The United Active Living Foundation is working closely with United Way and two of its agency partners to launch a six-week art and discussion pilot program that will focus on ageism and isolation and their effect on older adults.
The program is called Project Inspire, and involves older adults from LINKAges and the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizen’s Association.
Social isolation is a serious threat to a person’s well-being. It occurs when older adults have few social contacts and lack mutually rewarding relationships. Social isolation can affect anyone, and bringing about connections for people is complex and needs to provide opportunity to connect with others.
“The idea for a community project benefiting Calgary’s older population was sparked by a donation by the Kanovsky Family Foundation to United Way of Calgary and Area,” said Gail Hinchliffe, chair of the United Active Living Foundation. “Our Foundation and United Way worked together to develop the pilot project that reaches into the community to foster engagement and dialogue among an older population.”
Acting as convenor, United Way contacted several seniors agencies they support. LINKAges and the Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizen’s Association demonstrated interest and willingness to participate in the initial pilot. The United Active Living Foundation is using the resources of the Creative Expression department at Garrison Green Seniors Community to shape the components of the pilot and act as facilitators.
“From initial discussions on what this collaboration could look like, it became important to look at reducing isolation and building community in innovative ways,” said Nicole Moore, United’s learning and development coordinator. “Creative solutions to social isolation have to include real opportunities to express yourself. Creative expression is a great way to do this.”
Creative expression is a cornerstone of the activities within United communities as research has linked older adults’ participation in creative activities with a multitude of benefits from fewer doctor visits and less loneliness to higher optimism and self-esteem. Providing opportunities for participants to engage in a variety of stimulating creative workshops led by United’s practicing artists became the framework of the project.
“As organizations catering to aging populations, we all realized that we must consider the real impact of discrimination and exclusion of seniors in our society, because like social isolation, ageism is also a strong barrier to older adults’ participation in society,” said Nicole.
The partnership will see 15 older adults come together once a week for six weeks at United Active Living’s Garrison Green community. They will engage in critical discussions and creative expression activities about aging aimed at enhancing their self-esteem and community.
“This is an exciting program for us,” said Gail. “This program will use creative expression as a tool to raise awareness and improve participants’ emotional well-being and promote social engagement. Five of our Garrison Green residents are also involved.”
The first session on May 2 dealt with the theme of productivity and creativity in later life. “Unfortunately, many of us believe that we are only productive as long as we’re employed or that creativity is only for the young,” said Nicole. “In the session we asked participants if they’ve ever been told they’re too old for something, and questions who gets to decide what behaviour is appropriate for us as we age. Through group discussions, we hope to challenge these preconceptions.”
“To me this project is about opening the door for people to discover their own capabilities,” said Sage Wheeler, creative facilitator. “We don’t teach people how to paint, but we make every effort to show them that they already can. People put up a lot of artificial barriers because it’s scary to try new things and meet new people. It feels risky, so we try to make the space as safe and supportive as possible. Art is a really natural way for people to build that self-confidence because it happens in the body. Pick up a paint brush and before you know it there’s a bit of paint in your hair, you are laughing with friends, and your inner critic is left somewhere behind you.”
Over the next six weeks participants will reflect on their experiences of aging and isolation and create art that depicts their views. At the end of the program, the artwork will be displayed throughout the city in the hopes of initiating larger conversations about aging and the potential of later life.
“We are hopeful that this new initiative will provide participants with the tools to learn about themselves, connect with others and self-determine their relationship with aging,” said Sage.
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