Encouraging Creativity and Collaboration Online

Photo credits: Pattie Esquivel, Hermina Ban


Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Create + Collaborate program continues to have a deep and meaningful impact on participants. Participant quotes below demonstrate that throughout the pandemic, the transition to online programming has helped diminish social isolation through creativity and collaboration.

“This program has been so well constructed, planned, and executed that it gives all participants the opportunity to learn, share and collaborate individually and together.”

“Knowing many seniors who have really had a hard time with quarantine, I instead had a focus and a purpose, gaining new skills and new friends and a beautiful book to remind me in a poignant and positive way of the bigger picture.”

“The regular class has many benefits, but during the pandemic, the online class was a lifesaver.”

“I was having trouble feeling positive in a very difficult period and the class gave me focus and an artistic outlet for the future.”

“Anyone would be enriched by this extraordinary experience. The orchestration of this project in such a short time has been impressive in all aspects.”

“I am involved with other organizations and participate in Zoom activities, but none are so collaborative. I anticipate continuing encouragement from some of my classmates in ways I cannot yet imagine. I’ll be there for them as well.”

Seeding Vitality Arts Evaluation Results

Aroha’s Seeding Vitality Arts (SVA) grantees gathered data on participant outcomes pursuant to an evaluation process designed by Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry. High-impact outcomes were reported in post-program surveys of 2,187 participants in the SVA U.S. and SVA MN programs between 2017 and 2019. Read the full report here.

Create+Collaborate: Quarantine Edition

What do you do when one of your program goals is to help diminish social isolation through creativity and collaboration and then your city declares a social lockdown?

At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), we were three visits into Create+Collaborate, a 10-session printmaking class for older adults, when we got the call that all art programs were suspended and the museum was closing temporarily to protect our communities from COVID-19. At first we wallowed in the irony, waited for curves to flatten and art classes to start up again. And then we called all our students, the most vulnerable to the virus. “How are you doing?” “Do you have access to the internet?” “Oh! On what device...?”

Nine of the fifteen original students were game to take the challenge and try printmaking from their kitchen tables via videoconferencing. We sent them detailed instructions on how to join Zoom from their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. They called their adult children to borrow computers. There were students who got bullied by log-ins and meeting ID’s but Pattie Esquivel, the senior program coordinator, always found a secret backdoor. Everyone proved their perseverance and ability to learn new technologies.

Teaching artist Marianne Sadowski started each class with a warm welcome and a round-robin check-in. Participants shared anger with our rudderless president. They shared the loss of loved ones and fear of getting sick themselves. They shared sadness that birthdays with grandchildren were socially distant and without hugs. But they also listened deeply to one another, rallied around each other, and gave tips for better Zoom angles and lighting. Everyone proved their empathy and ability to make new connections, even online.

Art stores weren’t considered essential businesses at the beginning of the pandemic. So printmaking kits were ordered from Blick, which sadly sat in transit purgatory for weeks! Marianne adapted her lesson plans to accommodate a printmaking class void of brayers and inks and linoleum blocks. Students looked around their houses to find unexpected art materials. One woman experimented with items from her kitchen—rolling blackberries dipped in food coloring across her pages. We begged our boss to let us on the locked-down museum campus to raid our art studio! Marianne and Pattie, masked and well supplied with Purell and Google maps, drove all over Los Angeles delivering paper, cutters, inks, and soft cut linoleum blocks! Everyone proved their resourcefulness and ability to innovate in the face of challenges.

Carolyn shares her fruit prints. Photo Credit: Karen Satzman

What do you do when another program goal is to collaborate and your co-creatives are on social lockdown? You make a pandemic-themed book! The students’ prints, writings, and experimentations were accumulated and bound (bookbinding, another new skill they learned) to reveal their collective creativity. Twelve brilliant, beautiful, and heartfelt books titled The Utility of What is Not - Reflections from Quarantine are to show for it. No surprise, but everyone proved their generosity and ability to collaborate—together yet apart.

Students created the collaborative book The Utility of What is Not - Reflections from Quarantine. Photo Credit: Karen Satzman

Create+Collaborate was launched in 2017 and every single class demonstrated that older adults have the ability to learn new skills, experiment and take risks, learn from and help others, and discover the ways in which creativity can uplift your spirit. There was a uniqueness, however, to this class that we didn’t see when we were together in the studio. Outside of class time students emailed each other encouraging words, recommended books and artists, shared their vulnerabilities, and cared for each other. As Marianne stated in the book’s dedication, “Moving quickly to an online world, we found a different way to connect, some ways deeper and more open. Together we moved to explore how the pandemic’s dark reality also carried bright hope.” And, as one student commented in the post-class survey, “The regular class has many benefits, but during the pandemic, the online class was a lifesaver.”

Written by Karen Satzman, Director, Youth & Family Programs, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

A Story to Tell

Tony Loyd speaking at an event

Following a career in leadership development, Tony Loyd was comfortable with public speaking. But it was a storytelling class at Park Square Theatre, a Seeding Vitality Arts cohort member, that encouraged next-level creativity for Tony.

