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The Wellness Movement That’s Empowering Older Adults to Become Artists


Courtesy of Newark Museum Collage Program, New Jersey, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.
Courtesy of Newark Museum Collage Program, New Jersey, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.

On a recent Thursday evening in Brooklyn, a handful of older adults clustered around artist Ebenezer Singh in the basement of Williamsburg’s Leonard Library. They watched intently as he deposited several dollops of paint onto a palette, picking up his brush to mix Indian yellow and sepia with a few droplets of water. “See how much water I’m using?” he asked, his small audience nodding affirmatively.

Singh dabbed the resulting golden-yellow wash onto the paper as a base layer, leaving strategic swatches unpainted to mark a tree and the bank of a pond. “Let the paint and the paper breathe,” he counseled. Soon, he deemed his class ready to select their own landscapes to paint from a stack of glossy printouts.

In summary, it was a typical amateur watercolor course. But it’s also part of a quiet revolution helping to redefine how we grow old.

Singh’s class at the Brooklyn library falls under the umbrella of “creative aging,” defined by executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA), Jennie Smith-Peers, as “any opportunity for an older adult to be engaged in a meaningful opportunity to express themselves through art.” It isn’t limited to the visual arts; creative aging encompasses theater, dance, music, poetry, and more.

Courtesy of Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S.  Initiative. Courtesy of Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S.  Initiative.

 

The key element is that the classes teach a skill, rather than simply asking someone to construct a pre-made kit; they push for mastery instead of busywork. Sonia Lopes, one of Singh’s students at Leonard Library, echoed this sentiment. “He teaches like an artist, not like it’s arts and crafts,” the 56-year-old told me.

As recently as 20 years ago, this would have been considered a novel approach. “Historically, both science and culture in Western societies have focused exclusively on the negative sides of aging and ignored the positive,” wrote Gene D. Cohen, a pioneering geriatric psychiatrist, in the introduction to his 2005 book The Mature Mind. The prevailing belief was that getting older meant a decline in brain function and an inability to learn new things.

Cohen, however, challenged these assumptions with a series of groundbreaking experiments. In 2001, he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to study 150 adults in Washington, D.C., aged 65 or over. The “arts group” met weekly for much of the year, participating in something akin to a college arts course that incorporated at-home practice and a final project; the control group did not take part in such a program.

After two years, the arts group reported better health, made fewer visits to the doctor, used fewer medications, felt less lonely and depressed, had higher morale, and were more socially active. Experiments conducted in Brooklyn and San Francisco showed similar results.

 

Courtesy of Space One Eleven Drawing Program, Birmingham, AL, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative. Courtesy of Space One Eleven Drawing Program, Birmingham, AL, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.

These findings, published in 2006, laid the groundwork for the nascent field. Soon after, Maura O’Malley, a caregiver with a background in arts education, was asked to join a committee considering how creative aging might be implemented in New York’s Westchester County. While there, O’Malley reconnected with a previous acquaintance, Ed Friedman, then-deputy director of the Bronx Council on the Arts. Together, they identified a major issue: “There was essentially no infrastructure for developing and delivering arts programming for older adults,” explained O’Malley. It was difficult to find trained teaching artists, and even existing programs displayed ageism by assuming “that older adults are not creative or learners,” she noted.

So the pair founded Lifetime Arts in 2008, with O’Malley serving as CEO and Friedman as executive director. Today, they provide practical training and support that has allowed a wide range of community organizations to build up their own independent creative aging programs. But in their early years, they worked primarily with libraries, piggybacking off a system that already offered free resources to local communities. Most library programming for older adults at that time focused on topics like navigating credit cards or understanding Medicaid, said O’Malley—“all very important end-of-life issues,” she acknowledged. “But there was very little, if any, programming around learning or creativity or engagement, aside from the sort of one-shot deal, passive entertainment. You know, your macaroni-on-cardboard kind of stuff.”

