Libraries aren’t just about books anymore. Increasingly, they’re becoming “engagement centers,” especially for older adults looking for ways to stay more involved in life. One organization, Lifetime Arts, is leading the way in making this happen, through a signature program called Creative Aging in America’s Libraries. AARP Foundation is helping to support the effort with a two-year, $170,000 grant that is part of its larger outreach effort to address the problem of social isolation among older adults.
The Creative Aging library program, which began in the West Chester County, New York, public library system, is all about art – from the visual arts to writing, singing, dancing, drama and so on. Lifetime Arts brings professional teaching artists into local libraries, where they conduct free instructional workshops for older adults; the workshops are sequential, building skills over at least eight sessions and culminating in a public event such as an art show, a musical performance or readings.
The titles of recent workshops show the range that is routinely being offered: A Dancing Autobiography, Drawing People in Places, Voices from the Soul, The Family Folktale Project, Learn Creative Photography Skills at Your Library, Abstract Painting, The Art of Making Poems, Book Making, Portraits in Clay, Linoleum Block Printing & Design, and From Page to Stage: Creating Stories Through Plays.
Research has shown that structured learning such as is offered in these workshops can actually improve cognitive functioning in the aging brain. There’s also evidence that professionally led arts instructional programs promote overall health and disease prevention in older adults. And there’s no doubt that the Creative Aging programs reduce isolation and increase engagement, as seniors work together on projects and interact with their teachers and with the community during showcase events at the completion of each workshop.
The support of AARP Foundation and other organizations has led to an expansion of the Creative Aging library program across the country. A recently announced $500,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums, means Creative Aging workshops will soon be taking place in approximately 80 libraries in 22 communities in 12 different states.