Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Connecticut

Participate in the Arts

Opportunities to participate in the arts—whether as creators, learners, supporters or audience members—abound in Connecticut. But cultural activity isn't just fun and personally enriching. Recent studies show that arts participation has health benefits and promotes the physical, mental and emotional well-being of older adults.

Studies on Aging and the Arts

The health benefit of arts participation is backed up by research. Dr. Gene Cohen, director of George Washington University's Center on Aging, Health and Humanities, has been studying arts and aging for over 30 years. In 2002, in a federally funded study on creativity and aging, he and other researchers recruited 300 people, ages 65 to 103. Half were involved with arts programs including singing, creative writing, poetry, painting and jewelry-making; half were not.

After two years, those in the arts group reported better overall physical health and fewer doctors' visits than members of the other group. They also reported fewer falls and better scores on depression and loneliness scales. Cohen noted that arts participation had a positive impact on maintaining elders' independence and appeared to reduce "risk factors that drive the need for long-term care."

Neuroscientists unaffiliated with Cohen's study are exploring evidence that challenging mental activity, such as artistic expression, stimulates the growth of new brain cells in the cerebral cortex. This happens even as we age. Cohen theorizes that arts participants have a heightened sense of control and social engagement, both of which may boost the immune system.

A recent study published online by Columbia University's Research Center for Arts and Culture found that artists older than 65 had high levels of personal growth, autonomy and independence – all indicators of successful aging.

A study published in 2004 in the Journal of Aging and Health found that 124 independent elders who took part in four weeks of theater training showed cognitive and psychological gains when compared with a control group.

Finding Out About Arts and Culture

So how do you find out about arts and cultural activities in your area? And how do you get involved? Connecticut has a growing network of local arts agencies (LAAs) which serve as hubs of cultural information and resources in their service areas. From the Greater Hartford Arts Council to the Northwest Connecticut Arts Council (Torrington), from the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County to the Windham Area Arts Collaborative, these LAAs actively encourage members of their communities to participate in the arts. They will help you connect to local artists, arts events, organizations and programs that interest you. Most local arts councils maintain events calendars and cultural directories throughout the year, host gatherings and workshops, as well as organize exhibitions and festivals.

A comprehensive source of arts and cultural information is the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism's CTVisit website: Here you can search for events and "What to Do" by city/town, region, month, date, type of activity and venue. Fresh off the press are the free 2009 Connecticut Culture & Events Guide and the 2009 Connecticut Vacation Guide which you can order directly from the website.

Participating as Volunteers

A good way to get involved in the arts is to serve as a volunteer – whether at a gallery or museum as a docent, an usher at performing arts venues or as a board member of an arts organization. Museums with docent programs (such as the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, the New Britain Museum of American Art or the Lyman Allyn Museum in New London) provide ongoing training in order that docents may serve as tour guides and museum ambassadors to the public. The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford works with over 700 volunteers each year – many of whom are older adults – who act as ushers, lead tours and perform important duties during performances.

Singing, Dancing, Acting, Painting and Writing

Opportunities abound in Connecticut through which you can discover and develop your creative skills or artistic expression. Join a community chorale, sample a painting class, try line dancing, write poetry or discover playwriting. Here are a few examples of what is offered around the state:

Accessible Programs and Performances

Theaters, museums and performance venues in Connecticut are vigilant about keeping their programs, services and facilities accessible to older adults. Physical access includes ramps, restrooms and special seating for wheelchairs. Seniors will also benefit from large print, assistive listening devices and audio descriptions.

Enjoying Connecticut Arts and Culture

Connecticut is home to an extraordinary number of artists, arts and cultural organizations and attractions. It has one of the nation's greatest concentrations of creative individuals, historic landmarks and cultural institutions and activities. Arts and culture are defining features of Connecticut communities, both large and small. The arts thrive from theLitchfield hills to the southeastern shore and from Fairfield County to the Central River Valley.

Take advantage of this abundance and participate – whether as an audience member, volunteer or a creator and learner. Before attending a concert or a performance, be sure to check out special ticket price offers either directly from the theaters and performance venues or via joint marketing efforts.

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