Mini-Conference on Creativity and Aging in America — May 18-19, 2005

II. Executive Summary

The National Endowment for the Arts, the AARP, National Center for Creative Aging and the International Music Products Association worked together to sponsor a Mini-conference on Creativity and Aging in America. Its purpose was to develop recommendations for the 2005 White House Conference on Aging. Convened on May 18-19 at the Arts Endowment in Washington, DC, the Mini-conference focused on the importance and value of professional arts programming for, by and with older Americans as a quality of life issue.

A select group of forty-four leaders in the fields of aging, the arts, education, philanthropy, government and research presented, discussed and formulated

recommendations on three issues important to older Americans: lifelong learning and building community through the arts, designing for the lifespan and the arts in healthcare.

The outcomes of the 2005 White House Conference on Aging, scheduled for December 11-14, will guide national aging policy over the next decade. This conference occurs every ten years to make aging policy recommendations to the President and Congress, and to assist the public and private sectors in promoting dignity, health, independence and economic security of current and future generations of older persons.

The Mini-conference opened with remarks by Dana Gioia, Chairman of the Arts Endowment, who discussed the necessity in the 21st century of reconnecting what the arts are to peoples’ lives. Conversations with three accomplished artists followed: musician Roberto Martinez, dancer and storyteller Amatullah Saleem and poet Samuel Menashe. Each shared their respective life experiences with participants. Martinez expressed his strong belief that the arts are very beneficial to older adults, based on his personal experiences as an older musician who performs in institutional settings. Saleem spoke passionately about the importance of older adults being a “natural resource” for the community. She expressed her sense of “standing on the shoulders of great Black artists” and her need to be the shoulders on which future generations would stand. And Menashe noted his lifelong dedication to his craft and accolades that have come to him only in recent years, adding, “Poetry has been a pretty good workout…. Being a poet has made me a pretty spry old man.”

Other presentations included:

  • The history of the Older Americans Act, which is reauthorized every ten years following the White House Conference on Aging, by Susan Perlstein, Founder and Executive Director of the National Center for Creative Aging and Elders Share the Arts.
  • Insights and guidance from members of the White House Conference on Aging’s Policy Committee, Bob Blancato and Gail Gibson-Hunt.
  • Lifelong learning and building community through the arts by Rick Moody, Director of Academic Affairs, AARP, and Susan Perlstein.
  • The preliminary results of the 2002-2006 “Creativity and Aging Study: The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults” by Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., Director, Center on Aging Health and Humanities, George Washington University, and Jeanne Kelly, Director, Levine School of Music, Arlington Campus.
  • Creativity matters: the arts and healthcare by Gay Hanna, Ph.D., Executive Director, Society for the Arts in Healthcare, and Larry Polivka, Ph.D., Director, Florida Policy Exchange Center on Aging.
  • Universal design: designing for the lifespan by John Salmen, President, Universal Designers and Consultants, and Robert McNulty, Director, Partners for Livable Communities.
  • Communicating the impact of the arts to policy makers by Pat Williams, Director of Citizen Membership, Americans for the Arts.

Following the presentations, participants were divided into three groups to discuss and develop recommendations that focused on three major issues: the arts and healthcare, lifelong learning and community, and universal design. Subsequently, this information was compiled into a report and submitted to the 2005 White House Conference on Aging on June 16, 2005, for review by its Policy Committee.

Recommendations for action as contained in the report to the 2005 White House Conference on Aging are:

Arts and Healthcare: The arts are a national and human resource. Target existing and identify new federal resources for direct investment in programs and public/private partnerships that capitalize on the vast capacity for expression among older adults by increasing their access to and utilization of participatory arts programs in community-based and healthcare settings. Specifically, this means

--investing in quantitative and qualitative research that investigates the value of the arts in promoting health and long-term living;

--borrowing, adapting or creating an economic model to quantitatively demonstrate the financial value of integrating the arts into long-term care for older adults;

--replicating and broadening the scope of Dr. Gene Cohen’s research (“Creativity and Aging Study: The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults”);