Looking for activities to do together, Tony’s wife Lynn suggested the couple sign up for a Vitality Arts storytelling class taught by Dane Stauffer. Using theatre activities to loosen the brain and writing prompts to spark creative thinking, Dane led the creative aging participants through the process of developing and performing stories for peers, friends and family. Tony incorporated concepts he learned into a new personal creative project--a podcast

2019 was a year of change and a year of personal bests. Coming into 2020, he wanted to share his stories and help others do the same. His new podcast, “Thrive. Connect. Contribute,” features short stories of people who thrive in life, connect with others, and contribute to the world in the face of adversity.

Tony and Dane recently collaborated to share the stories of Dane’s storytelling students. Due to COVID-19, Dane’s class met online where they developed narratives with the theme of resilience. Each student had the opportunity to record their stories of resilience in the face of adversity in an episode of “Thrive. Connect. Contribute.”

“Storytelling is a different craft,” Tony shared. “Storytelling feels more ancient, more human-to-human; a way to connect with one another. That is what I love about storytelling. [It] builds bridges to one another. We can find each other in these common stories.”

To learn more about Tony and his podcast, visit

Creativity at East Side Arts Council

The creative momentum continues during COVID-19 at East Side Arts Council, a Discovery Arts grantee. A teaching artist combined artistry and technology to continue a residency when COVID-19 closed schools. Peter Morrow worked with teachers at Phalen Lake Hmong Studies Magnet Elementary School to utilize their virtual learning platform to provide kindergarten classes with a music and songwriting residency. Students drew pictures and helped Peter write song lyrics for two pieces: I Water My Plants and Community Helpers. You can view the finished products on the East Side Arts Council website here.

A new initiative of artist-led video projects encourages children to create art with recycled materials found at home. Dakota artist Graci Horne, the first artist featured in the series, shares the steps of Sunka Wakan Marionette puppet-making, Wicasta Hesma Bigfoot printmaking and more. You can view the “Arts at Home” video series here.

Inspiring Creativity During COVID-19


Science of Fiber Course at Adventure Science Center

Students learn about the science behind fiber and textiles at the Adventure Science Center. Photo Credit: Adventure Science Center

Aroha is thrilled to support the creative aging programs at Adventure Science Center, a Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums cohort member. In an eight-week “Science of Fiber” series, older adults in Nashville, Tennessee received an in-depth view of the fiber and textile world from the perspective of biology and botany, physics, chemistry and sustainability. Students learned specific hands-on skills including fiber processing, natural dyeing, hand spinning, sweater construction and unraveling, and weaving.

To learn more, visit


Neon Museum: Visual Arts Workshop Series

Creative aging program participants pose at the Neon Museum. Photo Credit: Neon Museum

Earlier this year, older adults in Las Vegas, Nevada completed a visual arts course offered at The Neon Museum, a Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums grantee. Led by teaching artist Chase R. McCurdy and supported by Lance L. Smith and Danny E. Titus, the class focused on visual interpretation, including drawing, painting, and photography with Polaroid cameras. The course marked the first time the museum was able to partner with the Doolittle Senior Center, based in the heart of the historic Westside neighborhood of Las Vegas.

"To say the past month was inspirational is an understatement. I didn't even know I could put paint to paper. You're never too old to learn - we proved that." - Program participant


MOCA Tucson: Unpacking Personal History

A suitcase on display at a MOCA Tucson’s Vitality Arts culminating event. Photo Credit: MOCA Tucson

Students 55+ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson (MOCA Tucson) had the opportunity to share their personal stories in a unique creative aging course titled “Unpacking Personal History”. The museum, a Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums grantee, was inspired by the work of contemporary artist Mohamad Hafez in the development of this program. Participants designed and filled a suitcase with images and objects that held meaning for them in their personal lives and communities, and recorded a personal narrative to accompany the display. The work was showcased at a culminating event last winter, sharing the participants' knowledge of mixed media collage, installation and sound.

Visit for more information.

Pullen Art Center's Creative Aging Programs

Today on the Blog, Eliza Kiser shares the reasoning, design and implementation of the Pullen Arts Center’s creative aging programs in Raleigh, North Carolina. 

Pullen Arts Center creative aging participants. Photo credit: Teresa Moore 

With a small but remarkable team, I serve my community as Director of Pullen Arts Center, a community visual arts center providing high quality, affordable visual arts classes and studio access in Raleigh, North Carolina under the umbrella of Raleigh’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department

When we began our journey into creative aging programming, by way of the National Guild for Community Arts Education’s 2017/18 Catalyzing Creative Aging Seed Grant program, here’s what we knew:

  • As a municipal arts organization, we are committed to serving all of Raleigh’s citizens.
  • Anecdotally, we observe 40 – 50% of our students falling in the broad spectrum of retirees from 55 – 95 years old, with our weekday morning and afternoon classes dominated by this age group.  
  • We work to achieve  the “Creative Life” vision set for us by the community in the 2015 Raleigh Arts Plan: “Raleigh is a community connected through arts and culture, where every person is empowered to lead the creative life they envision.”  
  • The 2010 census indicates that approximately 16% of Raleigh’s 450,000 citizens are age 55 or older. 
  • The 2017 Raleigh Community Profile lists Baby Boomers as a growing segment of the population in Raleigh. 
  • Our 2014 Parks System Plan predicts that Baby Boomers will likely “age in place” in Raleigh due to climate and amenities, and the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department will have to carefully and creatively consider approaches to keeping these citizens active and engaged as they age.

