Week 5:
Intergenerational Pilot Program

Bostrom Fellow in Creative Aging

Frye Art Museum, Creative Aging Programs | Seattle, Washington

November 27, 2019

One of the meetings I attended the first week of my internship was about the implementation of a new intergenerational pilot program at the Frye.  A small team of people working within the realms of art, education, aging and administration came together to construct a program that would be geared towards kids aged 3 to 5 and adults living with dementia.  This program had been in the process of being built before I arrived in Seattle, but once my internship began I was given the opportunity to jump aboard as part of the team.  Over the past five weeks I have been able to completely watch this program take shape, from the on paper planning, to the launch of the pilot itself, and finally to the debrief of the launch and ideas for future adjustments.

I was primarily tasked with helping to observe and evaluate the pilot during its launch.  I was doing this in tandem with another woman on the team, Caroline.  The two of us worked to create the format from which we would make our evaluations.  We decided that the three main areas we would focus our observations were enjoyment, participation, and social engagement.  Were participants smiling or laughing?  Did they respond to group discussion and activities? What were their body language cues – was there nodding, gestures, or eye contact?  Finally, was there interaction between participants and facilitators within the program?  It was within these realms that I made my evaluations throughout the pilot.  Caroline and I attempted to blend into the background as much as we were able and watched the morning take shape.

The timeline of the program began with older adults arriving at 10am and beginning in the Donald Byrd exhibit to look at three incredible, larger than life pictures of contemporary dancer Donald Byrd.  This went well!  It was on par with the Frye’s typical here:now gallery tour.  Adults seemed to be invested and enjoyment was clear.  Children arrived at 10:15 and all participants met in the Rotunda of the museum.  A name/gesture game was played with everyone and then the book How Do You Dance? was read.  This was fun to watch.  The children were clearly a little nervous at first and I think maybe felt a bit on the spot, but quickly warmed up to the group and began to let their inner goodness come out.  The older adults were smiling along with the book and many attempted eye contact with the youngsters.

Participants looking at the Donald Byrd exhibit – I am shown vigorously writing down my observations. Photo credit to Katie Lamar.

At 10:30 everyone transitioned into the Unsettling Femininity exhibit to discuss Otto Hierl-Deronco’s Spanische Tänzerin (Spanish Dancer) and Friedrich August von Kaulbach’s Rosario Guerro.  This was, in my opinion, the rockiest portion of the program.  The youngest child, a little ball of energy who was freshly three, had a difficult time sitting still and looking at the artworks for such an extended period.  However, he did have clear engagement with the pieces.  In Rosario Guerrora woman is shown dancing with castanets in her hands.  This little boy was very concerned that one of the castanets was going to slip and fall on her toes – how cute is that!?  The discussion in this portion was not as rich as most here:now gallery tours, but that is largely due to such a wide variance in understanding between three year olds and eighty year olds.  I have no doubt that as the Frye continues to fine tune this program, the nuances of this discussion portion will be worked out to a science.

Pictured is the portion from the Unsettling Femininity exhibit. In addition to Caroline and I observing, the entire program was videotaped so it could be watched back later. Photo credit to Katie Lamar.

From the Unsettling Femininity exhibit everyone moved upstairs to the art studio at 11:00.  A brief movement activity was done which seemed to help center everyone.  Then an art making activity began.  Different samples of music were played in the background and participants were instructed to let their paint brushes dance to the music.  All tables were covered in colorful paper and the intention was for everyone to work on a collaborative art piece – no one had ownership of one piece of paper.  Half way through, people were told to switch and find a new place to sit.  When I was in the moment observing this portion of the pilot, I felt that there wasn’t much interaction between participants.  There was definitely some, one of the older children and one of the care partners accompanying an adult living with dementia seemed to really be hitting it off.  They didn’t discuss much, but that child kept his eyes on her regularly and moved where she moved, it was very sweet.  However, as I look back on this portion now having had more time to process, as well as having now witnessed a broader range of art making programs, I think that the lack of direct interaction was a reflection of everyone’s personal investment into their creation.  There was a silence that crept into the moment that I feel is very indicative of a rich, fulfilling, present based space of mind.

A moment captured at the Intergenerational Pilot Program during the art making portion. The task was to have your paint brushes dance on the paper to the music that was being played in the background. I am seen in the background taking copious notes on my observations. Photo taken by Katie Lamar.

Once the art making activity wrapped up at 11:45, everyone transitioned into a circle for a bit more movement and to give closing remarks.  The facilitator asked participants to go around the circle and share one word that could encapsulate how they were feeling after this programing.  Some words that were used included: peaceful, glowing, marvelous, relaxed, spirited, hopeful, grateful.  The youngest child didn’t choose a word but rather got up and danced for a moment instead, which I find just as telling.  All participants were given an evaluation sheet to give feedback on their experience and programming came to a close.

About a week later the team and I got together for a meeting to debrief what worked well and what didn’t.  To help the discussion in the gallery that involved adults and children move a bit more smoothly, it was recommended that the kids be given something gallery safe that they could have in their hands to fidget with.  Also decided upon was the idea that all participants should try coming at the same time, rather than staggering the older adults and then the children.  By doing this it will give everyone a chance to meet and socialize in the rotunda at the beginning, and provides the kids with an easy way to start meeting the other older participants in a way that feels safe.  Feedback from participants was stellar, with the only minor pitfall being in “this experience enhanced my understanding of the exhibitions”.  It was deemed to have been successful overall and a program to do again!  One of the parents of the children participants told a facilitator that this program was a huge offering because they didn’t have family members near by.  An adult living with dementia had mentioned that her granddaughter was just born and seeing these kids made her so happy.  The team decided that another pilot study would be conducted a few months into the new year.

Watching this all unfold was an incredibly eye opening experience.  I didn’t realize that programs could just…be started.  I mean, I knew on some level that that was how programming in this field came to be, but I had imagined that a considerable amount of roadblocks and complications were an unshakable partner to upcoming programs.  I’m sure that in other fields and other cities that is true, but wow watching this pilot come together felt almost seamless.  Thats not to say there wasn’t the occasional twang of anxiety that could be felt amongst the team – how could there not be with so many unknowns – but even so, everything slid into place beautifully and with a sense of ease.  This is largely, if not entirely, due to the people who were on the pilot team.  Programming, as I am continuing to discover, is dependent on the people.  A program wouldn’t run without those who have put in their time to orchestrate everything from entry into the museum, to chair placement, to the actual guided discussion and activities that take place.  Just as important are the participants, the people who choose to leave their comfort zone and venture out to a museum for a morning program.  Not only did the intergenerational program have an exceptional team working together to bring this idea to fruition, but the pilot was welcomed by participants who came in with an open and loving orientation.  I’m sad I won’t be here to witness the growing of this program, but what a privilege its been to see the ins and outs up to now.

Olivia Lohmann '20

Olivia is a psychology major and art history minor from Houghton, Michigan.