Chapter 5  

People and Organizations that Promote the Role of the Arts

Among the Elderly

By Bruce Darling         


A broad spectrum of people, facilities, and organizations all across the United States promote the role of the arts among the elderly. These range from national, state and local government organizations to small non-profits to single individuals. The list is growing longer every day. The following, hence, is a selection of places we surveyed. These places have been selected not only for the work they have done and continue to carry on, but also because of they all have a web presence that is informative and useful for our study.  


The United States is not a social welfare nation so many non-governmental NPOs are involved in promoting the arts among the elderly. Budgeting is nearly always an issue. While exceptional programs do have secure funding, many more equally beneficial programs are developed and run on soft money. Funding raising is a most important issue.  In the countries of Europe that we visited, national, regional and local government funding for art and cultural programs was the norm. Programs of art and culture for the elderly seem to be an expected part of one’s life, no matter what age. In the United States, crucial to the efforts of people working in this area is the funding dispersed by the National Endowment for the Arts, the largest and steadiest benefactor of the arts in healthcare movement.


United States Government organizations           

National Endowment for the Arts             

           Chairman: Dana Gioia

Office for AccessAbility, Partnership

           Coordinator: Paula Terry

1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20506

Tel: 202.682.5532 (V)

Fax: 202.682.5613 (Fax)



National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) forms Partnerships with other Federal agencies, non-profit and for-profit organizations, and public and private funders in order to increase access to the arts for all Americans through support for artists and arts organizations. This office provides information on organizations involved with promoting the arts among the elderly; it also oversees funding for various projects in this area. The Endowment has a strong interest in supporting art programs for the elderly. Under Partnerships, the AccessAbility Office develops a wide range of partnerships with the public and private sectors. It has demonstrated a strong interest in supporting art programs for the elderly.  (See the NEA Projects and Partnerships url:  For example, programs concerned specifically with the older population include the following:


      NEA has given support for a national database on Arts Programs Involving Older Americans that is being updated by Elders Share the Arts (ESTA) in Brooklyn,

N. Y. This database lists a wide variety of arts programs across the country with contact information to encourage networking.  (See the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) web site: )


      NEA Arts in Healthcare partnership supports an initiative with the Society for the Arts in Healthcare (SAH) to establish professional arts programming in healthcare institutions.  (See the SAH web site:


      NEA Endowment's leadership initiative supports the education of designers, schools of design and others on Universal Design, design objects or environments that can be used by the greatest number of people throughout their lives. This initiative supported the development of a CD Rom with a 2001 collection of 32 universal design exemplars by the Center for Universal Design in Raleigh, N. C. ( ).  Also in 2001 this NEA leadership initiative sponsored the conference Design for the Life span to educate home remodellers about universal design.


To get a idea of the scale of this support, Partnership Agreements for 2002 resulted in 63 Partnership Grant Awards, totaling US$39,645,800. State Partnership Agreements support various state art agencies and regional arts organizations. Also,  2003 Leadership Initiative Grants Awards include support with an award of US$145,000 to the Gene Cohen’s Center on Aging, Humanities and Research, George Washington University, Washington, D. C., for the third year of a three-year study on the Impact of the Arts on Older Americans, to measure and evaluate the effects that professional arts programming have on the quality of life of older adults. (For more information, see


Late breaking news from NEA (dated 1 July 2003):

National Endowment for the Arts has just issued an extensive report calling for greater involvement of the arts in healthcare. To quote from the press release:


The arts have an extraordinary ability to enhance our lives, to help us heal and to bring us comfort in times of great stress,” according to NEA Chairman Dana Gioia.  “We must reconnect the arts with the actual human existence that Americans lead, the journeys we take in life, which lead us through hospitals, to hospices, to the end of life.


Arts in healthcare programs must be strengthened and expanded to improve the country’s medical services, according to a two-part report issued today by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  Advocates must raise awareness of the benefits of arts in healthcare, better document and disseminate research demonstrating its value, develop a national funding base, and develop adequate training to educate and train healthcare workers and administrators, the report states.

A recent symposium, hosted by the NEA and the Society for the Arts in Healthcare, brought together 40 experts in medicine, the arts, social services, media, business and government to develop a strategic plan for advancing cultural programming in healthcare.  A concept paper detailing the current state of the arts in healthcare provided the basis for discussion and the resulting strategic plan will form the blueprint for future progress.