--enhancing the professional, care giving workforce’s ability to integrate the arts into a comprehensive approach to improved quality of care in our culturally diverse older population;

--using the arts to assist baby boomers in caring for their aging parents and planning for their own needs as older adults;

--evaluating the effectiveness of existing model programs and best practices of how older adults are actively participating in the arts in community-based and healthcare settings; 

--increasing and sustaining the number of effective, accessible and low cost programs that incorporate a variety of art forms to promote the health and quality of life of older adults;

--establishing a national clearinghouse of model programs and best practices;

--disseminating model programs and best practices to the public, and federal, state and local decision makers; and

--creating “ArtistCorps” and train members to work with older adults in community-based and healthcare settings.

Lifelong Learning and Community: The arts are a national and human resource. Direct funding (e.g., the Older Americans Act) to support lifelong learning in the arts that is essential to developing economically vital and diverse communities, increasing quality of life across the lifespan, and reducing costs for health and long-term living. Specifically, this means

--investing in quantitative and qualitative research that investigates the economic and health benefits of lifelong learning in the arts;

--providing incentives to regional arts organizations, state arts agencies and local arts agencies to expand the definition of arts education beyond K-12 to lifelong learning;

--investing directly in programs and leveraging other private and public dollars to advance access to the arts for older Americans;

--mobilizing the public through a social marketing campaign ("selling" ideas, attitudes and behaviors; for example, designated drivers) focused on the importance of creativity throughout life;

--establishing partnerships among the U.S. Department of Education, museums, libraries, higher education and community centers to create new and replicate existing model programs and best practices;

--collaborating with K-12, higher education and community organizations to develop a mentorship program between older artists in the community and students;

--creating an initiative similar to Staying Sharp, but focused on lifelong learning in the arts (Staying Sharp is an educational initiative to promote cognitive fitness co-sponsored by the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA)—AARP’s Educator Community—and the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives.); and

--collecting, evaluating and disseminating to the public and federal, state and local decision makers information on existing model programs and best practices of how older adults are actively participating in the arts and lifelong learning.

Universal Design: The arts are a national and human resource. Educate the public, and federal, state and local decision makers about the importance of designing and creating homes, neighborhoods and communities that support choice and livability throughout the lifespan; improve the quality of life for all; and contribute to reduced costs of long-term care by expanding opportunities for aging in place. Specifically, this means

--educating designers, builders and developers about the minimal cost of incorporating universal design into new home construction, which is two to four percent of the total cost, as compared to 20 to 27 percent of the total cost to retrofit an existing home;

--encouraging revisions to zoning laws to permit companion units;

--exploring with the banking and mortgage industries innovative housing finance options for older adults such as building or converting existing space into “granny flats” or companion units, which are attached or detached apartments built as additions to single-family homes, or garages converted to apartments; 

--encouraging builders of single-family homes and town homes to adopt the EasyLiving Home(CM) certification program, which incorporates the following features that increase the sellers' market and offer buyers a home easy for all to live in and visit:

  • At least one full bath on the main floor, with ample maneuvering space
  • A bedroom, entertainment space and kitchen on the main floor
  • Ample interior door widths
  • One stepless entrance (at the front, side, or back of the home, or through the garage)

--disseminating information on existing models of universal design such as the revitalization of Silver Spring, MD and Bloomington, IN; the partnership between AARP and Home Depot to design communities, homes and products that are safer and more user-friendly for older adults; and other best practices identified through the National Endowment for the Arts’ universal design initiatives;

--identifying and educating representatives of agencies, organizations, corporations and foundations that fund dependent care programs and facilities in the community on common issues, solutions and resources, and the benefits of community centers as opposed to separate day care and senior centers;

--mobilizing the public to educate for profit businesses, trade associations, government agencies, builders, architects and designers, representatives of the housing industry, and local, state and federal leaders and policy makers;

--turning closed military bases into demonstration models of universally designed communities; and

--creating an innovative assistance program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (similar to the former HUD 701 comprehensive planning grants) for the planning review of communities to encourage universal design and livability.