Lifetime Arts also began to train teaching artists to work specifically with older adults. “The majority of teaching artists across the country are working in the K-12 arena, and have been for the past 40 years,” O’Malley said. (Singh, a longtime teaching artist, said he works primarily with children through Agnes Gund’s Studio in a School program.)

In fact, O’Malley points to children’s programming in libraries as a prototype for the creative aging movement. “Thirty to forty years ago, librarians weren’t particularly interested in having kids running around libraries,” she said. “And now, every library in the United States has storytime many times a week, and there is an enormous amount of professional development and program funding and advocacy around early literacy and public libraries.”

The Brooklyn Public Library’s creative aging program—of which Singh’s watercolor class was part—came about through a collaboration with Lifetime Arts that began in 2011. The program is now independently funded, making it “a kind of a model exemplar of the work that we want people to be able to do,” said O’Malley.

 

 Courtesy of Grafton County Senior Citizens Council Multimedia Program, New Hampshire, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.

Courtesy of Grafton County Senior Citizens Council Multimedia Program, New Hampshire, and Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts U.S. Initiative.

The NCCA also offers training and resources for those institutions ready to embrace the benefits of creative aging. “We’re seeing it become more and more a part of the culture of community centers, of long-term care facilities,” Smith-Peers, the executive director, said. “It’s no longer an afterthought. The arts are what make these places for older adults a more interesting, meaningful place to engage in and to live in.”

A program called EngAGE is perhaps one of the most high-profile examples. Tim Carpenter, EngAGE’s founder and CEO, collaborated with Meta Housing to build several “artist colonies” across Southern California. These affordable apartment complexes feature a robust slate of art courses for residents, as well as dedicated studio and theater facilities.

Creative aging programs, O’Malley noted, can be roughly divided between those that focus on “lifelong learning” and those dedicated to therapeutic work. (Lifetime Arts focuses solely on learning.) Therapeutic work includes programs for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Museums are often involved in this work—Meet Me at MoMA, for example, has invited caregivers and dementia patients to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for tours, and has led to measurable benefits for participants.

Although the field of creative aging has undoubtedly grown since the early 2000s, both Smith-Peers and O’Malley noted that it’s still quite small. To keep up with the rapidly aging generation of baby boomers—between 2005 and 2030, the number of adults aged 65 and older will practically double, jumping from 37 million to 72 million—they will need more hands on deck.

 

Two creative aging program participants at a watercolor class held at a the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. Photo © Herb Scher. Courtesy of Lifetime Arts, Inc.

 Two creative aging program participants at a watercolor class held at a the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. Photo © Herb Scher. Courtesy of Lifetime Arts, Inc.

While there have been additional studies since Cohen’s original experiment, a 2013 report from the NEA identified problems with the academic literature. Samples are often “too small, nonrandom, and poorly defined,” there’s often no adequate control group, and it can be difficult to replicate the experiments.

“When you look at other fields, like expressive arts therapy, they’ve done a really good job at building a critical mass around their work and why it’s important and what it affects. I think we still have a little ways to go before we get to that space,” said Smith-Peers. “We need more research in the community wellness space and the public health space. How does our work affect the social determinants of health?”

But she’s certainly seen the benefits of these programs first-hand. During one of her first jobs in creative aging, with the Brooklyn-based program Elders Share the Arts, Smith-Peers recalls participants saying, “I can’t take that class, I have nothing to offer.”

“I would encourage them to try it once,” she said. “And then I would watch them come back the next week, and by the end, they stuck it out 12 weeks and had a portfolio of art and called themselves an artist.”

“I don’t think that that’s a singular event,” she continued. “So much of our world tells older people they can’t. And it’s not just in the arts. I think there’s so much ageism and isolation that when you walk into a space that says, ‘Yes, you can—and we’re going to show you how,’ it’s a breath of fresh air.”

