Toledo Museum Program Takes Art to Older Adults

Vitality Arts Project to fund creative aging opportunities


A new Toledo initiative will fund the creation of neighborhood art projects that emphasize creative aging and support visual literacy throughout life. The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) has received a grant of $119,916.00, from E.A. Michelson Philanthropy, a pioneer in creative aging programs. The Museum’s grant is part of a $5 million overall program working with a total of 25 art museums across the United States. These latest grants are the second phase of Michelson’s Vitality Arts Project for Art Museums program, which launched in July 2022.

Meeting older adults where they are

According to Sadaf Sedique, community outreach manager with the Museum, the art making program will consist of six sessions of art making in the community, and a final project at the Museum. The program is scheduled to begin this summer.

“We’re meeting older adults where they are,” Sedique said. The Museum will work with five senior centers within a 2-mile radius and present the six art sessions in two locations. The Museum’s six teaching artists will lead the program, which will possibly involve glassmaking with “Ellie” the Baby Dragon, a small mobile furnace. The program ends with a final project at the museum.

Initial contact has been made with the Senior Centers Inc. facility near the Museum, on Jefferson Ave. “We met with them first and learned about their wonderful resources,” Sedique said. “Our aim is not to say, ‘this is what we’re having.’ We’re going into their place to ask what we can do together.” Once they have perfected the system, they will use that with other senior centers in the area. 

“We want to focus on the comfort level of older adults,” explained Justin Moor, vice president of planning and program development with the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, a partner in the Museum’s program. “We’re looking for ways to continue their appreciation for art, and to help them improve their own visual literacy. 

“And for the senior centers, this is a chance for them to highlight their programs for older adults,” Moor said. “Programs like this (the grant program) can improve the wellbeing of all senior center visitors, not just those participating in the program itself. And the senior center can also enhance its own program offerings as a result.”

Ending ageism through creative aging opportunities

The Michelson foundation has contributed more than $21 million for advocacy, training and funding of creative aging programs at art and history museums and other institutions. According to Ellen Michelson, founder and president of E. A. Michelson Philanthropy, the programs acknowledge older adults “as vibrant and contributing members of the American population, who both need and deserve creative, educational outlets and the opportunity to build and maintain their social networks.” 

Vitality Arts Project for Art Museums programs are focused on museum audiences who are 55 years of age and older. The programs recognize the benefits – social, emotional and physical – of engaging older adults in the process of artistic creation. Participating museums receive training and technical assistance in program design and implementation prior to the start of the program. They will also receive training to address ageism in our society, and the role that art museums can play in providing creative aging opportunities to their community.

Promoting intergenerational work

The grant is also an opportunity to emphasize intergenerational opportunities, an approach Sedique said the Museum is already featuring. They have worked with organizations such as the Escuela SMART Academy and McClinton Nunn Homes to develop family-oriented creative programs as well as tours and Family Center activities at the Museum. “We love being able to bring grandparents and grandchildren together for art,” she said.

Recognizing value

The upcoming program is much more than art classes in the community. “We all have purpose throughout our lives,” said Sedique. “Older adults have always had their purpose, and this type of work is about honoring them and showing them respect.”

Moor agrees. “Older adults are creative, and they can express themselves. Some have said this will be their first time walking through the Museum, and they’ve lived here all their lives. This program offers them an opportunity to improve their art and show it to the community.”