Research Update: Art Programs for Older Adults: Today's More Active Older Adults Are Choosing Programs like Art Education to Fulfill Their Leisure Learning Needs

By Riley, Kevin; Stanley, Melanie A. | Parks & Recreation, February 2006 | Go to article overview

Research Update: Art Programs for Older Adults: Today's More Active Older Adults Are Choosing Programs like Art Education to Fulfill Their Leisure Learning Needs


Riley, Kevin, Stanley, Melanie A., Parks & Recreation


Literature has suggested that societal expectations of seniors leisure pursuits have remained relatively static (Pedlar, Dupuis & Gilbert, 1996). However, it has become apparent that leisure pursuits of retiring baby-boomers are very different than those of their parents. Due to these differences, a greater variety of recreational programs will need to be offered in the future.

In reality, this group of older adults is becoming more active and adventurous, both intellectually and physically. In order to fulfill their educational, social and recreational needs, they often choose to participate in lifelong leisure learning opportunities, such as art education or art instruction programs. Their involvement in leisure helps them with personal growth, and fills their free time with opportunities that enhance their skills (McGuire, Boyd & Tedrick, 2004).

Nationally, some older adults are choosing to pursue art instruction through programs offered at colleges, universities, recreation centers, churches or senior centers. They may have different reasons for pursuing art instruction, such as for skill development, intellectual curiosity or social interactions. These decisions may enhance their creativity, expand their curiosity or create new acquaintances. In recreational settings, these intangible outcomes are considered benefits (Riley, 2002).

Researchers agree that art participation is an accepted and important leisure pursuit among older adults (Carpenter, 1999; McCarthy, Ondaatje & Zakaras, 2001). Art participation can be active, in which people engage in the act of creating or performing the art, or it can be passive, as is the case when an audience views a performance or a person visits an art gallery.

Active and passive art experiences provide an individual with the benefits of discovery, stimulation and relaxation. It is important for this age group to participate in lifelong learning art activities because this participation offers them valuable rewards and benefits (Riley & Mitchell, 2004).

Even though art educational opportunities currently exist for an older population, many of these opportunities have been considered by the participants to be inappropriate and frivolous since the program objective does not match the expectations of the participants (Cordes & Ibrahim, 2003). Since these are baby boomers who are more active and expect greater rewards from their leisure pursuits, planning these activities has become an extremely challenging endeavor.

A previous investigation suggested that instructors of art activities had developed a number of preconceived notions when considering offerings to recreational art participants (Riley & Mitchell, 2004). The preconceived notions identified were: 1) participant numbers reflect the success of programs; 2) as a participant's skill level increases, more benefits are obtained; 3) people who participate in a specific activity want to continue only in that activity; 4) typically, males attend sporting events, theme parks and participate in physical activities more than females; 5) typically, females participate more frequently in religious activities, attend live performances and visit museums more than males; 6) many art-related opportunities exist in the community; and 7) all artists are interested in art-related activities that reflect different cultures. Art instructors have used these preconceived notions to design their older adult art programs.

In order to determine if these preconceived notions were accurate predictors of what baby boomer art enthusiasts desire from a lifelong learning activity, a self-reported survey was developed and sent to art participants.

This instrument examined participants' demographic information, artistic rewards, community involvement and other leisure pursuits. The survey results consisted of Likert responses to questions on seven artistic rewards and 10 leisure pursuits, as well as six dichotomous choice questions pertaining to art participation within the respondent's community. …

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