Jewish Family Service of Saint Paul

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Celebrating Life

Posted on by Tim Gothmann

Unique Collaboration between JFS and Mia –

JFS and Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) collaborate on a unique Celebrating Life – Art Adventure Program for area older adults and adults with disabilities-

Throughout its history, JFS has considered older adults and adults with disabilities to be vital contributors to our community. As a quality of life issue, JFS recognizes the need to make cultural art opportunities like Celebrating Life – Art Adventures available to these underserved populations.

The opportunity to offer Celebrating Life was brought to JFS by a member of the Jewish Community, Shelly Rottenberg, who is a Mia guide and an experienced geriatric social worker in the Twin Cities.  Shelly was aware of JFS’ reputation for delivering high-quality services to older adults. In April 2015, she presented the Celebrating Life concept to the JFS Senior Advisory Committee, a committee comprised primarily of older adults, to obtain their feedback and support for the project. The Advisory Committee responded with enthusiasm and a pilot program was successfully created for residents at a local low-income hi-rise. The program was a success and the advisory committee committed to expand Celebrating Life to other low-income residences.

JFS and Mia received a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to offer the second Celebrating Life program to older adults and adults with disabilities living at three of Highland Parks’ community subsidized housing complexes. Three trained Mia Art Adventure guides, one of whom was Shelly Rottenbrg, led two ninety-minute educational sessions at the residences. The guides used full-color poster reproductions of works of art from Mia’s collections to generate discussions and introduce or to reacquaint people with the museum. The series included Celebrating Life and Friends, Family and Foes. Each Art Adventure series was adapted for older adults from the very successful Art Adventure children’s program at the Mia. The program’s culminating event was a bus ride to tour Mia and to view the ‘real’ works of art!

The Mia Art Adventure guides were delighted by the enthusiasm, interest and knowledge of art that each participant had. Lively discussions took place at each residence with many unique observations of the attributes of the art pieces. At the end of each ninety-minute session, several participants continued to chat about art and other topics of interest. Many shared that they enjoyed the discussion session and looked forward to mingling with their neighbors afterwards. Clearly this type of program offers a platform for socializing and encourages a sense of community we all need.

As a JFS volunteer with the Art Adventure program, I was overwhelmed by the participants’ enthusiasm and often poignant observations of various art pieces. They were such engaged learners! Once at Mia and involved in the tour, residents delighted in seeing the actual art pieces. Sharing with others how “much greater” and “more magnificent” it was to “see the real thing” than the prints! At the end of the tour several residents spent time in the gift shop while others enjoyed one last look around. Before boarding the bus home, one of our Mia guides asked the group if the tour met their expectations? One resident responded with “it was the best thing that has happened to me all year!” I believe that statement says it all as to the important role and positive impact programs like Celebrating Life – Art Adventure has in the lives of these participants who would not otherwise have access to the arts.

“I can get a ride to a doctor but if not for this miracle, I would never see an art museum again. It’s difficult to go anywhere sometimes, especially alone. But there needs to be more balance in life than just going to the doctor and getting needled and tested and weighed. I hope this won’t be the last time I will ever see the Mia. So far away. We need these little vacations. Especially for many who are isolated with disability. Much appreciated and thank you.”

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