Care Homes as Cultural Centers – What Does that Mean?

Anne Basting

The artistic team and some staff members at Lee County Care and Rehabilitation Center were madly hot gluing sparkles and flowers onto more Dollar Store straw hats. It was the day of our first dress rehearsal and so many staff and elders wanted costumes that we’d been caught short. Suddenly there was a bang on the double doors.  Someone pushed the code and opened the door – it was a group of about 6 elders who had wheeled themselves clear to the far end of this long building. “We are ready for our costumes!” It was 9:30 in the morning. Rehearsal didn’t start until after lunch.

The I Won’t Grow Up Project is a collaboration between TimeSlips and Signature Health Care to transform 12 rural nursing homes into cultural centers. What does that mean exactly? A cultural center is a place that promotes the creation and expression of culture and the arts. It is a place where communities come together and bond in the process of articulating the world as they imagine it. It is a place of value and meaning. It isn’t easy. But it is, most often, a place of celebration of human skills, dreams, and visions.

Could we really do that in a nursing home? Could we shift away from “activities” like bingo or balloon toss? Or paint by number or “copy this” art projects? Could we make a project over time that enabled people to grow and learn? That was so interesting that families, neighbors, staff, and volunteers wanted to join in the creative process with the elders?  Could we really build a community in a place that people usually avoid like the plague?

The answer is yes. There are almost too many stories to share from the last year and a half. Angie McAllister, my partner from Signature Healthcare on this incredible project, has been blogging about it. We’ve captured the story in a series of videos. I wrote a chapter about it in my book that will come out in 2020. But for now, I will try simply to share a few of the stories here of our incredible adventure in creating cultural centers in 12 rural nursing homes across Kentucky. Our year of reimagining the story of Peter Pan – of creating an original play with the elders, stakeholders, and incredible local, regional and national artists that found their way to the project.  For now, I leave you with the story of Mary, who hadn’t been out of her room for months after adjusting to the loss of a limb. Mary, who asked me on the day of the first dress rehearsal “Is this the last show?”

“Oh no Mary,” I said. “We have two previews and four performances to go. Do you want to join us for those?”

“Oh honey,” she said, “I can’t do anything for myself. But if someone will help me, I would love to be part of every one of them.”