Folklife and Aging

Through support from the National Endowment for the Arts and Indiana University’s Center for Rural Engagement, this initiative aims to help older adults living in Southcentral Indiana stave off feelings of loneliness, boredom, and helplessness that may challenge many elders living in this region. This project was influenced by TAI director Jon Kay’s research into the creative lives of older adults, which is featured in his books Folk Art and Aging: Life-story Objects and Their Makers and The Expressive Lives of Elders: Folklore, Art, and Aging.

Why the traditional arts? As scholars such as Alan Jabbour and Simon Bronner have noted, folk arts can work as culturally proven strategies to help elders address the difficulties they face as they age. While an older musician may support the cultural heritage of their community through maintaining and teaching their musical skills, their creative practice also may help them thrive as an important community resource and leader. This initiative highlights the work that traditional arts do to support the lives of older adults.

Our work has three phases. First, we are conducting a survey of the traditional arts and cultural practices in this region. During this phase, we are documenting the expressive forms of the region with a focus on the creative practices of local elders (65 years and older). Second, based on this traditional arts survey and in consultation with elders, artists, and community organizations, TAI will create a Traditional Arts and Aging Activity Guide formatted specifically for elders in this region. The guide will include a list of resources, activity plans, and instructional materials based on local foodways, music, and crafts that facilities and individuals can use. We will host a series of workshops, performances, and programs in senior centers and continuing care facilities, aimed to inspire elders to tap into their own traditions and creative practices. Finally, TAI will produce a traveling exhibition about the role of traditional arts in the lives of older adults, which will tour to area libraries and senior centers in the eleven-county region.