Stanley Museum program shares love of art with local seniors

While the Stanley Museum of Art lacks a permanent building, Amanda Lensing has brought art activities directly to senior centers and senior groups.


Hayden Froehlich

Stanley Museum of Art Senior Living Communities Program Coordinator Amanda Lensing discusses Francis R. White’s Cedar Rapids Murals with senior citizens at Melrose Meadows Retirement Community on Thursday, October 24th, 2019. Lensing’s presentation focused on murals built in the US midwest after the New Deal in the 1930s.

Gretchen Lenth, News Reporter

When the Stanley Museum of Art lost its building in the 2008 Iowa flood, the community raised concern over the loss of art and space for exhibits. However, the loss of a university connection to the greater artistic community slipped the minds of many.

The lack of a building necessitated the creation of various outreach programs, said UI Stanley Museum of Art Senior Living Communities Program Coordinator Amanda Lensing. This initiative ultimately led the museum to develop its Senior Living Community Outreach Program in 2011.

Over the last eight years, the program has undergone a series of changes, Lensing said. It has expanded its reach significantly since Lensing took her position as coordinator in 2017, she added.

Lensing assembles art programs to present to senior-living communities and senior groups. Because of the variety of abilities and experiences the event participants possess, Lensing said, her activities take on a variety of forms. For example, a range of PowerPoints and open discussions to hands-on activities and interactions with art pieces from Stanley’s school collection are available for people to partake in.

Lensing said her program has succeeded when people who showcase every level of ability get something out of it, even if she must adjust her activities to suit specific needs.

“When I’m doing a hands-on activity for some residents, they may not be able to create the origami or whatever I’m doing, but I can sit in front of them and show them the colors and tell them the history,” Lensing said.

Despite a lack of marketing, Lensing said the program has successfully expanded through word of mouth. In 2017, only seven programs were offered in three different counties. Now, Lensing runs 23 different programs for seven communities within four counties. This expansion has allowed Lensing to present to her grandfather in Marion.

Expansion was funded in part through grant money awarded by the Community Foundation of Johnson County, Lensing said.

Thanks to the resources provided for her program, Lensing said she has been able to experiment with new events — including the Art of Show and Tell, where activity participants gather in a circle and share the stories behind their own personal art.

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“I saw a need, especially in senior-living communities, for them to share what they have and what they’ve brought into the community,” Lensing said.

By listening to the stories that residents have to tell, Lensing said she learns more from her events than the participants themselves likely do.

Melrose Meadows Retirement Community Wellness Coordinator April Marvin said there’s a reason she’s helped coordinate events with Lensing for as long as she can remember.

“A lot of times, if residents are only around the other residents here, everyone’s in the same boat,” Marvin said. “They’ve all got aches and pains and the things that go along with aging. I think these programs help [residents] stay young.”

Melrose Meadows resident Marilyn Wilson has a minor in art and said she finds great value in what the program has to offer.

“I think art is a wonderful form of the fine things in life,” Wilson said. “The more we’re exposed to it, the more we appreciate it.”

Through social engagement in art-movement discussions to activities she can reflect on over a cup of coffee, Wilson said she deeply appreciates what Lensing and her program bring to Melrose Meadows every month.

“It makes me feel like a child waiting for Christmas,” Wilson said.