Growing Together through Intergenerational Arts

By Chandel Gambles, SPARC Northern Outreach Consultant

As arts organizers, we are constantly striving to engage, maintain, and grow our arts communities. To do that we must create unique experiences and opportunities for connections. With so many other options available to community members how can we compete for their free time? One avenue that is ready for development is the creation of a strong intergenerational arts practice!

As our society has developed, it has naturally moved away from a community and family based centre. Intergenerational family homes are less frequently seen and opportunities to converse with those of other ages in public forums are infrequently found as religious gatherings are attended less often.

Although we may bump into older and younger members of our community on a daily basis, what opportunities are provided that may facilitate friendship and bond-forming exchanges? Our daily activities form siloed communities in many ways. Preschoolers go to day care. Kids are in schools. Those in their 20s are in post-secondary schools. 30 – 60 year olds primarily work within businesses with established, age and experience related hierarchies. Stay-at-home parents bond with other stay-at-home parents. And seniors often find time to travel and volunteer in their communities before some move into isolated elder care facilities or seniors only living centres.

When was the last time you attended a dance that didn’t have age restrictions? Outside of church gatherings, when was the last time people of all generations and backgrounds came together to share a potluck meal? When you last hosted an arts performance event, were there any supplementary community building activities geared towards encouraging dialogue or skill building? Or did everyone simply sit in a dark theatre and stare at the performers on stage together?

Fortunately, new intergenerational activities are emerging in many forms. For example, senior’s centres and child care facilities have been opening up all over the world promoting intergenerational day care opportunities. These sorts of cross-demographic programs offer opportunities for members of each community to look at life in a new way. Although most of the currently established programs are created to connect seniors and children, the core intergenerational concept is valuable for uniting groups across any major age range.

The focus of these programs primarily revolves around the active sharing of skills, knowledge, history, cultures, and experiences. These programs can occur at both a small or large scale and can happen in a venue primarily operated for one of the two parties, or at a “neutral” third space that both generations can discover together.

The Manitoba Association of Senior Centres has a list of resource ideas and community activity examples on their website. Videos and images from other projects can also be found on the Intergenerational Manitoba resource page.

One brilliant toolkit to help you plan a new intergenerational project or program is the Creating Caring Communities guide. This document will help you introduce your project team to the big ideas, planning advice and implementation techniques that will speed you through the development stages.

Many great projects have come out of these basic concepts:

Adopt a grandparent/family member: Much like a big sister/big brother program, helping to pair up members of your community to make outings and arts events about connection. Some seniors may wish to go to the theatre but no longer have their license to drive. Meanwhile, some kids may not be allowed to go to a children’s arts performance without supervision. Why not join forces? Consider connecting with your municipality to help discount bus travel for outings or community carpooling options.

Rent a crowd: If all the world is a stage you should be able to perform your art anywhere and everywhere. Bring your art to different groups in the community. You can take one group to the other’s venue (ex. elders to a school) to enjoy a special program or performance, or select an accessible location and build an arts event around it and the community it serves.

Tech Buddies & Tech Classes: Not only can youth educate their elders about using social media and technology, but you can take those devices into the theatrical world. One can teach each other the merits of using different technologies in the theatre. How would lighting be effected using different lighting tools past and present? Have youth help connect seniors to different entertainment systems or explore these systems to share their art live over the internet to destroy accessibility barriers. Just teaching each other the basics of our communication tools past and present truly helps us each learn how we interactive with the world around us. Communication lies at the heart of art in all its forms.

Story, character, and performance creation through research: Have one group learn about the other character’s lives and then portray their stories through songs and performances onstage. They can be directed to learn action, history, cultural practises, and movement from their senior partner. Some examples include:

Workshops and skill building sessions: Music, art, theatre, and dance classes do not have to be limited to certain age groups. Some may find comfort in learning particular styles alone, but there are many training techniques that can be used across age ranges and experience levels. Young People’s Theatre in Toronto has frequently held intergenerational theatre workshops. Puppeteria , featured at the 2014 symposium, has also created workshops to help caregivers, elders, and families communicate with each other through puppetry and play.

As arts organizers, we are the creators of events. Whether it is a volunteer, amateur, or professional activity, the organizers will decide how community oriented an activity will be. It is we who decide how the arts will affect our communities. We know the amazing benefits of intergenerational projects range from new learning opportunities, to emotional support, to socialization, to building a sense of belonging. However, these experiences will not blossom by themselves. We must curate them, grow them, and encourage our community to step beyond the lonely silos we have built for each other. If art is meant to create, then it’s time to create new bonds, new purpose, and a new sense of community through our programming.



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