NYU Alumni Changemaker of the Year
Founder, Lifetime Arts
Helps older adults build communities, fight isolation, and - perhaps most importantly - be themselves through art.
Older adults, or “seniors,” are the fastest growing demographic in the world. But when arts education specialist Maura O’Malley began searching out enrichment programs for older adults in her own family, she was upset to find only boring, ageist options. “When you talk about the arts for older adults,” she says, “people assume you mean ‘arts and crafts’.” O’Malley believed that meaningful arts education could help older adults build communities, fight isolation, and—perhaps most importantly—be themselves.
This heartfelt belief led O’Malley to co-found, in 2008, Lifetime Arts—an organization that trains teaching artists to lead substantive arts-education programs in spaces that serve older adults. Lifetime Arts eschews passive viewing experiences, instead employing the same sequential-learning model that challenges students of any other age to grow artistically and socially. It is a model that assumes ability, and it has facilitated a cultural shift in how organizations see older adults.
Of course, getting buy-in hasn’t always been easy. Ageism is an entrenched bias. But armed with scientific data, personal experience, and unflagging determination, O’Malley has attracted a wide range of creative-aging stakeholders—including public libraries, museums, and senior service organizations. Lifetime Arts now has teaching artists in 40 states and its programs have touched the lives of more than 12,000 older adults. And O’Malley has been celebrated as a pioneer in creative aging. “Growing older,” she says, “doesn’t hinder creativity and learning. In fact, it’s a formidable asset.”