SageArts is an intergenerational arts project located in New York’s Hudson Valley that promotes social inclusion and dignity for elders in our communities. We pair elders with local artists to collaborate on original songs that define and celebrate their life experiences. The songs are then performed at concerts, enabling elders and the wider community to share in an intergenerational celebration of moving art. SageArts inspires and invigorates our elders, who are no longer viewed through the lens of their physical limitations and needs, reminding the community of the incredible value they have.
Since its founding in 2013 by Colette Ruoff, SageArts has trained 13 talented songwriters to work with elders, produced three standing room only concerts in Stone Ridge, Accord, and Woodstock, raised $30,000 from donors, and created a short documentary film about our work. At the Stone Ridge concert on May 31, 2015, an audience member offered this statement: “I was deeply touched by the event [and] moved by the elders…We have so much to learn from their vast experiences and stories.”
Elders are rarely included and celebrated in our society. More often than not, they are devalued, isolated, and marginalized. They face the challenge of staying engaged and connected—25% of elders in their homes and 50% in institutions are clinically depressed (Geriatric Mental Health).
The Vision of SageArts is to celebrate our elders, and engage and empower them to share their life’s wisdom with the entire community and leave an artistic legacy. In doing so, we strive to forge new intergenerational connections that strengthen our communities.
We are inspired by ancient cultures that revered their elders and gave them a central role in guiding the direction of their societies. In 2012 we discovered a project in Santa Fe, N.M. called Lifesongs. Founded in 2007 by Acushla Bastible, Andrea Fellows Walters, and Molly Sturges, Lifesongs creates communities of care through deep relationship building, storytelling, music, and performance, and promotes dignity and inclusion for elders and those at the end of life. Since 2011 Lifesongs has been a program of the Academy for the Love of Learning, where it aligns with the Academy’s mission to awaken, enliven, nurture and sustain the natural love of learning in people of all ages and support the ongoing awakening of the heart. Lifesongs and the Academy gave us encouragement and shared their know-how so we could create SageArts. Visit their website: www.aloveoflearning.org/lifesongs
Our Songwriting Process
We partner with elders in the community who are living in their homes or in senior housing. Our songwriters meet with the elders weekly for two to three months to build relationships and share stories of their lives. Over time a theme emerges that has been essential to the elders’ lives—a lesson, or an insight, or a memorable moment—that is collaboratively captured in a song. Elders participate in choosing lyrics and melody, and in how to best present the song musically.
The elders need no previous experience in the arts, as our trained songwriters will be their muses, mentors, and guides in co-creating their songs. Projects culminate in community performances that include local musicians and inter-generational singers, as we honor the elders and share their songs.
“Last night’s SageArts concert was truly amazing for many reasons. This was the community getting together to honor our elders in a very public way. The elders stepped into the middle of our circle to share their lives, loves, and thoughts, and we were blessed by their presence”
– Susan Rosen
“Yesterday’s SageArts concert was extraordinary, so profoundly touching. It was like a constant embrace.”
– Joanie Miller
“When Pauline Delson rehearsed with the Youth Company, something clicked. They really understood the valuable connection that was immediately felt between the generations. It was such a meaningful project for them to help facilitate. When the young can learn to share the best of themselves with the elder generation, an important gap is bridged.”
– Livia Vanaver, Director, Vanaver Dance Youth Company
“It was sweet and satisfying to be part of the gathering Sunday afternoon, partaking of soulful performances, much heartfelt sharing, and a sense of committed community doing something truly uplifting in the service of real citizenship.”
– Robert Esformes
“I thought it was incredibly moving to see and hear the connection between the musicians and the elders. Perhaps because artists are less conventionally judgmental, and perhaps because the elders were encouraged to throw caution to the wind, the compositions were surprising, fresh, and invigorating for all of us. I was truly inspired!”
– Maria Redielbach
“The SageArts event was heartwarming and fun. I so appreciated the richness and liveliness of the elders, and the depth and poignancy of the messages that came from their life stories. We all have so much to learn from each other.”
– Ellen Ronis