The complete report, available on the NEA web site, consists of 6 sections: Strategic Plan, Project Examples, Arts in Healthcare Research, Symposium Concept paper, Symposium Report, Symposium Participants. To elaborate, under Project Examples, twenty-four model arts in healthcare projects are introduced extending from health centers to hospitals to hospices. The Arts in Healthcare Research section introduces some thirty-seven “examples of pilot and small and large population studies that indicate the efficacy of the arts in the healthcare environment.” Research areas include music, graphic arts, art in the healthcare environment, dance. Under the Strategic Plan section we have Education, Advocacy, and Marketing; Research and Evaluation; Funding. Each has carefully thought out goals and strategies for various sections. 



Nationwide Nonprofit Membership Organizations


Society for the Arts in Healthcare

1632 U Street NW

Washington, D.C. 2009

Tel:   202-299-9770

Fax::  202-299-9887



The Society for the Arts in Healthcare (SAH), Washington, DC, founded

in 1990, promotes the incorporation of the arts as an integral component of

healthcare by:

• demonstrating the valuable role the arts play in enhancing the healing process

• advocating the integration of the arts into the planning and operation of healthcare facilities

• assisting in the professional development and management of arts

programming for healthcare populations

• providing resources and education to healthcare and arts professionals

• encouraging and supporting research and investigation into the

beneficial effects of the arts in healthcare settings.


SAH sponsors national and regional meetings that report and discuss new Research, projects and programs that contribute to arts in healthcare, provides networking opportunities, and publishes seasonal newsletters and monthly online news to members.  The SAH web site continues to develop into a primary source of useful information. Through alliances with the NEA, Johnson &Johnson and others, SAH provides grants, consultations and other opportunities to members.

Since its founding in 1990, The Society of the Arts in Healthcare has had a tremendous increase in its membership and conference attendance. The 2003 membership now includes over 500 individuals and 65 healthcare centers from 37 states and 6 countries and includes an increasingly broad cross section of professionals including physicians, nurses, medical students, healthcare administrators, architects, designers, art therapists, artists.Much of this above discussion is based on material from The 2003 Society for the Arts in Healthcare Conference brochure.What is most impressive is how devoted this diverse group of individuals is to bringing the various arts into healthcare. The recently formed Japanese Arts in Healthcare Society (芸術とヘルスケア協会)  URL:, modeled on SAH, was first introduced at the SAH annual meeting in Seattle three years ago. The two groups have been cooperating on a joint project on “Care for the Care Giver” for the last couple of years. Details of this joint effort can be found in the newsletters of both organizations. The following is from the SAH homepage.


CARING FOR CAREGIVERS - An International Project SAH and Tanpopo-

No-Ye and the Japanese Association for the Arts in Healthcare is researching,

collaboratively, and will report on Caring for Caregivers projects (in hospitals,

institutions, and in homes) in the US and Japan, with funding from the Center

for Global Partnership of the Japan Foundation.


The first event was a full day pre-conference (Wednesday, April 17, 2002) of

the SAH Annual Conference in Gainesville, Florida. The conference was

bilingual in Japanese and English with simultaneous translation. The second

event was a two-week tour of arts programs in healthcare settings throughout

Japan, made by arts in healthcare professionals from the U.S. Presentations and

responses of those who took part in the conferences and descriptive research

site visits in the USA and Japan is being edited into a book to appear in mid-

2003. (Note: The Japanese edition appeared in May, 2003.)


American Association of Retired Persons  (AARP )  

601 E. Street NW

Washington, DC 20049

Tel: 1-800-424-3410


As stated on its homepage, “AARP is a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to addressing the needs and interests of persons 50 and older. Through information and education, advocacy and service, we seek to enhance the quality of life for all by promoting independence, dignity and purpose.” AARP also publishes several magazines and newsletters, notably The AARP Bulletin, and AARP The Magazine (formerly Modern Maturity) to keep membership informed. See the AARP web page:


Founded in 1958, AARP today has more than 35 million members aged 50 years and older.  About half of the members work, either full or part-time; the others are retired.  The goal is to improve the quality of life of older people. Healthy aging means taking an active part in the community, being useful and making a contribution. Maintaining one’s independence is essential. Ensuring people have choice, assisting people to live independently through supportive environments, contributing to their peace of mind through health, safety, legal and economic programs, political advocacy on issues of concern to older people. Although the AARP is not focused only on the arts, support for art and culture and design is a part of many AARP programs.


