Assessing the need for creative involvement 2: ways to start


The arts and music are wonderful ways to connect, as you address the common biases that art is only for artists and begin to chip away at them while advocating that everyone is creative in some form.

Important questions for you

How experienced are you with the creative process/ how well do you understand it? What is your area of comfort within it?

Also logistical questions such as: Has a group been identified? Are there individuals already interested in what you have to offer? Do you have to recruit the group? What are the challenges? Is there adequate space for the class? materials needed, etc.

If you have been invited in to create programs, who invited you? what are their goals? any other stake-holders?

For example: working in Senior housing – the owners want to minimize turn-over and the management company want tenants who are happy with few complaints. We include these goals into our own for creative programming.

Also working with seniors – now 55years and older means that there are several generations represented by the group. Nowadays that means the expectations of the older cohort are very different from the younger cohort (who for the most part regard themselves as adults and not seniors – unless a discount is involved)

Once the above questions ahem been considered the process of assessing the kind of programs is several-fold.

To do this you can meet with individuals, small groups or the whole group to start.

  1. Initial assessment – early contact.

This is to determine the area of creativity where you will meet, getting a feel for the group or individual so you know where to go in order to stand next to them in the process to help to begin the journey.

Sometimes, if there is time, you can meet with individual members of a group to get to know them a little, form a bit of a bond and then introduce them via common interests or experiences to each other. This works well with a challenging group (I worked with psychiatric patients using this method to get past diagnoses)

My general policy is to ask questions like:

How do you spend your time?

How would you like to spend time differently?

What have you always wanted to do and not done – yet?

You can ask these questions in writing, verbally to individuals, to small groups (and take notes) or in both ways , to large groups.

However, in the absence of a common language for the group, then it is best to go straight into visual or movement to communicate.

In movement group recently, upon finding there was very little common language, we went directly into body language – “How do you feel?” This precipitated a kind of call and response process where everyone had time to express and see their movements mirrored back. In a short time we were moving and stamping and yelling — and laughing with each other. Inspired by the fun, a 93 year old taught me a few steps from one of her traditional dances.

An easy visual technique is to provide magazines and materials for a collage project. The finished object, no matter the theme, contains the story of the person who made it. In it you can find motifs of the human life.

  1. Once you determine the area in which you are going to work, (The visual arts, movement storytelling, and so on) the next stage of assessment process begins. Depending on the discipline, this is to ascertain the level of experience, physical ability, degree of interest etc.

My work in the visual arts area lets me know some of the fears people have and so I ask first for them to draw the worst one they ever did. Asking for the worst drawing brings laughter but also acknowledges the fear of doing it badly; using as a model something as ordinary as a shoe worn to art class, lessens the chance of prettiness as a value. This first drawing provides a baseline that we can refer back to when observing the progress participants make.

Looking at the work and the ways of working tells me much about the participants and I can begin to individualize the class based on this information. This means lessening the fears and increasing the understanding of the process. it is also essential that you find out what each person cares about and plan to bring that into the creative process.

The ultimate goals for involvement in the creative process is fun (creativity involves play) and providing a source of satisfaction. It is easier for people to relate to each other through the work they are doing. (“Wow, I like your drawing!” Is a very friendly opener to conversation for most people)

This “worst drawing” project is not recommended for people with impaired motor control. When working with stroke-survivors, for example, I have used paint (with large brushes) or pastels and set an abstract theme – feeling-states, for example. These can be used for discussion afterwards and makes detailed work hard to do (which may be impossible anyway) and lessens the feelings of failure. The goal for the first group is to make people feel that it was fun and lessens the feelings of failure


In a group at an Adult Day Health Center I noticed that a woman who could only communicate in grunts, used color beautifully to define very subtle feeling states. This told me how much she understood and took in; how frustrating it must be for her not to be able to express herself so others understood. I encouraged her to continue to paint over a period of months and she used the same design motifs, but they held a wide range of expression through the colors she used. She was generally pitied by her peers because of her inability to hold a conversation and was left alone. However as she amassed a collection of beautiful work, people started to visit her in her corner of the day room to see what she working on and to discuss her painting with her. In this way as she developed the status of “Artist “ in the social fabric of the Center, she carried herself differently, she smiled a great deal.

Later the Center wanted to honor a generous benefactor beyond the usual plaque. One of her paintings was selected, a short poem from another participant was inscribed in the lower right corner and it was beautifully framed. At the presentation ceremony, the delight of the benefactress at such an unusual and personal award was barely exceeded by the artist ‘s pleasure and pride as she was recognized and applauded by Center staff and the audience. She was no longer just an old woman who could not speak.


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