Creative Aging Mid-South, an organization dedicated to promoting vital aging through the arts, is one of 10 arts-focused nonprofits across the country being saluted this month by The Huffington Post, in partnership with GreatNonprofits.org.
Each organization listed is entirely committed to engaging youngsters, adults or seniors in the arts. The nonprofit with the most votes at the end of July will win the title of HuffPost Top Local Nonprofit of the Month.
“I think we first came under their consideration because of the listing we supplied to an organization called Great Nonprofits,” said Meryl Klein, founder and executive director of Creative Aging Mid-South.
Klein founded Creative Aging Mid-South in 2003 after she’d returned to school and obtained a degree in gerontology.
She had studied the positive impact of the arts on the lives of older people, especially those with dementia, and decided to bring performing and visual arts to older residents living in local facilities.
“There’s a lot of evidence that being involved with the arts and novel engagement helps to protect your brain,” Klein said. “Believe it or not, prior to the ’90s or mid-90s, people weren’t really researching this. … For folks with dementia, music is one of the last things to go. For the moment that we have them and they’re responding to that music, they’re present. And for families to see that, it’s just extraordinary.”
Klein said many people choose not to visit aging relatives in facilities because they believe their loved one is unaware of their presence.
“But the emotional response of a visit is going to last far longer than recollection of the visit will,” she said. “You don’t think it’s valuable to visit folks in these facilities, but it is. We need to get over our fear of going into these facilities.”
Today, Creative Aging Mid-South brings the arts to residents at 52 local nursing homes and assisted living facilities, many which can’t afford to pay for these kinds of recreational services.
Some of the Memphis area’s most respected artists, such as Ruby Wilson, Joyce Cobb, Nancy Apple and Lily Afshar, perform for the seniors.
But Creative Aging Mid-South also offers classes and workshops that meet for several weeks and focus on subjects such as creative writing and poetry, movement, weaving, ceramics and painting.
“So people actually have the opportunity to create something and then share it … and they get to socialize, which is a major component,” said Klein, adding that she asks artists to make some sort of contact with each participant.
“Whether it’s physical, eye or conversation, as I describe it to the artists, this may be their only contact outside of the facility,” she said. “It’s a marvelous way of just letting them know they’re still valued.”
Creative Aging Mid-South also supports the arts by paying the artists for their work. Since its inception, the organization has paid local artists a total of almost $500,000, with most of that money coming from grants.
“I work really hard at getting grants, but those are getting more difficult,” Klein said. “We really need public support. The only people who really know about us are the folks in the aging community, the residents and the musicians. We need folks beyond that to start supporting us.”
Creative Aging Mid-South also allows seniors to showcase their own talents by hosting an annual variety show.
Facilities host their own contests, and winners of those in-house contests perform at the variety show, which is not competitive.
The 2012 event was held earlier this month at Memphis University School, where the show’s oldest performer was a 97-year-old singer, who had once performed for President Ronald Reagan.
Klein said that in many cases the event gives elderly participants the opportunity to showcase their talents for the first time in years. Some are former professional artists, musicians or dancers.
“We just have it set up so these older adults can perform and be recognized and feel really valued,” Klein said.
Creative Aging Mid-South will provide several senior performers for the upcoming Senior Expo and Health Fair, presented by The Best Times, at Oak Court Mall on Wednesday, Aug. 1.
To vote, visit http://huff.to/PSF1gr.