Twelve organizations in the Chicago metro area have been awarded “JumpStart the Conversation” grants for projects designed to provide opportunities for older adults to contribute to the cultural life of their communities.

The grants were introduced after a recent workshop at the Chicago Cultural Center, Engaging Older Adults Through Arts and Culture: Developing a Livable Chicago for All Ages. The workshop was the fifth of six regional workshops focused on creating livable communities for all ages.  The workshops and grants are part of a national Aging in Place Initiative undertaken by Partners for Livable Communities (Partners) and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), with funding provided by MetLife Foundation.  The workshop was hosted by the City of Chicago, Chicago Department of Senior Services, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Chicago Arts and Business Council, Chicago Life Opportunities Initiative, and The Center for Creative Aging at Harold Washington College.

One grant recipient, the Children’s Museum at Oak Lawn, will use the award to increase the number of older adults in its museum volunteer program. “These volunteers have a wealth of experience and skills that can be shared with children,” said Adam Woodworth, executive director of the Children’s Museum at Oak Lawn. “This experience can be used in leadership positions, such as running exhibits and designing new programs.” 

Another grantee, the Indo-American Center, which facilitates the integration of South Asians into the United States, says it will use the funds to strengthen its dialogue between seniors and youth in the Chicago community. “Our programs provide a real opportunity for seniors and youth to connect, build, and enjoy their community,” said Jay Luthra, executive director of the Indo-American Center.

“The range of organizations committed to improving livability for all ages is a good indicator of the strong area-wide support for this initiative,” said Robert McNulty, president of Partners for Livable Communities.

The twelve winning projects are: 

  • Arts in Bartlett and Victory Centre of Bartlett will provide expanded art, theatre, music and dance classes, and performing opportunities for older adults free of charge or at a minimal cost. 
  • Center for Asian Arts and Media at Columbia College Chicago in partnership with Chicago Department of Senior Services, Mather Cafe/Mather LifeWays, Literacy Chicago, the Chinese American Service League, the Japanese American Service Committee, the National Museum of Mexican Art, South Shore Cultural Center, the Indo-American Center, and the Chicago Park District. These groups will engage older adults in a project celebrating the legacy of people who continue to make a difference in their older years and provide an environment to meet and explore different art forms and cultural traditions. 
  • Chicago Department of Senior Services and Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs will present two workshops to provide older adults with up-to-date information about their physical and social needs.  They will also hold a Senior Art Day at Gallery 37. 
  • Children's Museum in Oak Lawn will increase the number of older adults in its museum volunteer program. 
  • Indo-American Center will bring older adults and youth together through a series of “Intergenerational Dialogues” programs that foster better understanding of the cultural heritage of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan). 
  • LaSalle Senior Center in partnership with Walter Payton College Prep and the Old Town Merchants and Residents Association will bring together older adults, students and artists to explore how to make events, classes, outings, and performances more appealing to older adults and to encourage intergenerational activities. 
  • Museum of Universal Self Expression in partnership with the American Indian Center of Chicago, and American Indian Health Service of Chicago will expand its Ancestor Quilt Project and create a permanent Open Studio art therapy space for elders and adult members at the Indian Center. 
  • North Shore Senior Center in partnership with OASIS Chicago and area arts leagues will motivate older adults to raise community awareness about the importance of the arts in promoting brain health. 
  • Norwood Crossing Association and Norwood Park School will engage older adults and school children by funding transportation and admission costs for older adults and students to visit museums throughout Chicago.  They will also exhibit artwork created as a result of these visits at both the Norwood Crossing Association and Norwood Park School. 
  • Norwood Park Historical Society and Mather LifeWays will launch a “Voices of Norwood Park” personal history project designed to educate older adults about how to record their personal histories and collect written and oral histories of their lives and times. 
  • Pines Village Retirement Communities in partnership with the Valparaiso Department of Parks and Recreation and Valparaiso University will launch an annual art exhibit featuring local artists during May, National Older American's Month. In addition, the partnership will provide free art classes to older adults. 
  • Senior Artists Network (SAN) will reach out to artists who would otherwise be excluded from the arts communities (those in nursing homes, retirement communities, low-income senior housing, etc) and provide opportunities for them to be seen and heard.

“It is exciting to see workshops like this raise the awareness of organizations working together to create communities for all ages,” said Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. 

For additional details on the winning projects visit www.aginginplaceinitiative.org. A comprehensive report on the Chicago workshop, Developing a Livable Chicago Metro Area for All Ages, will be available for download in the following months. 

Partners for Livable Communities (Partners) is a national, nonprofit organization working to renew communities for all ages. For more information on the other workshops planned in the national series, visit www.aginginplaceinitiative.org, or contact Irene Garnett at igarnett@livable.com

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) is a leading voice on aging issues for Area Agencies on Aging across the country. For additional information, visit www.n4a.org

MetLife Foundation was established in 1976 by MetLife for the purpose of supporting education, health, civic and cultural organizations. For additional information, visit www.metlife.org


David Hammarstrom
Ted Mitchell