It took nine decades, but Raymond Lewis was finally able to step out on Mardi Gras day with the Black Masking Indians.
“Never in my life,” he said, “didn’t think I’d dress with an Indian band.”
But not only did Lewis receive an invitation from Grand Chief Darryl Montana to mask up with the Yellow Pocahontas Hunters, Montana also taught him how to sew his own costume through a Louisiana State Museum program, which provides local seniors with the possibility of taking one-week courses. taught by a local artist.
“I really enjoyed it. It was very exciting,” Lewis said. “It was gorgeous. I enjoyed the whole affair.”
The program, which was made possible by a grant from the EA Michelson Foundation, allows local museums to create classrooms specifically for seniors. When Montana, the beading program instructor, invited the now 93-year-old New Orleanian out on Mardi Gras day with his tribe, Lewis agreed — but not without a little help. Fellow beading students stepped in, even after the program officially ended, to help Lewis complete his costume.
“It was good to socialize with a lot of people,” said Lewis, who continues to pace himself.
LSM, which recently received a third year of funding for the program through the Michelson Foundation, has so far seen more than 100 local adults walk through its classes, many of whom have taken more than one class, a said Louisiana State Museum of Education director Sara Lowenburg.
“We were really excited about the opportunity to dig deeper into offering programs for seniors,” Lowenburg said. “It’s an audience that has a lot of connections to museums and often faces a lot of barriers, in terms of access and engagement, and we’re excited to explore that.”
Now, arts programming for seniors in the New Orleans area will expand, thanks to the acceptance of the New Orleans Museum of Art into the EA Michelson Foundation grant program. This means dozens more adults will have the chance, like Lewis, to learn something new while connecting with their community.
“There is a huge opportunity for museums to do much more to reach out to older people and open up the lives of older people by using the incredible collections they have – but doing it in a way that empowers individuals to find their creativity,” said Theresa Bonner, executive director of EA Michelson Philanthropy, a Minneapolis-based organization.
Aging of the population
And that opportunity is only growing. In Louisiana in 2020, over 16% of the population was over the age of 65 in 2020. Nationally, this number is expected to reach over 20% by 2030.
“That period of life, when you’re older, can last 50 years. … That’s a long period of time, and that’s a big part of why we hope these (types of programs) can spread,” Bonner said. “Many years ago in public libraries there were no children’s programs, and now you can’t imagine a public library without children’s programs.”
The demand for adult arts education in New Orleans is one that Tracy Kennan knew about long before NOMA received the grant. Kennan, the museum’s education curator, said she had long been getting calls asking for exactly this type of programming, but had never been able to direct anyone to the museum.
“I often had to say, ‘We have this family workshop, or you can go to the local universities,’ but that’s often more than what someone is looking for. They don’t want a whole semester,” said said Kennan.
While LSM programs, which typically focus on local cultural practices like beading, drumming, poetry and printmaking, are ongoing, classes at NOMA will begin later this fall, and Kennan expects that they incorporate lessons from the museum’s permanent collection and exhibitions. . Although the Michelson grant supports the program for two years, like Lowenburg, she hopes to see them become a staple of the local museum.
“There are a lot of people looking for lifelong learning opportunities, and we want to be a place of lifelong learning,” Kennan said. “We want people to see the museum as a place for that.”