The AARP web site also includes many useful sections for doing research on older people and aging:


AARP Research Center 

Some of the research assistance provided here is listed below.


The AARP Research Center has a link to AgeSource WorldwideTM


AgeSource Worldwide offers a broad range of resources  describes clearinghouses, databases, libraries, directories, statistical resources, bibliographies and reading lists, texts, and Web metasites focusing on aging or closely allied subjects. Coverage ranges from  Alzheimer's disease to estate planning. Coverage is worldwide with 20 countries, including Japan.


The AARP Research Center also has a link to the AgeLine Homepage


This includes a data base of books, and articles on aging. Articles for inclusion are scanned from over 300 magazine and journals.


The AARP Research Center also has a link to the Independent Living Issue Research


Covers housing options (including assisted living) and home modification


A related area of the AARP web site is Universal Design: A Home for all Ages 


Presents universal design for to secure a user friendly home for all people from 8 to 80 years of age.


In addition, a new AARP Internet Resources on Aging site is scheduled to debut in the late spring of 2003.


Regional Private Non Profit Organizations (NPOs)


Maryland, Washington, Virginia Area

Arts for the Aging, Inc. (AFTA)               

Loo Sarnoff, President/Founder

           Janine C. Tursini, Program Director

4905 Del Ray Avenue, Suite 305

Bethesda, MD 20814

Tel: 301/718-4990

FAX: 301/718-4992


Web page:


Since 1988, Arts for the Aging, Inc. (AFTA), founded by Loo Sarnoff, has been providing artistic outreach services to mentally and physically impaired seniors in senior day care centers, NPO nursing homes, hospitals, etc., in the metropolitan Washington, DC area and in neighboring Maryland and Virginia. AFTA works closely with these senior day care centers and other facilities to encourage participation of seniors in a wide variety of creative artistic activities. The majority of seniors served by AFTA programs have a mild to moderate form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. AFTA’s various programs bring color, form, music, movement into the lives of these seniors. And with this a sense of enjoyment and a more healthy condition.



AFTA continues to expand it programs. Over a dozen artists in various fields such as expressive art therapists, dancers, painters, musicians, photographers,

ceramicists participate in these programs. The success of AFTA is not an accident. The artists receive careful training in how to work with seniors. This is a key part of the success of AFTA programs. Another factor contributing to the success of these programs is the requirement that the facility request the program and make an investment in its success. There is no charge for the programs, but the centers must make a commitment to support the program. Furthermore, periodic program review sessions are also held. Recent figures show the number of senior centers in Maryland, Washington, Virginia with AFTA programs is now over 50; each year AFTA’s programs reach some 10,000 seniors and children.


The following is a quote from the AFTA Overview web page.  It makes a good case for why the arts can make such a difference in the lives of seniors.


AFTA's art programs include dance, drawing, drumming, music, painting, poetry, sculpture, cultural outings, art lectures and intergenerational programming. Some of the benefits that AFTA has observed from the programs include: working with clay sustains hand joint mobility, which in turn facilitates the participant's ability to feed and dress themselves; body and dance movement foster balance and help prevent falls; musical activities have the capacity to stimulate as well as calm and to reawaken personal and historical memories related to the era when it was popular, allowing our elderly to actively reminisce in a healthy fashion; the visual arts increase cognitive abilities and hand eye coordination; and including children in the programs increased self-esteem and communication between results in generations. Medical researchers agree on the beneficial relationship between artistic activity and an older person's well being.



Anecdotal observations from program directors and AFTA staff during and after AFTA classes also include improvements in alertness, verbalization and socialization skills, lessening of anxiety, passivity and agitation and occasional stimulation of short-term memory. Many center staff members have indicated that these benefits often continue for hours or even days after the art classes had taken place. Clearly the quality of life for participating seniors is enhanced.


As a non profit membership organization, AFTA depends on the encouragement of the community. AFTA’s free programs are supported by the Maryland State Government, foundations, corporations, individual contributors. Fund raising is ongoing. More information can be found on the AFTA web site,


New York City Area

Elders Share the Arts                           

Susan Pearlstein   Executive Director     

138 South Oxford Street

Brooklyn, NY 11217

Phone:  718-398-3870


Web site:


Founded in 1979, Elders Share the Arts (ESTA) has been working over two decades to develop programs in the arts that generate a sense of community in our cities by overcoming the real and imagined barriers between the young and the old, healthy and less healthy, between people of different ethnic backgrounds. Originally working in the Bronx, the organization went city-wide in 1984, and now is involved in programs nation-wide.

