Originally published in the Abington Journal By Kelly McDonough
SCRANTON — Arts for Life is a program that engages older adults, both caregivers and care recipients, in working with professional artists to discover new, creative ideas and ways of thinking.
Research shows that arts learning stimulates cognitive capacities in the brain. As humans age, they require a significant level of cognitive stimulation which enables them to engage their critical and creative thinking skills.
Dr. Catherine Cullen of Northeast Intermediate Unit 19 said the concept stems from her research on the effect of artists-in-residence programming on older adults.
“I have reasons to believe due to a state-level project that data revealed there was a change – a positive change in levels of loneliness in older adults after they participated in an artists-in-residence program,” said Cullen. “So, we knew the research worked. Then, the next study is going on three out of three years, but it’s on patients who have various levels of dementia and the results of year two of three showed this cognitive decline has changed. Instead of the participants’ cognition declining, they are actually stabilizing, and that’s very impressive in a disease that’s expected to decline until death. So, we’re super excited about the results.”
Because of those results, Cullen met with the executive director of the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging and found him interested in working with her organization to develop a project for caregivers and care recipients.
Together, they received an allocation from Lackawanna County to create Arts for Life.
Feelings of social isolation and loneliness have been shown to diminish while emotional health strengthened after older adults participate in the arts learning activities. According to Cullen, no prior experience in the arts is needed in order to participate. Their artists/educators are experts in developing the talents of all ages and abilities. It is the intention of Arts for Life to increase the quality of life for senior citizens in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The idea came to Cullen that community agencies could offer an opportunity for people to get out and enjoy the arts.
“I thought I’d work with Broadway Theatre, The Everhart Museum and Ballet Theater of Scranton to create part of this project which is intended for care recipients and caregivers to attend,” said Cullen.
Arts for Life is a brand new program, and this is its first year. According to Frank T. Blasi, executive director of Broadway Theatre League, it grew from a research project by Cullen and Dr. Kim D’Andrea, a board member of Broadway Theatre League.
“From the initial idea, we have been working with Dr. Cullen to flesh out the program,” Blasi said. “We are very excited for the potential this program brings to our area. It’s providing an outlet for seniors who are otherwise isolated from society and the caregivers that accompany them is paramount in our interest for this program. We are so happy to be involved with this program.”
Blasi went on to state this area has a rich history and senior citizens are a prevalent part of our population. He concludes those who have made Scranton into a thriving arts community are aging and some find themselves in care facilities or alone at home with a caregiver.
“The feelings of isolation of this population is the issue that brought this program to fruition. Not only the patient, but also the caregivers find themselves in a position where they may be cut off from the world,” Blasi said. “The theory we are working on is that by involving these groups in the arts in a social setting, we can reduce the isolation and bring them back to a thriving arts scene that, in many cases, they may have helped to create.”
Blasi expressed how reversing isolation is the goal and that it was a natural tie-in to Broadway Theatre League because that organization could offer the ability to see national touring full Broadway productions.
“We offer a five-show season this year that stretches from October to May. Therefore, there is much for the seniors to look forward to performance wise,” explained Blasi.
Cullen added that tickets are available free of charge to all program participants for all five Broadway shows, a ballet and a visit to the Everhart Museum. Transportation is also free.
“That’s really important we not only offer opportunities to experience artists, but we also offer opportunities for older citizens and their caregivers to attend arts events,” Cullen said.
The 2019/2020 Broadway season includes “A Bronx Tale,” “The Play That Goes Wrong,” “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” “Fiddler On The Roof” and “An American In Paris.”
Arts for Life takes place each week on Thursday at The Jewish Home, 1101 Vine St.The hours are from 11 a.m. until noon with a complimentary lunch served afterward.
For more information and to register for Arts for Life, call the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging at 570-963-6740.