Community artists a theraputic option for older adults

By Marti Franz
Exec. Dir. The Music Academy in Rockford

Artists who work in community settings, including those who work with older adults, inevitably find that art-making offers therapeutic benefits to those who engage in it. In describing this, choreographer and MacArthur Fellow Liz Lerman said:

“Sometimes art achieves what therapy, medicine, or the best care of health professionals cannot. Sometimes art even achieves something that’s beyond the best intentions of the artist. These moments can feel like little miracles when they happen, but they are usually instances of art functioning as it normally does: inspiring motivation, engaging parts of people’s bodies or brains that they haven’t been using, or allowing them to transcend their environments for a little while.”

Artists like Liz Lerman believe that art can have its most beneficial effect when its intention is good art-making. They employ a rigorous artistic process, trust that individuals can produce meaningful work, and use that confidence as a lever to lift people above their circumstances or self-imposed limitations.

A study co-funded by the NEA, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and other sponsors measured the impact of a professionally conducted choral program on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older adults. The intervention group reported better overall physical health, fewer doctor visits, less medication use, fewer instances of falls, and fewer health problems in relation to the comparison group. Similarly, the comparison group had a significant decline in total number of activities, whereas the intervention group reported a trend toward increased activity.  

The intent of arts and aging programs is to accomplish one or more of the following outcome goals—all aimed at enhancing quality of life—while engaging older adults in arts-based programming:

  • Older adults have a sense of control and feel empowered (i.e., mastery).
  • Older adults are socially engaged.
  • Older adults exercise their bodies and brains to ensure high physical and mental function.
  • Older adults are healthy, with reduced risk factors for disease and disability.
  • Older adults have a positive attitude and zest for life.
  • Older adults express themselves creatively.

Research shows that these outcome goals are interrelated. Combined, they contribute to a positive quality of life for older adults.

Here is the big picture:  People are living longer and healthier lives.  Demographics are changing and by 2030 will shift to over 70 million people over the age of 65 and the number of people over 85 doubling.  

The good news is that organizations like The Music Academy in Rockford are a part of a movement creating aging friendly cities that are “great places to grow and to grow old.”  

We recognize and celebrate that older people bring a lifetime of interest and experience. We recognize they have great interest in returning to or starting new arts involvement. The arts are not “crafts for seniors.”

How do we make our community better at providing for mental, emotional and physical health by extending or participating in arts education? Creativity allows us to re-imagine the second half of life in ways that are richer and more purposeful.  Creativity allows for personal and social renewal.  

As our culture witnesses dramatic changes in attitudes related to aging, community capabilities and sustainability, we are poised with expertise and leadership in this field.  Encore, our creative aging  curriculum, was developed collaboratively with the National Council for Creative Aging (NCCA). Our teaching artists have undergone training and are certified by NCCA.

As an established provider of community-based arts and learning programs, now celebrating our first 30 years, The Music Academy will continue to unlock the creative potential of participants and increase the health and vitality of individuals and community.    

John Feather, CEO of Grantmakers in Aging says: ”Now is the time to be part of the process, part of the solution: the beyond bingo generation is here.” We at The Music Academy have developed music, movement and integrated arts curriculum that is of high-quality, comprehensive and affordable.  We begin September 14 to deliver that curriculum at Lincolnshire Place in Loves Park.  We look forward to expanding this program and offering best practice arts education for aging populations throughout our community.

As Gene Cohen says, “Creativity is chocolate for the brain.”  Let’s get creative and make our community better at caring for our ever increasing aging population; it could be as addictive as chocolate!

The Music Academy is a not-for-profit community school of music dedicated to providing high quality, affordable instruction and performance opportunities to Academy students, regardless of age or ability. Its mission is to inspire a lifelong love of music and the arts in its students.  The Music Academy is celebrating 30 years. For more information about Encore, The Music Academy’s creative aging curriculum, or the Academy, call 815-986-0037 or go to

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