ESTA’s trained professional artists work with the young and the old to try to bring a sense of mutual understanding between the generations. Social problems, generational differences, neighborhood history , individual biographies—these are brought to life in drama, stories and poems, visual expression with the help our ESTA’s staff of artists. Projects such as the Living History Theatre Festivals help build community spirit and bring generations together; the Legacy Art Works  program gives seniors something to pass on to the family and friends; the Pearls of Wisdom program ensures that the wisdom of the older generation is conveyed to the younger generation;

ESTA’s training programs have also gained recognition. The Life Review Training Manual , the training video Elder Voices are, the multicultural intergenerational arts program and book, Generating Community-Intergenerational Arts, are but three examples.


Here is a more complete list of programs:

Generating Community

Living History Arts

Conflict Resolution Theatre

Legacy Arts Works

Pearls of Wisdom


Living Legends


Living History Festival with Performances at Cooper Union, 7 June 2000

           One example of the kind of programs conducted by ESTA was the Living History Festival at Cooper Union on 7 June 2000. The program consisted on two segments, a Symposium on Intergenerational Projects in the morning and a Living History Festival Theatrical Performance in the afternoon. The Symposium speakers, including the Executive Director of ESTA Susan Perlstein, spoke about their various experiences with intergenerational programs. The Living History Festival Theatrical Performance, attended by standing room only audience neighborhood people, seniors brought from nearby nursing homes and local high school students, watched on stage performances of situations exploring the misunderstandings between seniors and young students, including those of race.



National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA)

In 1998 ESTA established the Center for Creative Aging (CCA), a national training center, to help arts professionals, educators, and social service staffs utilize oral history techniques in transforming reminiscences into literary, visual, and dramatic arts. The aim is to meet the developmental and creative needs of older people. These needs include personal growth, life long learning, leaving a legacy, finding meaning, and connecting to community.  (url:


In 2001, the ESTA Center for Creative Aging (CCA) formally became the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) to promote networking, training and advocacy in the field of creative aging. What began in 1998 as an initiative of Elders Share the Arts (ESTA) for the purpose of training professionals nationwide in its "Living History" methodology has now evolved into an organization committed to shaping the field of creative aging.


The NCCA Mission Statement (quoted from the NCCA homepage):

THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR CREATIVE AGING is dedicated to fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and the quality of life for older people. Creative expression is important for older people of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds, regardless of economic status, age, or level of physical, emotional or cognitive functioning.


The NCCA plans to promote the field the creative aging as follows: by serving as an information clearing house, evaluating arts and aging programs, advocating art programs, documenting the arts in aging , training and education, developing resources.


Hospital Audiences, Inc.

           founded by  Michael Jon Spencer

548 Broadway, 3rd Fl

 New York, NY 10012

Tel: 212-575-7676 - Fax: 212-575-7669


Hospital Audiences, Inc. (HAI) is a non profit organization founded in 1969 by Michael Jon Spencer to provide access to the arts to culturally isolated New Yorkers. The HAI Web Site is filled with information about the HAI programs. An Outside Art Exhibition is online and the Summer 2002 Newsletter may be downloaded. The following is quoted from the web page.


“HAI service recipients include people with mental and physical disabilities, mentally retarded/developmentally disabled persons, bed-confined/wheelchair-users, visually and hearing-impaired individuals, the homeless, the frail elderly, youth at risk, participants in substance abuse programs, persons with HIV/AIDS and individuals in correctional facilities. Since its inception, HAI has reached an audience totaling more than 10 million at more than 309,200 cultural events. The Summer 2003 Newsletter shows a substantial increase in these numbers.  HAI's work is made possible by city and state agencies as well as foundation, corporate and individual support.”


The goals of HAI are to bring Hope And Inspiration by providing access:

    * to the arts: by bringing people isolated from the cultural mainstream to cultural institutions and other visual and performing arts experiences or by presenting the arts directly to them in the institutions.

    * through the arts: to life-saving information and decision-making skills regarding critical public health issues, including HIV/AIDS, TB, violence prevention, and homelessness, for people in shelters, hospitals, mental health facilities, residences and housing programs for special populations (such as people living with HIV or AIDS), schools, drug treatment programs, and other settings


The following book may also be downloaded from the HAI web site Publications page, 


Michael Jon Spencer,

Live Arts Experiences: Their Impact on Health and Wellness  3rd Edition 

New York: HospitalAudiences,Inc., Edition  June 2000


This book is must reading for anyone interested in the relationship between the arts and healing and health. Here we find the support for HAI’s work involving live art performances.



