The Big Apple Gets Smarts with Senior Center Initiative
Perlstein, Susan, Aging Today
Last February, the city of New York launched SMARTS (Seniors Meet the Arts), the largest municipal initiative in the United States to connect elders to arts programs. This $1 million initiative brought cultural organizations and senior centers together to enhance older-adult participation in the creative life of the city through June 2008. The initiative was developed by the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) in partnership with the city's Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and city council.
Selected through a competitive application process, 57 cultural organizations were partnered with more than 1 50 senior centers in neighborhoods across the Big Apple's five boroughs. The chosen organizations provided a variety of hands-on programs, such as storytelling, circus arts, blues cabaret creative writing, visual arts, intergenerational theater and cinema.
DFTA Commissioner Edwin MendezSantiago said the department decided to focus on elders' creative exploration as part of its commitment to vital and healthy aging. He added, "SMARTS promotes senior participation in die arts and helps to strengthen senior center programming." Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin noted, "Nonprofit cultural organizations have been at the forefront in building healthy neighborhoods."
Enhanced senior center programming is a key component of DFTA 's modernization efforts. In response to the longevity revolution, the department is reenvisioning the future of services for older individuals, such as those the agency provides to more than 320 senior centers city wide. The department hopes senior centers will become hubs that promote social, physical and mental wellness by providing diverse programming, such as creative opportunities. Strengthening the linkages with community cultural organizations is a priority for both DFTA and DCA.
In the Bronx, for example, one participating organization was Teatro Pregones, which is dedicated to the performance of original musical theater and plays rooted in Latino cultures. For SMARTS, teaching artists conducted interactive workshops focused on poetry recital, storytelling and choreographed movements at six Bronx senior centers.
Teatro Pregones kicked off its activities at each senior center with a performance by its artists that presented excerpts from the play Baile Cangrejero (Dance From Cangrejos), one of the theater company's more successful productions. The performance also included an engaging selection of Afro-Caribbean poetry in Spanish and English accompanied by a lively piano-and-percussion group. The event introduced elders to the company members and sparked interest in the workshops.
Subsequently, Teatro Pregones conducted eight 90-minute theater workshops in which participating elders created original short plays. Some of the themes of diese theater pieces included a woman's search for an adventurous spirit she thought she had lost with me passing of time; a story of campesinos (farmworkers) forced to leave their country of origin; immigrants' ar- rival in a new land; and neigh- bors in the Bronx forging a commu- nity. The short plays were per- formed one April afternoon at the Teatro Pregones for all of the participating senior centers as part of the Seniors Performance Exchange. …