With grant monies and guidance received from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, Three Rivers Arts Council will work with Siena Court Assisted Living Facility in Wahpeton, to bring artists and art activities to its elder residents, many of whom suffer health problems that limit their mobility and access to the artistic activities of the wider community. The stated outcome of this project is to strengthen communities by engaging the care facility residents, their families, and communities in art activities that also improve the elder residents’ physical and emotional well-being.
Dr. William Thomas, a physician in New York, conducted medical research with elders in long term care facilities which resulted in the identification of three “plagues” (loneliness, boredom, and helplessness) that in a very real measurable way negatively affected the elders’ physical and emotional health. In response, he developed an approach to institutional care called the Eden Alternative that is used as a therapeutic tool to counter those negative effects by providing daily spontaneity and opportunities for growth, by bringing in pets, etc. (The Eden Alternative Handbook: The Art of Building Human Habitats, by Dr. William Thomas; Sherburn, NY: Summer Hill Co., Inc., 1999, p.11)
Inspired by this work, the North Dakota Council on the Arts’ (NDCA) conducted a pilot project with NEA support in 2001-03 to statistically measure the effects of intensive art activities and the human interaction associated with them in combating the “Three Plagues.” The outcome showed a marked improvement in all three areas and resulted in the NDCA’s publication Art for Life: The Therapeutic Power and Promise of the Arts. Subsequently in 2009, based on this pilot project, the NDCA obtained funding from the North Dakota state legislature to develop the Art for Life Program to address the Three Plagues. This program involves local arts agencies partnering with elder care facilities to generate arts and artists interaction with the care facilities’ elder residents, staff, the elder residents’ families, and the community at large. The focus of each artist and art activity is designed to address the Three Plagues of loneliness, boredom, and helplessness. The program began in 3 towns and by 2014 will expand to a total of 10 North Dakota towns.
Three Rivers Arts Council will work with Siena Court to bring artists and intensive art activities to these elder residents and their families. The artists will conduct hands-on or interactive residencies, activities, workshops, and/or performances. These efforts will occur in a group setting and/or individually. Many of the residencies/activities also will include a public component whereby the residents’ families and the community at large are invited to participate with their elder family member. All activities, whenever possible, will take place in the care facility.
In previous efforts, art forms included traditional American Indian and Norwegian storytelling, literature and creative writing, quilting and weaving, glass mosaics, bookmaking, folk and contemporary musical performances, painting with water colors, and Swedish Dala painting (a traditional storytelling form of folk painting that is used to depict events in a community’s or family’s history).
The project is supported by Three Rivers Arts Council, Siena Court, and the North Dakota Council on the Arts.