ART CART: SAVING THE LEGACY: A Feasibility Study for a National Model of Health Promotion and Wellness among Older Adults
“The person who creates doesn’t go to the hospital.” — Italian aphorism
“The ultimate expression of potential is creativity.”— Dr. Gene Cohen
The Research Center for Arts and Culture (RCAC) at the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) has analyzed data from research that took place from ART CART: SAVING THE LEGACY (ART CART) from fall, 2012 to fall, 2013 for use as a feasibility study for a national rollout of ART CART with accompanying research to additional US urban, suburban, and rural locations. ART CART is an interdisciplinary, intergenerational project that matches advanced students in the arts, aging and health care with professional visual artists age 62+ to learn how to document their work and create a legacy. This nine-month, service-learning program completed its second iteration in 2012-132 as a collaboration among 19 professional artists and 38 students (fellows) and related faculty from different disciplines in the arts, health and aging, from several universities in the New York City and Washington DC Metro areas. During the project, 2,568 works were documented with a range of 40-257 and an average of 135 works per artist. Each artist was interviewed for an oral history, and the documented records and images, and the oral histories, live at Columbia University’s open source digital archive, Academic Commons, as THE ART CART COLLECTION.
In this second iteration of ART CART, an experimental research component was added. Artists, 63-100 years of age, (19 participating in ART CART and 16 in a randomized control group) were assessed, using the following outcome variables: morale/depression (positive aging), social isolation (social inclusion or social engagement), productivity/activity levels (productivity), and safe functioning in the studio environment (health promotion). The purpose of this feasibility study was to evaluate the effectiveness of ART CART on the psychosocial well-being and safe functioning of older adult professional artists. Three methods of gathering data included: Quantitative data on the variables stated above, Program Evaluation data from written communications from artists and fellows, and, Reports regarding the secondary prevention interventions provided to three artists. The latter two data collecting methods provided more insights to the researchers than the quantitative research data, regarding the extent to which artists’ morale and sense of well-being was enhanced by participating in ART CART: SAVING THE LEGACY.
The primary research question is whether participating in ART CART improves the well-being of older artists as compared to those who do not participate in the program and to what extent can the ART CART program affect older adults on the following variables: morale/depression, social isolation/engagement, productivity/activity, safe functioning?
Secondary questions are:
1) To what extent is it feasible for the very much younger students (in art and non-art fields) to learn strategies for positive aging, health promotion and the arts?
2) To what extent can we generalize to other older adults across the arts (e.g., writers, performers) and—in future iterations—influence populations outside the arts?
We hypothesized that artists participating in ART CART would have: (1) increased morale and decreased symptoms of depression; (2) decreased social isolation; (3) increased safe functioning and levels of activity/productivity; and, (4) decreased risk of falling as compared to similar artists who were not participating in ART CART.
Assessment measures served as a screening and potential intervention opportunity for secondary prevention. In the quantitative research findings, the only area that showed a significant decrease in outcomes in the participating artist group as compared to the control group was in the area of social isolation vs. social engagement. The outcome measure used was the Activity Cart Sort (ACS) (Baum and Edwards, 2001). The social activities subscale score and current activity level of the ACS decreased more than the control group, which decreased very slightly. The findings suggest that the artists’ current activity level decreased after the student fellows no longer came weekly to work with the artists, at the completion of the ART CART program. This decrease in engagement did not affect the results on the other measurements: The Geriatric Depression Scale, The Philadelphia Geriatric Morale Scale and the UCLA Loneliness Scale.
We found both the ART CART artists and the control group to be extremely high functioning, often more than the general population. We recommend caution here since the art world is very ageist and older artists may have self-reported as more fit and without impediments.
ART CART: SAVING THE LEGACY is designed to assist older professional artists to experience positive aging, while maintaining productivity in what the artists describe as their most meaningful roles and activities: making and preserving their art. The multi-component interventions of ART CART are designed to be a catalyst for promoting physical, psychological and social/environmental well-being.
Cover art by Sonia Gechtoff, Garden, Wave and Waterfall (2001)