Participants arrange pieces of glass in a paper outline of a bird

Participants explore the basics of mosaics in an early session of the Ada Community Library – Victory Branch's Creative Aging workshop series. (Photo provided by Ada Community Library)

Three Idaho libraries are exploring a unique take on arts programming this spring, reaching older community members with eight-week opportunities for creative expression and connection.

The workshops are funded and guided by national nonprofit Lifetime Arts. They are part of a regional initiative to address loneliness and social isolation among older adults by advancing creative aging opportunities through state libraries, arts agencies, and veterans services.

The Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL) and Idaho Commission on the Arts (Arts Idaho) are partnering to support public libraries through the planning, training, and implementation of the pilot programs, which aim to go deeper than a one-time, self-contained arts event.

“Older adults want meaningful, goal-based work to do and want to be in connection with community and one another,” said Arts Learning Services Director Laura Roghaar of Arts Idaho. “Creative Aging answers that by bringing a professional artist into a community space to teach an art form.”

The Creative Aging programs underway at the Ada Community Library (ACL) – Victory Branch, Idaho Falls Public Library, and Lewiston City Library represent months of thoughtful preparation. In addition to contracting with a local artist, collaborating on workshop plans, and marketing for advance registration, participating libraries completed online training to inform their work.

They also attended Zoom cohort meetings with the ICfL, Arts Idaho, Lifetime Arts, and other regional participants. Two arts organizations – McCall Arts and Humanities and Music Conservatory of Sandpoint – are also implementing workshops. The virtual discussions allowed participants to share resources and ideas from their different areas of expertise.

Each library received $2,000 from Lifetime Arts to hire a professional teaching artist and cover workshop materials – a level of funding that allowed staff to think more expansively, said ICfL Adult Services Consultant Deana Brown. She is excited about the potential for libraries to evolve programming opportunities for a growing population of older patrons.

“Not only is it about bringing people together and giving them a chance to hang out and connect, but they’re also growing in a way that perhaps they wouldn’t be in one-off craft or art events,” she said. “My hope is that this will take arts programming in libraries to the next level.”

Planning the workshops involved elements new to many library staff members, such as creating contracts and calculating compensation for teaching artists. Jennifer Nelson, ACL Victory Branch assistant manager, appreciated Arts Idaho’s insight. The agency connected Nelson with Treasure Valley artist Reham Aarti, who proposed a workshop series rooted in reflection: Participants are creating mosaics that represent inner self-portraits. Nelson found the concept especially appealing for a generation that may not have as much experience expressing emotions.

“I think it’s going to be more than the participants realize,” Nelson said. “You’re not just creating a trivet. … I think they’re going to be surprised how much they’re going to learn about the art form itself and about themselves as creators.”

Though the workshop series is a new endeavor for the Victory Branch, Nelson drew upon her existing patron relationships and experience leading library craft programs to select mosaics as a focus.

“I thought they would really appreciate working with their hands and having something tangible at the end,” she said.

The Lewiston City Library used the planning process as an opportunity to survey community members over age 55 about their interests. This was valuable input, since getting strong attendance at programs geared to adults is sometimes a challenge, said Library Director Lynn Johnson. The feedback led Johnson to select painting as the library’s Creative Aging workshop focus and provided plenty of inspiration for future programming, with respondents also indicating strong interest in fiber arts, pottery, digital photography, and printmaking.

With a dedicated Library Arts Committee, the Lewiston library is uniquely positioned to draw on existing artist relationships to offer those programs. But Johnson notes that all libraries can benefit from identifying and partnering with established community art groups. Creative programs and art displays can draw new patrons to the library.

“Art is a way to get people in the door and see what else you might be able to offer them,” she said.

Observations from the pilot Creative Aging workshop may also influence the structure of future programs. Johnson is curious to see how patrons respond to a multi-week workshop commitment. Though engagement is always a concern when introducing something new, she encourages libraries to embrace opportunities to experiment.

“Don’t be afraid to step into something like this,” she said. “You’re not going to have the benefit if you don’t try it. … The potential is there. If you don’t go there, then you’re not going to reap any reward from it.”

Brown notes that adaptability is key. She appreciates that the Lifetime Arts initiative allows libraries the flexibility to shape opportunities in response to community needs and interests.

“Part of my hope is that it really helps solidify libraries as a community anchor institution and helps people see them in a different way than they had previously,” she said. “Not only the community seeing them that way, but also library staff seeing their role in the community a little differently.”

Participants arrange pieces of glass in a paper outline of a bird

Participants explore the basics of mosaics in an early session of the Ada Community Library – Victory Branch's Creative Aging workshop series. (Photo provided by Ada Community Library)