Tidewater Arts Outreach Advocacy

Through every communications means available, whenever the opportunities present themselves, we are advocating for the value of arts in healthcare, for arts and health, and for Tidewater Arts Outreach’s ‘community artist as arts facilitator’ program model.
We realize advocacy is critical if we are to foster a healthy climate for arts and healing. Our role in advocating for the dynamic use of arts includes informing people about their benefits in special situations, the flexibility and adaptability of the arts where limitations are present, and particularly, the great promise of utilizing the arts to reach people with dementia and to give them the means to be heard and appreciated as individuals. We are working to shift paradigms, and that takes considerable effort.

Here’s what we promote:

The value of the arts.
Tidewater Arts Outreach is using the arts in innovative ways in Hampton Roads. The arts build community by bringing people together in situations that are unique and meaningful. The creative processes are a means to personal fulfillment, satisfaction and inspiration for people who have special needs and who are isolated from society. The use of the arts in healthcare and crisis-care environments helps lessen feelings of pain and discomfort, affords mental stimulation, eases feelings of loneliness and frustration, and much, much more. Our mission and work provides a critically important ‘value proposition’ for the use of arts in these environments. Over the past ten years, our nonprofit has proven this value by showing that the arts can provide a significant source of recovery, hope and healing – spiritually, mentally and physically.

The well-being of staff in congregate-care settings.
We have high praise for caregivers and we advocate on their behalf. Their work is often emotionally challenging and physically demanding. It takes a special person to serve another individual with compassion and love, particularly when the work involves bathing, dressing, feeding, illness, pain, death and dying. A national statistic states that more than half of nursing home residents have no regular visitors. The staff who serve these people deserve the community’s support. And the arts provide a fun, meaningful and relatively easy way to help ease their burden and to show we care. To expand on this theme, some hospitals and homes set aside rooms for staff to make art in their free time, understanding the value of non-verbal self-expression – expressing difficult emotions that often can’t be put into words – that arts engagement affords.

People with special needs in congregate care.
A high percentage of people TAO serves are elders in long-term care. They often are feeble and frail. There are medications and dementia, making it difficult to connect. None of us wants to be without our family and friends, but it happens. All too often, people outlive their relatives and children leave home to have family and career in other areas. One staff member at a memory care facility related that too often, people choose to say goodbye to their relative when they drop them off, and they rarely or never come back. It’s probably too difficult for them to see their relative in that condition, and they may rationalize that it won’t matter anyway, because they are no longer recognized. We do not want to see old, inform people alone and isolated during their last months, days or hours of life. We certainly wouldn’t want it to happen to us. In response, we send hundreds of artists and volunteers each year to interact with people in congregate care.

Women victims of violence, homeless families, struggling vets and people with disabilities.
These disparate groups are all underserved and all fly below the community’s collective radar. Our programs serve these populations in various ways. Generally speaking, our goals are to use arts experiences to broaden horizons and to show how tapping into personal creativity can be a pleasurable pastime that strengthens bonds between people, affords opportunities for self-expression (often about difficult topics), in ways that are satisfying, non-threatening, and more meaningful than other avenues. ‘Vision boards,’ drumming, mandala drawing, power-bead bracelets, songwriting, sing-a-longs and storytelling all have been used to help define and overcome fears and frustrations, envision better tomorrows and create happier moments in ways that are within the grasp of these individuals.

Arts for people with dementia.
Movies like “Alive Inside” (which we have shown at Norfolk’s Naro Cinema) and “I Remember Better When I Paint” speak eloquently to the intellectual and emotional processes that the arts help people with dementia connect to. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that music is what their parent responded to. Group sing-a-longs, concert series, ensemble performances and drum circles are just a few ways we can use music to help engage. Then add the cultural implications of music of the islands, from the Far East, from European and other cultures that strike chords from long ago. Now you have staff seeing patients in new ways. Add children and the mix becomes more intertwined and involved.

The TAO model of community artists as arts facilitators.
We provide mentoring, online resources and formal training opportunities to help community artists understand the needs that exist for arts engagement by people with disabilities or special needs, and how to create effective programs that help address these needs. We promote experiential programs, effectively helping performers and artists of all kinds to become facilitators. Our workshops and website are resources that reinforce this training and awareness-building We ask artists to create client-centered programs and to make sure that opportunities for engagement are hallmarks of their programs.

The value of artists in our community.
We feel that artists deserve to be paid for their work. Their contributions make our community stronger. Many have devoted a lifetime to their craft, often sacrificing a great deal to be skilled at what they do. We pay artists for the services they render through TAO. We are not yet able to pay at the level we would like, and we hope to change that. As a charity, we try to make it easy for artists and others to make financial contributions to TAO. We believe that what goes around, comes around.
Yes! We will gladly speak to your group, or your friends’ group, about the benefits of the arts for people with disabilities and special needs. Email Reese@TidewaterArtsOutreach.org, and thank you.