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Report: Arts organizations can be essential part of the solutions to problems of aging

June 20, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
Think of the most pressing issues facing seniors in Philadelphia and a lack of involvement in arts and cultural activities is probably not on that list.

Now think of the most innovative interventions to help seniors age well, and again, arts and cultural activities is probably not on the list.

For the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, this is a problem in need of a solution and the reason they produced Agenda: Aging, a compilation of the latest research that outlines the impact of arts and cultural activities for producing healthy, active aging.

According to Agenda: Aging, “arts and culture can dramatically reduce the risk of developing depression, decrease the possibility of dementia through volunteer engagement and improve mental and emotional processing power.”

Michael Norris. (Courtesy photo)

Sponsored by AARP Philadelphia, Agenda: Aging, summarized research that shows dancing reduces the risk of falls; jewelry-making increases manual dexterity; poetry improves word usage in adults with dementia; museum attendance decreases social isolation, and gardening encourages healthy eating. These are some of the findings that were at the heart of the publication.

“Many people think that it’s nice to have (arts and cultural activities) and not essential,” said Michael Norris, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s chief strategy officer. But the report shows and documents the positive social impact of art-making, and of the arts.

Norris wants to advocate for arts organizations as an essential part of the solutions to problems of aging, particularly to those who have the most power to increase local arts organizations’ bottom line. And by that, he especially means the elected officials, funders and donors who control the budgets of arts organizations.

Research from the Boston Foundation showed that the Philadelphia has 1,415 arts organizations with total annual revenue of $748,000,000. But 90 percent of the city’s groups are ranked as small, with budgets under $500,000, making them financially frail.

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Agenda: Aging summarizes a number of arts-related health and well-being findings about seniors, including that museum attendance decreases social isolation. (Photograph courtesy of Brandywine River Museum of Art)

The Philadelphia Cultural Fund (PCF), which was founded in 1991, awarded nearly $3 million to 339 organizations this past March — the largest grantee list in its history. About 47% of the recipients have budgets under $150.000, like Lest We Forget Slavery Museum in Germantown, more than 50% serve Philadelphia’s pre-K and school-age children, and 28 of the organizations funded were first-time applicants.

“In many cases, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund is literally the fuel keeping the lights on so that our most creative residents can do their best work,” said Philadelphia Cultural Fund executive director Barbara J. Silzle at the time of the announcement. “Because we assist so many grassroots organizations, our grants help keep the ‘culture’ of culture growing in Philadelphia.”

But for a city that just approved a $5 billion budget, $2.68 million is a small fraction of what is needed.

Raising the profile of arts organizations by highlighting their role in maintaining a vibrant elder community could positively impact the bottom line of smaller community-based organizations, in particular. Moreover, as Agenda: Aging points out — 16 percent of the state’s residents are senior citizens — and seniors have some of the highest voter turnout numbers.

The push for creative aging corresponds to an elder boom. Based on the 2010 Census, about 10,000 people are turning 65 every day, and by 2040 there will be more seniors than school-age children in America.

The first study to look at the impact of arts and culture on seniors was conducted by George Washington University for the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001. Their findings have been replicated in subsequent reports and studies. Participation in the arts leads to better physical and mental health, fewer doctor visits, less medication usage and less social isolation.

Agenda: Aging is fourth in a series of advocacy reports looking at the positive impact of arts and culture on important civic issues. Earlier Agenda reports focused on pre-K, wellness and prosperity — the $4 billion economic impact of arts in the Philadelphia region.

Norris said the next agenda report will focus on the arts and Veterans.

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