North Dakota Council on the Arts

North Dakota Council on the Arts

The North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA) is a service and program agency of the state, established in 1967 by State Legislature to develop, promote and support the arts in North Dakota. Its mission is to promote, preserve and perpetuate the arts in North Dakota. Cultural diversity is promoted and valued for its role as culturally diverse community members add richness and excitement to the lives of all citizens.

 

Creative Aging Profile

Three of four paintings created using repurposed mark-making, the Mobile Painting Device, and traditional dance on exhibit at the Jamestown Fine Arts Center, Jamestown, ND.

Three of four paintings created using repurposed mark-making, the Mobile Painting Device, and traditional dance on exhibit at the Jamestown Fine Arts Center, Jamestown, ND.

The NDCA, with the support of the Bush Foundation, developed Sundogs and Sunflowers: An Art for Life Program Guide for Creative Aging, Health, and Wellness, a toolkit based on the Art for Life Program. Informed by years of practical experience and contextualized with medical studies and folk culture, this resource consists of dozens of online articles and activity plans developed by folk and traditional artists, fine artists, folklorists, physicians, nurses, speech therapists, psychologists, and academics. The video from the program, Yes, I am Free:The Inspiration of Dance and Paint was one example of the work being created.

It is intended to inform and direct communities to utilize both folk and fine arts to positively address the health and wellness of elders, whether through home-care systems, elder care facilities, or senior citizens’ centers. The activities can be modified to align with the cultural, artistic, and other resources unique to every community.

Agency Initiative

Using a cane with cloth duct-taped to the end to make marks in the creation of a large contemporary painting, Enderlin, ND.

Using a cane with cloth duct-taped to the end to make marks in the creation of a large contemporary painting, Enderlin, ND.

The connection between art and health is a fast-growing, fairly recent area of emphasis and research that is spreading across the United States.  By contrast, the North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA) has worked in this area for some time.  Through the NDCA’s Art for Life Program, our state was one of the first to explore and develop an arts/health nexus in a sustained and systemic way, specifically with regard to people in elder care facilities.

Over a two-year period, 1999-2000, the NDCA placed folk artists to perform in nearly every elder care facility in the state. Powerful anecdotal stories surfaced about the impact of those presentations on the elders. For example, an Alzheimer’s patient, who was often unresponsive and averse to being touched, danced with her husband during a concert.  Another woman, almost completely immobile and in a wheelchair, was observed tapping her finger to the beat of the music.  Additional positive anecdotal information was generated in 1999 from the public demonstration requirement of a $2,000 NDCA Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Grant to Lila Hauge-Stoffel and Mary Seim. That public demonstration was held at the elder care facility where Mary worked. Lila (a professor of art and traditional textile artist), Mary Seim (an activities coordinator and traditional artist), and Troyd Geist (the folklorist with the NDCA) recognized these powerful examples. However, they also wondered if the arts’ impact with regard to health could be quantifiably measured.

Dr. William Thomas, a physician in New York, conducted medical research with elders in long term care facilities.  That research resulted in the identification of the “Three Plagues” (loneliness, boredom, and helplessness) that, in a very real measurable way, negatively affects the physical and emotional health of our elders. In response, he developed an approach to institutional care called the Eden Alternative that is used throughout the country as a therapeutic model to counter the negative effects of loneliness, boredom, and helplessness. Building on that study, the NDCA wanted to know if extensive, long-term arts and artist interactions would influence the Three Plagues, and, thus by extension, improve the emotional and physical health of our elders.

So, in 2001-03, the NDCA (with Troyd Geist, Lila Hauge-Stoffel, Mary Seim, and Pioneer House, an elder care facility in Fargo) conducted a $57,000 therapeutic arts pilot study with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.  Assessment tools were designed to quantifiably measure the effects of extensive folk, fine arts, and artist interactions with regard to the sense of loneliness, boredom, and helplessness experienced by the elders.  Over that two-year period quilters, storytellers, Swedish Dala painters, potters, watercolor artists, and more, worked with the elders. The final assessment of the study pointed to a marked improvement in all three areas. The results of this study are discussed in the NDCA’s publication Sundogs and Sunflowers: An Art for Life Program Guide for Creative Aging, Health, and Wellness

The subsequent quantifiable and anecdotal information was then utilized by the NDCA to obtain funding from the North Dakota state legislature to expand the pilot project into a program to improve the lives of elders by addressing the Three Plagues with art.  In the program, the NDCA supports local arts agencies who partner with local artists and local elder care facilities to conduct arts residencies and activities with the facilities’ residents and their families.  The program began in 2008 in three communities; Jamestown, Langdon, and Pekin (working alternately with McVille and Lakota). By 2014, the Art for Life Program will involve 9 local arts agencies working with approximately 14 elder care facilities in 11 communities:  Ellendale, Enderlin, Grand Forks, Jamestown, Langdon, New Rockford, New Town, Pekin (with McVille and Lakota), and Wahpeton.

In 2013, recognized as a national leader in this effort of combining the areas of arts, health, and aging, the NDCA was asked to participate in a national “best practices” effort involving 13 states.

 

Agency Creative Aging Resources & Tools

Art for Life Program

Sundogs and Sunflowers: An Art for Life Program Guide for Creative Aging, Health, and Wellness

Video: Introduction to Sundogs and Sunflowers: An Art for Life Program Guide for Creative Aging, Health, and Wellness

Video: Yes, I am Free: The Inspiration of Dance and Paint 

Video: Tree of Life: Traditional Paper Cutting, Nostalgia, and Life Review

Additional articles about the impact of the Art for Life Program will appear in future newsletters and press releases; stories about elders becoming more responsive, interacting with others, and better able to make decisions, stories about a woman on her deathbed sharing a moment through a storytelling project, a lonely elderly man with children to finally call his own through a theater activity, a community that comes together to honor U.S. military veterans through a quilting project, a woman suffering from cancer and depression coming out of her shell – all these and more through the Art for Life Program.

 Demographics

Statewide, the number of seniors is expected to increase 50% (from 98,595 in 2011 to 148,060 in 2025), with the overall state proportion rising to 17.6%. In western North Dakota, McKenzie, Williams and Divide counties are expected to more than double their numbers of seniors from 2011 to 2025.

In 2011, North Dakota had the second highest proportion of older seniors ages 85 and older in the nation at 2.5%. The number of these older seniors more than doubled from 1980 to 2011 (from 8,140 to 17,216 residents), but it is expected to stay fairly stable during the next 14 years.

In 2010, North Dakota had 221 residents age 100 and older (more than double the 103 residents in 1980); 90% of these centenarians were women (up from 69 percent in 1980). The vast majority of North Dakota residents ages 65 and older live in households (93%); one in four of all households has at least one senior (24%). Of the more than 61,000 heads of households (householders) who are seniors, half live alone (second highest proportion in the nation); nationally, 44% live alone. Proportions living alone range from a high of 62% in Nelson County to a low of 30% in Slope County. Among householders living alone, 72% are female.

Photo of Troyd Geist doing field work in a green hilly area.

Creative Aging Point Person

Troyd Geist

Folk Arts Program Director