural Alliance, the Brevard Commission on Aging, Aging Matters in Brevard, and Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs. By raising awareness, the art education community, arts organizations, and residents and staff in ALFs of Brevard County may gain support for resolving this issue.
To bring art education to assisted living residences in Brevard County, I will visit facilities and encourage the volunteers and staff who lead arts and crafts activities to bring art educators into the facility on a regular basis and demonstrate how quality art education fosters individual creative expression. This program will be called B.E.A.C.H. (Bringing Education to Ageless Creative Hearts), appropriate for our sunny, sandy location on the Space Coast. The first facilities I will visit include Southland, Emeritus at Melbourne, Buena Vida Estates, Brookshire LLC, and Hibiscus Court. Using two simple projects for a group of staff members, volunteers, and residents to carry out, I will demonstrate the difference between crafting projects typically completed in these facilities and art projects that provide opportunities for creative expression. Staff members and volunteers may assist residents or complete these projects individually.
First I will give participants a template, markers, scissors, and tape, and will ask them to color, cut, fold, and assemble a cube. Excellent craftsmanship will be praised and products displayed for the whole group to see. Next I will give participants several blank pieces of paper and ask them to recreate a home they have lived in. I will show them how to sketch their ideas, take notes, plan out their process, and help them carry out their designs. They may simply draw their home or construct it threedimensionally. Their artwork may be literal or abstract. Through group discussion we will then compare and contrast the processes and outcomes of these projects paying special attention to the kind of thinking that each required.
This activity will be followed by a brief explanation of the physical, emotional, and mental benefits of quality art education. I will then meet with the activities director and provide their facility with a list of art educators who may give lessons as frequently as each facility’s budget will allow. I will also volunteer to arrange for the regular display of resident artwork through the Art in Public Places Program managed by the Brevard Cultural Alliance (2012).
With the help of other volunteers this process may be repeated in facilities throughout the county to improve, through individual creative expression, the quality of life for residents in assisted living. It will also diversify the body of artwork created in Brevard County and create work opportunities for art educators.
Arts for the Aging. (2012). About Us. Arts for the Aging. Retrieved February 3, 2013, from http://www.aftaarts.org/aboutus/
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Southland, Sonata at Melbourne, Emeritus at Melbourne, Sterling House of West Melbourne, Brookshire LLC, Buena Vida Estates, … ALF Platinum Oaks. (2013, January 30). Survey of art activities offered by Brevard County assisted living facilities [Telephone interview].
United States Census Bureau. (2013, January 10). [Brevard County, FL quick facts]. Unpublished raw data.