Seattle Puget Sound Area

Seniors Making Art

An NPO pioneered by Dale Chihuly

325 118th Avenue S.E. Suite 210

Bellevue, WA 98005

Tel: (206) 453-2494

Fax: (206) 453-2927



“ enhance the quality of life for seniors by providing opportunities

 for creative expression through art..”


Seniors Making Art was founded as a non profit organization in 1991 by Dale Chihuly, a world renowned glass artist. He recognized that seniors have a great deal to offer society, but few avenues by which to contribute. There were no outlets for their artistic creativity. Hence, Seniors Making Art was born. Dale Chihuly describes Seniors Making Art as follows:


It’s a simple program designed to engage seniors in something meaningful that they can do for the rest of their lives. Anyone can make art as long as one has imagination and life experiences to draw on. Making art is not about craftsmanship, it has to do with feelings and memories. Seniors have an abundance of both. You need time to develop your techniques and ideas. Lots of seniors have all the ingredients to make art. Our programs are designed to give participants the confidence to get started. Also to encourage them by teaching basic techniques and providing the necessary materials. We contract with professional artists who want to bring joy and meaning to seniors now and in the future. We want to show seniors by encouragement and example how to express their feelings, their memories and life experiences. They have more knowledge and wisdom than any other segment of society, by showing them the way to make art, everybody learns.


Programs are conducted throughout the Puget Sound area. In 2000, for example, Seniors Making Art provided over 200 programs, each lasting eight weeks in 130 different locations -- in museums, retirement communities, senior centers, libraries, hospitals, schools, nursing homes.  Some Fifty-five artists cover a wide variety of art forms including drawing, painting, collage, sculpture, glass mosaic, photography. The lessons and materials are free to participants.  The great majority of students are seniors, though intergenerational programs serve young people as well. See the Seniors Making Art web site for more information,        


Brief List of other Regional NPOs involved in the Arts for Older People

Other noteworthy regional NPOs involved with bringing the arts to older people include

organizations focusing on the theatrical arts—dance, music, drama. Many more have could also be cited.


           Mill Street Loft

                      Mill Street Loft is a not-for-profit, Multi-Arts Educational Center

based in the the City of Poughkeepsie, New York.



Liz Lerman Dance Exchange

           "An educational center for movement arts and art movements, linking

        people across generations, disciplines, and styles. "



Grass Roots Art and Community Effort (GRACE)

                    A not-for-profit organization, founded in 1975, in Vermont dedicated

to the discovery, development and promotion of art produced

primarily, but not exclusively, by elderly self-taught artists in rural

Vermont. Includes many examples of artists' works.



           Full Circle Theatre

A project of The Center for Intergenerational Learning (CIL).

Began in 1984 as a small group of teens and elders who learned a

improvisational theatre techniques to help audiences explore

age-related issues. It has become a valuable community resource,

which uses drama to promote positive social change.

University Programs


University Programs concerned with the role the arts can play in our aging society seem to be getting more attention these days. The first such programs that come to mind are most likely those in art therapy; secondly we have a growing number of programs concerned specifically with the role of the arts in healthcare; thirdly, we are beginning to see more concern with the affect of the environment and design on health and care, and hence on specifically that of older people. University-based life long learning programs nearly always include programs in art history and literature, in studio art, music, and more rarely theatre and dance. The arts are beginning to receive more attention in programs focusing on older people, including geriatrics and gerontology.


The following is an indication of the variety of University Programs concerned with art and aging. Detailed information is available from each program’s web site.

           George Washington University  

           Art Therapy Program



University of Florida, Gainsville

                      College of Fine Arts

                      Center for the Arts in Healthcare Research and Education


University of Florida's Shands Hospital

                                Arts in Medicine



           George Washington University Medical Center

                      Center on Aging, Health & Humanities



           Baylor College of Medicine

                      Huffington Center on Aging



           Temple University

                      Center for Intergenerational Learning




University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

                      School of Architecture & Urban Planning

                                Institute on Aging & Environment



           Harvard University

                      Division of Continuing Education

                                The Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement



           The University of North Carolina at Asheville

                      North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement

                                           xx url:

                                College for Seniors