Building Bridges, Opening Doors

Arts in multi-lingual senior housing


  • Maureen Frances Kellen-Taylor Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs 2018-19 grantee


The author was requested to provide classes in exercise, crafts and Asian Brush-painting to multi-ethnic residents of three low-income senior buildings in Los Angeles. Creative expression processes were included in the exploration of how the Arts can connect people who lack a common language and so address the serious issue of social isolation. It was important that participants enjoyed themselves and felt empowered through the new skill-acquisition while building bridges towards each other. The focus of each class was on creative process versus research goals. The assembled teams included bi-lingual teaching-artists to engage monolingual participants; we distributed lists of cultural values to inspire reflection and to guide individual themes. Information gained in earlier groups was incorporated into later groups. A total of 56 older adult residents attended one or more sessions, with 30 consistently participating weekly. Observations by team members, as well as photographs and videos, documented an increase in non-verbal communication between participants. On-site staff also reported increased interactions outside of the projects and first-time attendance at other classes grew. The arts possess potent properties for dissolving boundaries, revealing interconnectedness in non-verbal ways while also providing opportunities for mastery and expression. Initial connections, however, must be built upon in order to increase both individual relationships as well as a greater sense of community. While this project involved older adults, these methods can also be used with other, younger groups who need to co-exist yet lack a common language.

Keywords: isolation; social context; creative expression; arts; non-verbal communicating; low-income seniors; multi-cultural; language barriers