#46 That’s it!

I’m going to pause now, and enjoy a bit of time relaxing and reflecting on everything I’ve seen and learned during my time travelling in the US.

Here’s some photographs of the mountains of Colorado, where we’re resting for a while until the flight back the the UK in a week or so (via Vegas).

Grateful, heartfelt thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for making this adventure possible, thanks to Age UK Bromley & Greenwich for all their support, and thanks to you for joining me on this journey.

More when I return to London!

Til then x

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#45 Stage Right Theatre

Oh this is one blog post I’ve been looking forward to writing. I had the time of my life, just sitting observing (and singing along to) Sammy Goodrich’s musical theatre session at Chai Point Jewish senior care home.

Stage Right Theatre makes collaborative, intergenerational, theatrical experiences in care facilities. Over the course of three visits, Sammy and her team (a dancer and a pianist) work with older people of all abilities to script, rehearse and perform a 10-20 minute original musical.

It’s original and it works incredibly well. All the participants had a say, all were listened to, all laughed all the way through! (Nice video by Sammy on her Facebook page)

This bunch of brilliant folk created a musical set in Chicago, and involving a fairground and an averted disaster on the big wheel. The star of the show was Shlomo, who sang and danced and made us all laugh throughout the performance.

Sammy is inspiring. She set up Stage Right quite recently, and it’s growing in profile. Seeing it in process was super. Sammy uses the basic TimeSlips techniques – including asking open questions, involving everyone’s responses – to generate story and music ideas, always maintaining a bright and positive tone.

I’m looking forward to seeing what she does next!

#44 I heart Milwaukee

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Oh my, here comes the snow again! We arrived in Milwaukee to several inches of the white stuff on the ground. It might not have been the wisest idea to travel to one of the most northern states before spring had reared its head, but we have!

Turns out, Milwaukee is not just Happy Days and Colin’s storyline from Love Actually. It’s a vibrant and creative place, nestled on the shores of the enormous Lake Michigan.

Joan Williamson hosted us beautifully. She treated us to homecooked food, frozen custard, and drove me to all my meetings and events. Joan is a theatre teacher, TimeSlips Master Trainer and the TimeSlips Coordinator.

Together, we saw the US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera talk at the University, visited a wonderful bookshop called Woodland Pattern, met writers, ate muffins and learned all about TimeSlips, a way of making stories with those experiencing memory loss.

Two experiences stand out for me, and I’ll blog separately about those shortly.

#43 TimeSlips and how an artist isn’t any lonelier than anyone else…

 

IMG_8720Anne Basting is the founder of TimeSlips. That’s an improvised creative storytelling method used with seniors. She set up this innovative practice in 1998. TimeSlips opens storytelling to everyone by replacing the pressure to remember with the freedom to imagine.

Using images as prompts, a trained TimeSlips practitioner co-creates a story with a group of seniors. They create a safe environment to share ideas and by using open questions. The story is then shared with the wider community, in all kinds of amazing ways. From plays and puppet shows, to poetry slams and exhibitions.

I met with Anne, and asked some questions about the process. I’m focusing my research on writer development, but Anne made some interesting points that allowed me to rethink a little.

I said, What are the best ways to support writers before, during and after working with seniors. Where can they find support? It can be a tough environment to enter…

Anne replied that if the writer or artist is feeling a little isolated or sad or disorientated after leaving a care facility, the older person is probably feeling the same. A lot of the time, actually.

Nothing is ever done alone, artists are part of a ‘community of practice’. Everyone involved in a TimeSlips project is in it together.

The aim for any great project is for everyone leave feeling better. And for them to carry that feeling with them afterwards. Everything should be part of the same system, part of the same a community.

That’s a really helpful viewpoint. Instead of thinking of the artist as a lonely figure wandering through a care home, perhaps it’s better to consider how each person is an island but that a creative project might offer a way to connect everyone.

#42 Creative Caregiving

 

In this final post from DC, I wanted to tell you all about my meeting with the National Centre for Creative Aging (NCCA).

I spent a bit of time with Gay Hannah and Greg Finch, two inspiring individuals from this organisation which looks at the synergy between creative expression and healthy aging.

Two initiatives that I loved hearing about were the FREE online artist training programme (you should all do this if you are interested or do work with seniors – 12 hours or so, with a lot of useful learning and reflection time) and the Creative Caregiving guide.

The NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide© is another FREE thing, but this time it’s aimed at carers of adults who live with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a lively online resource, with videos of artists working with elders, and the chance to select and use caregiving exercises that – as the site says – ‘help you and your care partner to flourish in the art of daily caregiving.’ It’s beautiful, and includes examples of exercises from Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, Elders Share the Arts and other great organisations I’ve met during this trip.

Also, I wanted to say that we also adored being in DC! The Mall, the monuments (MLK, below, was astonishing and bold), the museums, and some of the best food we’ve had. (Lupe Verde, and DC Noodles, if you’re interested!)
Over and out.

