Getting Older and Better, Creatively
The National Guild for Community Arts Education in partnership with Lifetime Arts began a program to train and facilitate the development of creative aging programs at community art organizations throughout the country. Fleisher participated in the first Catalyzing Creative Aging Institute in 2017 and was the recipient of the seed grant in June 2018.
Last year, when Fleisher learned about the Catalyzing Creative Aging Institute, we were immediately interested considering that 45 percent of the students that participate in our classes and workshops for adults are age 55 and better. The program, a partnership between the National Guild for Community Arts Education and Lifetime Arts, is a multi-phase initiative to support the establishment of new creative aging programs at nonprofits across the country.
Adult Programs Manager Vita Litvak attended the 2017 National Guild Conference to cement her understanding of the creative aging field. The two-day conference consisted of in-depth presentations on best practices, program development, and hands-on workshops in which she worked within a cohort of colleagues.
“In many ways it was eye opening and allowed me to relate to the experience of older adults in a new way,” she says, “understanding some of the challenges of ageism and identifying the need in our own institution for better awareness and more intentionality as regards to our older adult students.”
The experience has had a big impact on Fleisher. Vita returned eager to educate Fleisher’s board and staff, generating a lot of excitement and support for initiating an institution-wide creative aging initiative. Beyond developing a specific creative aging program, we are also surveying our older adult students, and planning on expanding certain classes, as well as training faculty and staff in creative aging best practices.
The process has resulted in a free 12-week program in ceramics that extends access to the arts to the Latino immigrant community in South Philadelphia, which Fleisher has a long history of serving through its annual Dia de los Muertos celebration and bilingual classes. Partnering with Puentes de Salud, a community center serving the community, Fleisher developed a program called Cerámica: Cuentos Para Las Generaciones, or Ceramics: Stories for the Ages.
Ceramics were selected as the medium as many members of the community hail from Puebla, Mexico, where the tradition of Talavera ceramics is deeply embedded in cultural traditions. Surveys of older adult participants at Puentes de Salud also revealed that a significant number of individuals were interested in a ceramics workshop. Led by celebrated artist Kukuli Velarde, the class will be instructed in Spanish. It is completely free for participants, but they must be age 55 or better.
Over the course of 12 weeks, students will learn fundamental hand-building skills and methods for working in clay. Built into each project is a prompt for participants to have to share their own stories through the medium, and the hope is that adding narrative will build community in the studio. The program will culminate in a public exhibition in Fleisher’s Center for Works on Paper building, featuring participant work and a community celebration that includes talks with the artists and interactive art-making stations for children and adults.