Foundation Is Giving Top U.S. Museums Millions of Dollars to Address a Critical Blind Spot: Programming for Older Adults


Identifying and mitigating ageism is at the heart of E.A. Michelson Philanthropy's new initiative, the Vitality Arts Project for Art Museums. The Minneapolis arts education foundation is giving more than $2 million over 18 months to nine major museums in an effort to support "creative aging" programs for visitors 55 and above.

Not only does extensive research suggest that engaging with art may have substantial health benefits-including for older adults-but demographic projections indicate that American senior citizens will soon outnumber those under 18. This means museums will need to retool programming and educational offerings, since American Alliance of Museums data reveals that institutions currently spend three quarters of their $2 billion in annual education funding on programs for those in high school or younger.

The foundation has previously invested more than $15 million in creative aging programs at cultural institutions across the U.S. But it is doubling down with its largest and most prestigious cohort of art museums to date: the Brooklyn Museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, Pérez Art Museum Miami, and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts.

The grants require that institutions enlist experienced, professional art instructors to work with older adults, and the foundation advocates for "sequential" and "scaffolded" curricula, "where the student moves forward each week building upon the skill taught the prior week." Classes end with a public performance or exhibition of some sort, depending upon the medium, which reinforces the participants' roles as artists worthy of celebration.