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Making Aging Livable: New York’s Senior Center Artists-in-Residence Program

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De Novo’s ‘Houseguest’ at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance (screen shot via de novo dance/YouTube)

“There is a huge boom in the elderly population, not just in New York City but everywhere — we’re all living longer,” Kristin Sakoda said by way of introducing the importance of programs that address the “cultural, social, and economic life” of the aged. Sakoda is the program manager of one such effort: Seniors Partnering with Artists Citywide (SPARC), a residency administered by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) in partnership with local arts councils in each borough and funded by the Department of the Aging.

The initiative, which brings artists into New York City’s senior centers, is entering its fourth year, with a call for proposals due at the end of September. The six-month residency places 50 teaching and practicing artists in as many senior centers across the five boroughs, and last year attracted applications from 130 artists, according to Sakoda.

Begun with a pilot in 2010 that saw 12 artists in residence at nine senior centers, the program received $200,000 in National Endowment for the Arts funding the following year to expand the program to its present size. Since 2012, however, it has been funded by the City’s Department for the Aging and run under the auspices of the DCA, bringing practitioners ranging from chefs to choreographers into municipally backed senior centers.

Though the focus is on delivering a program for resident seniors, some artists have been able to develop independent projects based on their participation in SPARC. “Working with seniors very much had a reciprocal effect on the artists’ practices,” Ryan Max, deputy director of external affairs at the DCA, said.

Last year, for example, participating dance company De Novo (led by choreographers Ian Wen and Irina Kom) included seven seniors from the Astoria senior center where they had been in residence when they staged Houseguest at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance.

The deadline for applications is September 30. Details are available here; note that the 50 residencies are distributed according to population across the five boroughs.Correction, 9/11 11:11am EDT: An earlier version of this story stated that the program is in its fifth, rather than fourth, year. The DCA has clarified that there was no program in 2011, the year it received funding from the NEA.

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