Discussion, Recommendations, and Results of the Research Study
The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging commissioned a study
to investigate the effect of artists in residence programs on self-reported loneliness in older adults. The
results of the study are discussed.
Discussion: The research and study showed that older people do experience feelings of loneliness and social isolation. To combat those feelings and to be more connected to a community, many attend recreational programs in senior centers. Much of the programming at state-funded senior community centers in Pennsylvania is activity-based, but not considered to be the type of program discussed in this study. Although recreational activities in centers such as bingo, craft making, and sing-alongs can be stimulating, they may not provide the cognitive and creative stimulation inherent in arts learning.
The participants in this study indicated that they were less lonely after working with artists in the program. Because the arts inherently engage people in collaboration and cooperative processes, it is expected that if older adults frequent the state-funded senior community centers during an artist-in-residence program, they may develop important relationships and friendships that could have a positive effect on their emotional and social health.
Recommendations: High-quality programming that is cognitively challenging and stimulating should be offered to older adults who seek to improve their lives and engage with others at senior community centers. Rather than the more typical recreational offerings such as games and craft making, these programs can also provide senior citizens a chance to engage with professional teaching artists who are experts in their art forms.
The emotional health of older adults is important to their quality of life. When they connect to and collaborate with others while learning in and through the arts, their self-reported feelings of loneliness decrease. The results of this study show that artists-in-residence programs can have an influence on the emotional well-being of participants and should be taken into consideration when state agencies and local senior community centers are planning and financing programming for their community members.
Arts and culture are a critical part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s commitment to providing a vibrant life that inspires all citizens. The significant number of artists, arts organizations, arts programs, and projects provide Pennsylvania citizens with opportunities to engage in and benefit from the arts as creators/artists, audiences, or participants (Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, 2018).
State agencies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have an opportunity to share resources to support their respective missions. The artist-in-residence program in Pennsylvania as described above can be easily replicated throughout Pennsylvania due to the established network of agencies ready to collaborate to ensure program success. Certainly, the model of state agencies collaborating to provide substantive programs for seniors can be developed in other states/regions/countries. It is suggested that pooling financial and other agency resources can only benefit older adults as programs become more enriching to their lives and interests.