Combining Teaching, Outreach and Scholarship to Challenge Ageism through Art
To the 80-year-old woman: “Well, hello there, young lady.”
The speaker at the podium pauses to get his glasses when reading his notes: “It’s because I’m so old.” The audience laughs.
Commenting that an older adult is “young in spirit.”
“Age shaming and age blaming – this implicit and unconscious bias against older people – it is so ingrained in our culture, and it drives me absolutely crazy when I hear things like this,” said Tracey Gendron, associate professor in the Department of Gerontology in the School of Allied Health.
Gendron is working to combat ageism by combining her teaching, outreach and scholarship through Palette, a transgenerational program that pairs students and older adults in professionally conducted arts programs. She said the Division of Community Engagement (DCE) has been integral to her work, providing support and direction, connections in the community and funding.
“This is about a larger social movement,” she said. “We have to work together to raise awareness and hear the voices of older people. I can’t imagine doing my job in any way, shape or form without being engaged with the community, and the DCE has really moved the needle in establishing that trust.”
Since 2013, approximately 80 VCU students in pharmacy, physical therapy and social work have been paired with 60 older adults from the community. Palette participants work on visual and movement arts projects and end their five-week session together with a gallery show or performance.
“We’re challenging the assumption that aging means decline, and we’re wiping away the anxiety of working with older adults and improving how people feel about their own aging,” she said. “It’s about seeing people as people. This isn’t some old person. This is my art partner.”
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