 

 

#41 – Beautiful prints, a lovely day at Iona

When I see something beautiful, I want the world to slow down to allow enough time to appreciate it. My first Tuesday in Washington DC, I visited Iona Senior Services. Lila Oliver Asher’s prints hung in the gallery – which winds itself through the entire downstairs floor – and really took my breath away. The decisive lines, the clarity of the forms, the playful figures.

It was a thrill to have lunch with Lila, age 94, and hear about her creative life including her time as a portrait artist for the USO, drawing soldiers for their families. Also joining us was pioneering silk artist Diane Tuckman and painter Cathy Abramson. We had a great time, and I had a great bean burger and fries.

I really was inspired by being with artists and printmakers with long careers, producing new work, just offering a little reminder about how creativity is a brilliant thing for everyone, at all times, and there’s never enough time to make all the work we’d all like to, and how opportunities can open up regardless of your age.

My time at Iona Senior Services was organised by Patricia Dubroof, who curates the gallery and supports professional artists (all aged 60+) with such joy and passion for her work.

Patricia, the kindest most enthusiastic soul I’ve met so far, runs three artist-in-residence schemes each year, and has in the past brought in poets to respond to the artwork on offer. She has a keen eye for talent, and has boosted the careers of many artists. Wonderful stuff!

Above: At Cathy Abramson’s exhibition, some of Lila’s prints, all the artists together with Patricia (also an artist!)

 

 

#40 A small aside about Diana Athill

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I’ve read a lot on this trip. New York and DC novels, poetry collections from the poets I’ve met, and pieces about aging and creativity.

Diana Athill’s Alive, Alive Oh! is a great memoir about the memories that remain as the years progress. Athill is in her 90s, and this book tells of her move to a retirement home and letting go of her many possessions.

There’s a lovely section about a group of women, with an average age of 95, planting rosebushes in the grounds of the home. It’s raining. They worry that if they bend too far, they won’t be able to rise again. But they survey the soil, and start to dig with vigour. “The good thing about being physically incapable of doing almost anything, is that if you manage to do even a little something, you feel good.” They, surprising themselves, plant all the trees.

Another nice quote that has stayed in my head is this one:

[The philosopher Montaigne] considered it a good thing to spend a short time every day thinking about death, thus getting used to its inevitability and coming to understand that something inevitable can’t be too bad…it struck me as a sensible idea.”

Thanks to Emily for the gift of this book 🙂

#39 There are a million ways to do this work

IMG_3570PIZZA. I’ve eaten so much pizza during this trip.

I will say that a freshly cooked pizza always adds a little excitement to meetings.

I met with three brilliant people in New Rochelle, New York one lunchtime to eat, yup, a margherita pizza and chat through the work of Lifetime Arts. Ed Friedman and Maura O’Malley set up the organisation to encourage people to think about ageing as a time for creativity and positive growth.

Lifetime Arts runs arts programmes for older independent adults. Promoting active, in-depth learning for seniors, as opposed to routine, passive entertainment, is their vision.

Ed says there are a million right ways for artists to work with older people. But there are core principles to adhere too: keeping a sense of humour, and always assuming ability.

We talked about Lifetime Arts’ online roster of 150 teaching artists. Each artist has to submit a profile, a resume and a sample curriculum for an instructional series of classes aimed at older adults. Lifetime Arts then works with applicants to ensure they meet the high standards required. The result is a nationwide searchable database of professional artists qualified to work with elders. It’s a great idea.

Hmm, I’m not aware of anything similar in the UK. Does anyone know if such a database exists? Or, should we think about creating one?

#38 Balancing creativity & teaching

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The hot topic for me continues to be how to balance the time and energy needed for to develop my creative projects and the desire to teach and facilitate.

I want to refer to the Joan Mitchell Foundation again, as they were one of the organisations that felt passionately about this too.

And also Asylum Arts, also based in NYC, which runs artist retreats for Jewish creatives. The extraordinary, energetic brilliant Rebecca Guber runs the organisation, and aims to bring together people and ideas for good conversation, skills development and potential creative collaboration.

JMF really see the importance of giving space for the creative work of an artist. Even if the training programmes they offer can’t provide studio space or resources, they do keep on valuing the artist’s creativity.

The course director, Saul Chernick, will use this idea as a theme for next year’s programme.  How are teaching artists bringing art-making values into the classroom? How to decrease the gap between what happens in the studio or desk, and the classroom or community setting?

One way is for the teaching artists to talk about their own work during sessions they lead, bring their own work in, share their own challenges.

Another mechanism is to ensure they are supported by other artists, who they can discuss their creative work alongside.

For Asylum Arts, the artists on retreats with may be teachers, or not, but they all have an opportunity to shares a challenge they’re having and receive feedback from the group.

Regardless of artform, experience and whether they work in the studio, at their desks or in the community, the sessions must make them feel valued as artists amongst peers. As Rebecca says, “it lifts them up.”

Two fine solutions, I think.