Creative Communities of Care: A Week in Milwaukee

After being caught up in a snow storm, I finally made it to Milwaukee where I met Joan Williamson, the Training Coordinator and Master Trainer of TimeSlips Firstly. I have to say how much I enjoyed Milwaukee as a location. On top of being a charming and cultural city, I found it to be an innovative place for the field of Creative Ageing. Secondly, I am very grateful to Joan who, as well as hosting me in her home for the week, planned a fantastic programme based around the theme of Creative Communities of Care (a key concept to my research, theorised by Anne Basting). The programme included:

  • A tour of the two St Ann Centres for Intergenerational Care (see previous blog)
  • Meetings with student artists in residency from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Some of the students welcomed us to their studio and explained their process to insert themselves in the life of the care home.
  • Meeting with Angela Titus, LifeStreams and Volunteer Coordinator at St John on The Lack, to learn more about the SPARKS programme. Angela also gave us a tour of St John and explained how the place had transitioned into an innovative community of care.
  • Participation in a TimeSlip Session directed by students from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
  • Meeting Anne Basting (she is kind of my academic hero and main scholar in my research…) with whom I went to see an intergenerational play written by one of the residents at Luther Manor care home.

All these activities contributed to exemplify how care homes could act as cultural hubs. From Luther Manor hosting high quality plays written by their residents, to St Ann Centre providing learning and work opportunities for the locals, it was inspiring to see the potential for care homes to be creative. These places were not positioned just as homes to care for senior citizens, but as spaces of social connections, celebrations and community building.

The week opened up further questions on the role of intergenerational programming in building these creative communities of care. It reminded me that these practices could take many varied forms. I found the Artists in Residency programme particularly exciting and would be keen to return to conduct interviews with the artist-students about their year-long experience living in the home. From the short time I had to talk with the students, it really sounded to me that this programme had had a deep and lasting impact on them, the residents and the community surrounding the home. The feedback of the students was going beyond attitudinal changes and definitely beyond the typical therapeutic goal of improving the wellbeing of the residents. They were talking about deep emotional connections, but also kept referring to the many ways in which they had learned from the residents and the care home environment. Some of them had even started to bring their friends in, hosting parties and cultural events.

It seemed to me like the changes which first happened at a personal level for these students expanded at a broader level,  and started to snowball to the local community surrounding the home.

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