By Abigail Cain

Artsy

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The Glorious Grandmas of Instagram


I love this story, appearing in the New York Times, written by Ruth La Ferla. How refreshing and invigorating to see someone my age strike an individualistic fashion statement without reserve.

Calm, graceful and unapologetic, Lyn Slater asserts her free will and expressive clothing choices with aplomb and panache. She gives me hope that there may be some women out there willing to take a chance and wear clothing that is outside the narrow restrictions of “the norm.” Bravo Lyn!

Jan Kirstein

Click below image to open this story.

 

If you like this story, you might find my fashions appealing at Kirsteinfineart.   My fashions can work well for you, no matter your age. Young or age plus, these styles make a definite statement for the woman who is an individualist. Check out my fashions And enjoy my landing page here for my new Collection: Evening Splendor.

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“Shaman’s Dream,” long sleeve women’s t-shirt by Jan Kirstein : Front. This design originated from my mixed media painting of the same name.

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Kick up some trouble in these high heels at Kirsteinfineart!

 

 

 

 

KIRSTEINFINEART Presents the “Evening Splendor Collection”


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This New Collection by KIRSTEINFINEART is what you have been waiting for:  Smashing style for your dressy occasions combined with a comfort level found only with casual clothes.

Dressy meets casual.

Fabulous t-shirt designs all from Jan Kirstein’s collage paintings pair with leggings in a variety of matching colors and patterns.

Make a splash this evening and feel completely comfortable throughout your all your special events, whether dashing out to a festive night out, or staying home for a quiet, relaxing evening.

 

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Photo by Mica Guerrero

Transformation


Fine art and fashion go hand in hand. Click here to see today’s latest fashion creation by Jan Kirstein. 

 

 

“Wild and Wicked 2” by Jan Kirstein. Click images to see enlargements.

 

Writing advice from Coco Chanel

by Elaine Bennett

 

Coco Chanel
Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel in 1928, Public Domain,

No doubt you’ve heard of Coco Chanel, the French fashion designer who liberated women from stiff, formal clothing and popularized the still-ubiquitous “Little Black Dress.” Her fashion advice remains legendary—just Google “remove one accessory” and your screen will fill with blogs and articles quoting or misquoting her famous dictum

“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.”

But while Chanel intended that as fashion advice, I think it works just as well for writers.

How many adverbs have you used? Surely you don’t need them all. And those adjectives—wouldn’t a few descriptive phrases enliven your work more?

Of course, before you can revise—your outfit or your writing—you have to create it first. Write until you’ve finished the draft. But before it “leaves the house,” give it a good once-over. Is every word, every sentence, necessary? If it isn’t—copy, cut, and paste. Slap it into the writer’s equivalent of a jewelry box, the Outtakes file.

More advice from Coco Chanel

“Take one thing off” may be Chanel’s most-quoted piece of advice. But I found another one I like quite a lot in this slideshow from Australian Vogue:

“In order to be irreplaceable one must be different.”

While we’re on the subject of revising, I’d lop off “In order” at the top of that sentence. But let’s not blame Chanel; perhaps it got added in translation.

“To be irreplaceable, one must be different.” I tell my writers a variation of this all the time. And my clients, too. They talk about subjects that thousands—millions—of people have already talked about: diversity, ethics, management. How can they differentiate themselves from the crowd? By weaving their own stories into the mix. No one else has had yourexperiences, has your perspective.

Make your communications irreplaceable—and your ideas memorable—by being your own, unique self. (Little Black Dress optional.)


Writing is just the first part of the process. Revising—that’s the secret sauce that gives your writing zing. Join my free webinar on revising.

 

 

 

 

Fabulo – Us


 

35053811_2023691317702702_4454688277810642944_nPhoto by Nica Guerrero

 

This week’s New Moon brings an abundance of creative energy and abundant pathways in new possibilities. I hope all of you are enjoying this surge of energy. While it may feel  disquieting in some ways to some of you, new doors will be opening to those who move ahead with the uplifting energy.

