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.

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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.

Pillsbury House + Theatre Visual Memoir Class

Created in a visual memoir course at Pillsbury House +Theatre, this artwork represents Sharon Lyon's matching story of climbing Devils Tower when she was 42. Photo Credit: Sharon Lyon

Aroha is proud to have supported Pillsbury House + Theatre's Vitality Arts programming as part of the Seeding Vitality Arts Minnesota cohort. Pillsbury House + Theatre offered Vitality Arts classes in visual memoir and playwriting for older adults in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

"The fact we were all over 55 (all the way up into 90’s!) was one reason [the visual memoir class] worked so well. People our age have so many stories and so much was wonderful to have a place where we could share and be appreciated. I’m eager now to return to some creative efforts I’ve let lapse this past couple of years." - Sharon Lyon, program participant

Create + Collaborate at LACMA

Aroha is proud to support the Create + Collaborate program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), a Vitality Arts grantee. The program is a free, 10-session printmaking class designed for older adults to learn new skills and join a community of peers who share this interest.

“[I learned that] everything is possible. Age is unimportant. You can always learn. Now that I have time, I have time to create.” - Create + Collaborate participant

To learn more, visit

Creative Aging Performance Workshops at The Neon Museum

Adults 55+ and youth participate in a Vitality Arts course at the Neon Museum. 

The Neon Museum, a Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums grantee, was recently featured in an American Alliance of Museums blog post. In the post, Arts Program Manager Joanne Russ describes the intergenerational Vitality Arts programming and shares participant comments, of which two are from the youth participating in the classes:

“It feels good because it’s something that I would not do every day…. It helped change me (to become) better because I learn from them—they know more than me…”

“Things that you’re freaking out about now, they can give you advice. It’s just nice hearing their stories and it helps you look forward to your own future.”

Visit to learn more.

GTCYS' Harmony Program

A Harmony student explores the violin with teaching artist Mary Sorlie. Photo Credit: GTCYS

Aroha is proud to support the Greater Twin Cities Youth SymphoniesHarmony Program. Harmony is an extracurricular El Sistema-inspired program in partnership with Riverview Westside School of Excellence, a K-5 dual-immersion Spanish-English school on the West Side of St. Paul, Minnesota. At Riverview Westside, 93% of students qualify for free/reduced lunch and 96% are students of color. The Harmony program provides students in grades 3-5 with access to high-quality violin or cello instruction along with performance opportunities, which allows the students to share their musical accomplishments with friends, family and community. Four Harmony alumni, having moved through GTCYS’ Harmony program during their elementary school years, are now members of the next tier orchestra: Philharmonia East Orchestra. These four students are now experiencing the full impact of GTCYS’ holistic programming and building valuable skills and relationships to help them succeed in school and beyond.

To learn more about GTCYS and the Harmony program, visit

The High Cost of Ageism

The High Cost of Ageism

Did you know that people who are ageist may live shorter lives? Becca Levy of the Yale School of Public Health has studied the effects of ageism for more than 20 years. She reports that those who held more positive self-perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer than those with negative self-perceptions. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 83, No. 2.)

Can Ageism Make Me Ill?

According to Levy, the negative effects of age stereotypes on health outcomes, including stress, depression and a higher risk of heart disease, are well documented.

These beliefs also may be linked to brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease. A major 2017 study studied age stereotypes of participants who had been measured decades before, when they were dementia-free. They found more instances of two physical conditions associated with Alzheimer’s in those who had negative age stereotypes earlier in life.

According to Levy, people take in a lifetime of ageist stereotypes, unconsciously direct them inward toward themselves and then act accordingly. Their behavior then reinforces these stereotypes, both in their own minds and those of people around them. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Medical research has often enforced these prejudices. British writer Anne Karpf notes that until recently, much of the research on aging has been conducted in nursing homes, despite the fact that the vast majority of older people don’t live in these less-than-stimulating environments. Research subjects simply haven’t adequately represented older people.

But are the Negative Stereotypes True?

No. A June 2018 report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states:

Decades of social science research document that age does not predict one's ability, performance, or interest… Many older people out-perform or perform as well as young people, and intellectual functions can actually improve with age. While speedy thinking may decline over time, middle-aged brains adapt to reach solutions faster, make sounder judgments, and better navigate the complex world of today. Innovation and creativity span the age spectrum as well.

Positive Attitudes about Age Improve Health

Here’s the good news: people's positive beliefs about older people appear to boost their mental health. Levy found that older adults exposed to positive stereotypes have significantly better memory and balance, whereas negative self-perceptions contributed to worse memory and feelings of worthlessness. In fact, the positive-age-stereotype intervention even yielded greater physical improvements than a six-month exercise regimen. (McAuley et al., 2013)

Changing the Narrative

So why does all this ageist behavior continue? Cultural norms are slow to change. It’s hard to shed long-held beliefs, even when the facts show they’re false. But there’s hope. The World Health Organization has called for a global campaign to fight ageism, saying, “Combatting ageism presents a major opportunity for achieving healthy aging ... Experience with sexism and racism has shown that changing social norms is possible and can result in more prosperous, equitable and healthier societies.”

Are you lucky enough to already be an older adult? If so, you can help demonstrate the absurdity of ageism. Immerse yourself in positive images of aging and push conventional wisdom out the door. Learn something brand new. Ignite the creativity you didn’t know you had. Take improv or dance classes. Join a choir or a band. Join us in pushing back against ageism.