Arizona Artbeat: Creative Aging Initiative

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The Arizona Commission on the Arts has launched initiative to build a local creative aging infrastructure that improves quality of life for older adults. The commission has received a $225,000 grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust that will help it implement “AZ Creative Aging.” It’s an effort to train artists and support the creation of high-quality arts programs for older adults. Alexandra Nelson, director of Arts Learning for the commission, will speak about AZ Creative Aging.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" looks at "Creative Aging," an effort to train and support older adults in the arts. The Arizona Commission on the Arts received a $225,000 grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust that'll help implement the program. Here with more is Alexandra Nelson with the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Good to have you here.

ALEXANDRA NELSON: Thank you for having me.

TED SIMONS: This sounds very interesting now. When we talk about creative aging, what are we really talking about?

ALEXANDRA NELSON: So creative aging is a national movement to advance understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging. It's also a term that we use to encompass the variety of arts programs that can serve adults across the aging spectrum. You know, when I first ask people if they are familiar with that term the response I often get is how does one age creatively? I love that question, it was my first question, too. But I think within that question there's a little bit of discomfort. You know, we don't often think that we have a choice in how we age, or that aging can be a positive thing. As a society that's starting to shift, but the creative aging movement is really about the unique ability of the arts to help us move from a deficit approach to aging that stresses losses, to an assets approach that's about strength, achievement and potential.

TED SIMONS: And it does. Studies show this does help with general health with cognitive abilities, the whole nine yards.

ALEXANDRA NELSON: Absolutely. Our sense of well-being is so important to our physical and mental health. And the things that make up that sense of well-being, living with purpose and joy, being able to deal with life's changes and challenges, and to sustain positive dynamic relationships are often impacted as we age. Research has shown the clear and direct impact the arts have on those three elements which is really exciting.

TED SIMONS: In my reading on this, it also helps people in the way that they see themselves.

ALEXANDRA NELSON: That is absolutely true. And that ability of the arts to give people meaning and purpose in the second half of life I think is so exciting. There's a story shared by a theater company for older adults in California that I just love, about one of their participants who was discouraged as a young woman from following a career in acting. So she took a different life path. At the age of 60 after she retired she joined a theater company and worked with them until the age of 90. So she spent 30 years or a third of her life pursuing her passion in the arts and doing what she loved.

TED SIMONS: On the stage, huh?


TED SIMONS: Obviously that's one aspect of creative aging, aging in a creative way or using creative arts to age. Painting, music, drama, writing? It can all be included, correct?

ALEXANDRA NELSON: It can all be included. All of the disciplines are included in quality creative aging programs. And really what they're about is active engagement as opposed to passive participation. The involvement of a skilled teaching artist who really knows how to create those meaningful opportunities is a vital part of what we're looking for in quality creative aging programs.

TED SIMONS: In those programs you do need instructors and mentors and these sorts of things. How difficult is to it find folks who can - it's one thing to say I can't wait to teach these folks. You've got to be able to communicate and get your point across to some folks.

ALEXANDRA NELSON: Working with older adults is different than working with youth. A lot of people would like to work with older adults but their opportunities for training in our field are pretty limited to K-12 age youth population. That was one of the reasons we thought this "AZ Creative Aging" was so important, to be able to have more artists able to go out and do this work.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk about the initiative now, building creative infrastructure.

ALEXANDRA NELSON: Creative aging as a movement is still only about 10 years old. It's still an emerging field, really. The "AZ Creative Aging," designed by the Arizona Commission on the Arts and supported by the Piper Trust, will provide professional development and network building support for teaching artists, arts organizations and aging health care service providers. That's really about a comprehensive plan to train artists, to support the creation of more creative aging programs for older adults. And embed creative aging and knowledge and best practices in communities, developing that kind of infrastructure for the field in Arizona is what we imagine will result at the end of the three years in more rich and varied opportunities for Arizona's older adults.

TED SIMONS: And this is a three-year initiative now. Has everything been spaced out here and scheduled out as far as where you go? Or is it kind of move forward and find out what's next?

ALEXANDRA NELSON: So we're moving forward really fast. We're deep in the planning process right now. The first problematic component will be a teaching artist institute. From there we'll introduce more programming for arts organizations, specialized training for staff of aging service organizations, as well as conference opportunities to bring the aging and art sectors together.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned teaching artists institute, looks like it's the first on board. What is that?

ALEXANDRA NELSON: So that will be a six-month comprehensive institute, to help artists understand the unique skills and abilities they will need to bring to the table in working with older adults. As we mentioned, older adults have unique needs and desires and the relationship dynamic between instructor and participant is often very different when you're working with adults than when you're working with youth. That institute will engage many of our fantastic local partners, as well as national experts and speakers, to give a broad understanding to artists about the variety of types of creative aging programs that exist.

TED SIMONS: This program, this initiative, is it modeled after anything else going on in the country right now?

ALEXANDRA NELSON: Yeah, absolutely. There are great models around the country and in Arizona, as I mentioned, in the last decade have been developing. What's timely and unique about this initiative, it is focusing on the relationship building across sectors and the opportunity for network communities of practice, where none yet exist.

TED SIMONS: Someone's listening to this, I want to find out more, I've got the great American novel in me, and I'm retired and ready to go. What do they do?

ALEXANDRA NELSON: We hope that people will go to our website,, follow our social media pages so that, as this work develops, they will be able to learn more about the ways they can get involved. In particular in the spring we'll have some great opportunities to connect with some of those national speakers we'll be bringing to Arizona. And we'll be putting up more resources on our website about the local opportunities for people to engage in the arts.

TED SIMONS: All right, very good, good to have you here, thanks for joining us.

ALEXANDRA NELSON: Thank you very much.

TED SIMONS: Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon" we'll learn more on why negotiations over inflation adjustments or education funding failed. And we'll have the latest on world issues with former NATO ambassador Kurt Volker. That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thanks so much for joining us, you have a great evening.

Alexandra Nelson: director of Arts Learning for the commission

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