 

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I am continuing to paint as well as create in my basement studio.  If you check out the painting on my home page at the very top, you will see a collage constructed from Japanese paper and sumi-e ink. I love the haiki brush and ink, and I love the Japanese papers I find at my local art store, Preston’s Art Supplies, that is like the Moses (Father) of art supply stores here in Louisville.  Their selection of Japanese paper has me salivating with creative fervor, big time!

Though my goal is to have a studio for creating my art work, I am currently grateful for my basement,  waterlogged  but still a concrete real space for painting. My hope is to generate a studio space through my creative process. I do not think this is an unreasonable dream as I have been a professional painter for over 40 years.

So my idea is to finance this dream with my creative process. You can see my shopify website here, so see all the fabulous fashions that are flowing like an electric waterfall of exciting creative abundance.

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Sometimes prolonged hardship can generate this kind of creative abundance and so now after one of the hardest years I have ever survived in 35 years of teaching , I am so grateful for my Summer break, this opportunity to explore and expand my creative ocean.

New Moon

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This year has been hard for Kentucky teachers, as you may have heard, due to the issues emerging from challenges generated through the legislature and the governor of Kentucky, as the passage of a Sewage Bill , which began a malevolent hacking away of our pension plan, a breaking of a contractual agreement, a legal contract. But  faith, reason and courage combined with the power of our unity gives Kentucky Teachers renewed hope each day in the unfolding of our current challenges. The challenges continue, and the teachers will not give up.

 

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Meanwhile, Summer brings an At-Last! kind of renewal and period of hope and renewal through creative abundance and faith.

 

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Though the process of constructing my paintings into fashion, I feel the elation of purpose in creating for everyone in this endeavor.  The fashion line I am creating: “Evening Splendor,” combines the feel of casual comfort with the look of dressy occasion.  And making these clothes is just so much fun!

 

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Now I am going to ask for your opinion. Vote on your favorite Evening Splendor outfit. Just put your answer in the response box below, or if you don’t want to fool with joining WordPress, please send your vote directly to my email here. 

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Here are your choices:

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        #1                  #2                  #3                 #4                  #5

 

 

 

 

Ways to Bring Joy to Your Home


A home bursting with joy is something you can feel the instant you walk in the door. But what is it that makes a home joyful?  Check out these Houzz suggestions, then see some art suggestions to generate joy.

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Fine art for your  walls by artists left: Hyunmee Lee. Right: Helen Frankenthaler.

 

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Left: Drawing by Jan Kirstein. Top right: painting/drawing by Lingmu Meizhi. Bottom left: Painting by Hyunmee Lee.

 

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Painting by Elke Trittle.

 

 

Art by Stephan Leberloa.

How to Decorate A Living Room: Try an Artistic Gallery Wall in Your Home


“A living room is a great space to embrace thoughtful disorder, such as through an artistic gallery wall, mix-and-match throw pillows, open storage baskets and fun furniture…”  From this Houzz story on How to Decorate A Living Room.

 

 

 

Let’s Play with the Concept of a Gallery Wall in your home…

 

 

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Left: Painting by Nancy Hillis.  Top right: Fine art print by Jan Kirstein and bottom right: Collage by Hildy Maze. To contact Hildy Maze or Nancy Hillis with further questions, just message me. For more information about the print by Jan Kirstein click here

 

 

Another Gallery Wall in your Home:

 

 

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Gallery wall includes painted panels on left, by Karen Jacobs, top right image is painting on paper by Lee Brewster and the bottom right is a fine art print by Jan Kirstein. For inquiries about the work on Lee Brewster and Karen Jacobs you can contact me on this website. Also I have stories on both of these artists on this blog as well. To find out more about the fine art print by me, click here.

 

Create a gallery wall in your home. If you would like help with this fun project, just email me at janiskirstein@gmail.com, or contact me on this website. I would love to hear from you and help you out with choosing your preferences.