In the Seed Grant, we saw an opportunity to take what we already did well, make it better and more intentional, build capacity to support creative aging across multiple roles in our organization, and to collect data that would lead us to wherever the next right place in supporting older adults in our community might be.

As a part of the Catalyzing Creative Aging Seed Grant, we received ageism and creative aging training, technical assistance in developing an ageism training for our organization, technical assistance in building the curriculum for our program, and funding to support the production of our 2018 creative aging program.

We called our program “Who are we? Raleigh’s People in Portraits.” Over 12 weeks, students learned the technical skills to draw and paint the human face, explored different historical and contemporary approaches to portraiture, and ultimately learned to tell a story about themselves by producing their own self-portrait to display in a culminating exhibition. 

Because our physical space has been closed since November 2017 for a massive renovation and expansion, we’ve produced our creative aging programming in community centers throughout Raleigh’s geography.  In Fall 2018, 60 older adults met in four locations with four different teaching artists; in Fall 2019, 83 older adults met in six locations with five different teaching artists. 

If you were a student walking into one of these classes on the first day, here’s what you would experience:

You would walk into a community center not far from home – maybe it’s a community center where you already take yoga, drop off your grandkids at camp, attend community meetings, or go to vote. You’d find yourself among 10  - 15 other older adults, most of whom also have not participated in arts programs since high school. All of the art materials you might need would be there for you to use, along with a sketchbook for you to take home to practice and record your ideas. Your instructor is a professional teaching artist who cares about making sure that you are included, that your needs are met, and that you are supported in expressing yourself creatively.

After 12 weeks of the program, here’s what my team and I experience:

Utter joy and pride. 

Some students have completed one portrait; some have created multiples. As we wire and organize the paintings into groupings, we find themes that tie together portraits of students in different classes who have never met one another. We hang each piece, print and alphabetize each artist’s name tag, send out the press releases, make last-minute changes to artists statements, and work with those two or three students who are going to complete and bring in their work hours before the opening to make sure everything looks good. When we unlock the doors to the exhibition space - a historic home in the center of the city - we see magic. We see kids, grandkids, neighbors, friends, co-workers, coming out in droves to support their artist (with 300 visitors attending 2019’s opening reception!). We see students getting lost in conversation with someone from another class whose work explored the same experience or feeling. 

Throughout my life and through these creative aging programs, I’ve had the good fortune to be surrounded by many people whose lives have served as positive examples of how people get better, more complex, more confident, more joyful and less worried with age. I saw, but until recently couldn’t name, the disconnect between the way I saw people aging on television and the way I saw people aging around me -- ageism.

Until we had the opportunity to consider, understand and challenge ageism with the help of Lifetime Arts, ageism was off both my personal radar and my organization’s radar. What I learned is that ageism is very real, even in places that are successfully serving older adults, and it lurks from the parking lot to the program menu and bleeds into classroom interactions and onto the gallery walls. Ageism robs organizations like mine of the ability to see the individual strengths, skills, and needs of the people we’re serving; it robs us of the opportunity to create and be community.

When we started talking about ageism, our organizational storytelling began to shift in a way that’s proving transformational:

Our previous storytelling had focused on the art and the making. Now, our storytelling is focused on the artist and the maker.

Lately, I’ve been embracing my inner local government nerd-self and reading the writings of North Carolina’s Governor of the early 1960s - Terry Sanford. His core beliefs about people ring true and relevant to me in the context of making the case for Creative Aging; in his 1966 book “But What About The People” Sanford asks, “In one place after another all across the nation, we have come to realize that we cannot afford to waste our soil and rivers and woodlands. But what about our human resources? What about the people?”

Pullen Arts Center is a municipal organization, and, as such, our responsibility is serving our community. This program allowed us to discover a deeper, better way to serve by allowing us to see and understand the assets of our older adult students and to remind them and others how much they have to learn, to give, and to accomplish.

One of my most important possessions is a pair of glasses that belonged to my grandfather. He was always imagining the world that he wanted for his children, his grandchildren and his community. And, through those lenses, he could always see an opportunity to get closer to this world he imagined.

When I peek through those lenses, here’s the truth and opportunity I see: 

Age comes with the gifts of stories, meaning, and context. Sharing the meaning we find along the way with others helps us build together a community that’s for everyone.


This blog post was written by Eliza Kiser, Director of Pullen Arts Center.